WRITING YOUR STRESSOR STATEMENT
It is important that your claim is prepared as well as possible.
If improperly prepared or documented, your claim is likely to fail.
Depending on why it failed, your claim may damage your ability
to successfully appeal a bad decision or to win approval in a
subsequent claim. A claim that has been filed incorrectly is as
useless to you and your family as a claim that was never filed.
Writing a Stressor Statement: Use Form 21-4138
1. Writing a stressor statement can itself be stressful. In many cases, You’re being asked to recall and record events that you’d rather forget. This is true not only for veterans who served in a combat zone but also for veterans who suffered Military Sexual Trauma.
2. Once you’ve described the stressful event, You’ll need to describe how it affects you. Begin with a brief summary of your life before you entered the military. How well did you get along with members of your family? Did you have friends? A girlfriend or boyfriend? Did you go to school? Take part in school activities? Did you have a job? How well did you do it? Was religion important to you? If so, how? Did you play sports? Enjoy hobbies?
3. Next, Describe the stressful events in chronological order. For each event, give the date and place it occurred, and the name of the unit you were attached to. Tell what happened in as much detail as possible, and tell how you felt about what happened. Were you angry? Fearful? Sad? Numb?
4. Describe How You Have Changed - describe what your life was like before you began military service, what your relationship with friends and families was like, how you did in school, whether you played sports or had a job. Then describe what happened after you returned home from the service. Give examples of the problems you had with work, school, or relationships. Describe your difficulty adjusting to civilian life. If you were no longer interested in activities, you once enjoyed, talk about that. Give specific examples of your PTSD symptoms. For example “I had a panic attack when I heard a car backfire, I thought it was gunfire” or “I heard someone scream on TV and I ran for cover.” This will be much more effective than providing clinical descriptions of symptoms that you may have learned while undergoing mental health treatment.
5. Discuss Alcohol and Drug Use - If you've used alcohol and drugs to cope with your PTSD symptoms, it’s ok to write about that. This is your chance to explain that you couldn’t handle having PTSD and that your alcohol or drug use began, or worsened after the stressful events occurred. You can also talk about whether you are now clean and sober and how long you have been in treatment, if applicable. If you still use alcohol and drugs, talk about why you do so, and how often. Again, this can be evidence of the impact PTSD is having on your life. Finally, write about how you are now feeling about your present life, whether you are in treatment for PTSD, and if you aren’t, why not. Sign your statement, and if there are several pages, add page numbers and staple the packet together.
6. Requesting Statements From Family Members or Friends - Your friends and family members have a special ability to describe how your life has changed as a result of traumatic events you experience while in the service. They can write about the person you were when you entered the service and the changed person you were when you returned home.
Ask friends and family to describe in their statement what your personality was like before service and what it's like now. Maybe you were outgoing and popular before, and now you are a recluse who does not like leaving the house. Or perhaps you were quiet and laid-back, and now you’re extremely angry a lot. Maybe you used to feel very close to your spouse, and now you are withdrawn from her (or him), or even abusive. Or perhaps you no longer feel that you are available for your children.
All of these people can help by writing a statement giving examples of how your behavior has changed. Your child could say you used to help with homework and now you sit in front of the TV drinking. Your friends could describe how you don’t feel safe leaving the house, and everywhere you go you are always looking over your shoulder, on high alert. Your spouse could describe how you wake up terrified in the middle of the night from nightmares. Each person will need to describe their relationship to you, how long they have known you, and how much time you normally spend together. They should be as honest as possible and just let the facts about your behavior speak for themselves. Make sure they sign the letter and include their full name and address.
7. You’re not expected to have a perfect memory. If you can’t recall something, don’t hesitate to say so; however, include as much detail as you can. Are there specific sights and sounds you can’t forget? If so, write about them. * NOTE: If you don’t remember precisely when something happened, do your best to give the VA an approximate time frame. They’ll need it if it becomes necessary to verify your story by researching military records. You may be able to peg the event to another occurrence in your life. Did it happen close in time to a birthday? An anniversary? A holiday? A death?
8. Tell the truth, there’s no need to exaggerate or embellish, the facts are powerful enough; let them speak for themselves.
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