Workplace trauma boosts PTSD risk for military and civilian employees alike

By Stephen Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

As a patriotic city with a strong military presence, San Diego proudly defends the honor and heroism of local service members and retired veterans – not to mention its own civic heroes who step up daily to fight crime, fire, illness and violence. But even as we celebrate bravery and service, we are also acutely aware of the trauma-induced mental and emotional disorders that some must suffer after multiple tours and deployments, battles and losses – and of the struggle that many San Diegans face in coming to terms with occupational hazards and their consequences.

Unfortunately, the men and women who stand at the front lines to defend our freedom and safety – be they military members, firefighters, law enforcement officials or EMTs – are the most at risk for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Recent media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, has brought increased public awareness to PTSD as it applies to high-risk occupations and those directly affected by horrific national events. However, it is important to note that PTSD can just as easily strike office workers, school teachers, retail clerks and anyone else who experiences trauma on the job that goes beyond the normal range of everyday events and, as such, causes an overwhelming impact on the individual in question. Such occurrences may constitute a just claim for treatment and/or compensation -- even when there are no clearly discernible signs of illness or injury in the eyes of coworkers, employers or other lay persons.

What is PTSD?

According to legal experts, nearly 8% of Americans will experience some form of PTSD during their lifetime; and in order to properly aid and assess these individuals, it is necessary for co-workers and employers alike to first understand how the disease occurs and operates in individual cases. Simply put, PTSD is a mental disorder resulting from involvement in or witness to a severe or traumatic event. The disorder can be brought on by anything from armed combat or natural disaster to violent crime, assault or accident – and leave victims with a host of psychological and physical symptoms that vary from case to case. Such symptoms may include:

• Traumatic flashbacks

• Depression

• Emotional apathy

• Irritability, anger and tendency to violence

• Obsessive-compulsive behavior

• Self-destructive behavior

• Headaches

• Ulcers

• High blood pressure

• Nausea

• Fatigue

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

While those employed in dangerous or unstable environments are at a higher risk for developing PTSD, anyone who sees or experiences a terrifying event in the workplace may subsequently suffer from debilitating symptoms and require compensation for their inability to work. Psychological treatment can help individuals manage PTSD: but in order to determine the validity and severity of any claim for PTSD-related worker’s compensation, a Qualified Medical Evaluator must first examine patients and differentiate between PTSD symptoms and those related to routine job stress, depression, anxiety, or other psychological disorders.

As a Qualified Medical Evaluator with extensive experience in both the forensic and psychological fields, I am intimately familiar with the sensitivity and complexity of PTSD cases as they relate to worker’s compensation claims. Mental and emotional disorders vary widely, and can cause severe outward symptoms -- but they can also lie hidden while causing victims incredible difficulty. In such cases, it is important that workers and employers alike receive an unbiased case assessment to ensure both proper medical/legal resolution and appropriate intervention and treatment. To learn more about PTSD medical evaluations and worker’s compensation, visit