A Stressor Letter is used
by Veterans Affairs (VA) raters to identify potential traumatic events that may have invoked Posttraumatic Stressor Disorder(PTSD)
symptoms in combat veterans. The Stressor Letter consist of three vital parts: 1.
Life before military service; 2. Life during military service (to include traumatic
event(s); and 3. Life after traumatic event(s).
The Example Stressor Letter below has been used by thousands of veterans as supportive
evidence for their PTSD claim. Use it for yours (modify as needed).
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
I was born on March 10, 1949, in Columbus, Ohio. I am the second of four children
born to my biological parents. My childhood seemed normal and carefree to me. In elementary
school I performed well academically, joined a few school clubs, and participated in the Boy Scouts. I
had a few close friends during that time, and we spent much of our time playing many different sports. I
also had a few hobbies during those formative years. For instance, I collected baseball cards, and toy
soldiers. I was never sick, never had any broken bones, and was pretty much healthy. I
remember my mother being very protective of me. She always made sure I was safe and not surrounded by trouble.
It all seemed pretty normal to me.
During high school I was actively involved in athletics. Football, baseball and basketball
consumed a lot of my time. I also discovered girls, and along with my friends we would do a lot in order
to impress them. For example, when I got my driver’s license I would borrow my parents car so that
I could cruise the neighborhood so that the girls would see me driving. Also, during this time I expressed
a lot of interest in the Armed Forces, especially the Marine Corps. I loved the uniforms and the girls
seemed to like them as well. I was young and impressionable. My thinking was at the
time, if I could join the Marine Corps it would be easy to capture girls. They seemed to like the uniform
a lot. My senior year in high school I met with a Marine Corps recruiter who pointed out all of the positive
aspects of the Marine Corps. I was hooked. When I graduated from high school in May
of 1967, I joined the Marine Corps two months later.
DURING MILITARY SERVICE
In August 1967, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a means of seeking gainful employment,
fighting for my country, and impressing the girls. I completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
I thought boot camp was pretty easy. I was always physically fit, did well academically in school,
so boot camp was easier than I anticipated. I made squad leader the first week I was there.
After boot camp I attended Advanced Infantry Training (AIT). After six weeks of AIT I was a lean
mean fighting machine. I was ready for anything. After AIT, I got orders to Vietnam.
I arrived in Vietnam in January 1968. When
I got there my initial impression was complete shock. The place smelled bad, looked bad, and seemed dirty.
After processing in, I was assigned to 1/9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As
soon as I got settled in a grisly old gunnery sergeant made it a point to tell me I would never see the states again.
I didn’t let him know at the time, but that scared the heck out of me. After only two weeks
in country I witnessed the horrors of war.
January 1968, while serving guard duty, my forward base camp was mortared by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).
Mortars were dropping in everywhere. The sound was loud and the smell was horrible.
A machine gunner about 10 yards away from me was hit on the left shoulder. The mortar blew off the
entire left side of his body. I tried to administer first aid, but he died almost immediately.
After the mortar attack stopped, I remember sitting in the bunker shaking badly for about 30 minutes. I
couldn’t get the images out of my head of seeing my comrades killed.
February 1968, during a search and destroy mission in the jungle my unit came
across three dead American soldiers. They were nailed to a tree, their ears had been cut off, and all of
them had mud stuffed down their throats. The sight was horrible. We took them down and
properly bagged them up and sent them to the morgue. The smell of their rotting flesh was awful.
I didn’t sleep well for three weeks after that incident.
April 1968, during a search and destroy mission my unit was involved in a very intense firefight.
We lost two guys in our unit. I just ended my pointman duties when the firefight started.
The guy that replaced me was hit in the face by a few rounds. He died instantly. Another
guy was hit in the chest and died as well. Several other members of our unit were wounded pretty bad.
I’m not sure how I survived, but I did. In fact, I didn’t get a scratch.
But, I was terrified. I had a few horrible dreams about the incident that night and days later.
Of course, being the Marine I thought I was, I didn’t tell anyone.
July 1968, me and my unit went on night patrol duty near a delta outside of
Da Nang. Two hours into our patrol we ran into a huge platoon of NVA troops. A firefight
ensued. The fighting was intense. We lost five guys in my unit and several others were
injured badly. Again, I escaped with only a bruise on my left thigh. This firefight
scared me the most. It was dark, and all you could see were tracers from machine guns. I
was sure one of those bullets had my name on it.
After that incident, the remainder of my tour was uneventful. I carried out
other seek & destroy missions against enemy troops, but saw no action. During the seek & destroy missions, I enthusiastically
carried out my duties as a pointman, and where ever else I was assigned. I served in the Vietnam theatre
of operations for 13 months. During my combat duty in Vietnam, I lost many close war buddies, and witnessed many American soldiers die in major firefights with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops.
As a result, I struggled daily from survivors’ guilt. My buddies died in combat and I, for the most part, incurred no major injuries. I experienced many life-threatening
battle situations, and egregious life-sustaining scenarios while in the combat zone of Vietnam. I think
about those events constantly.
LIFE SINCE THE TRAUMATIC EVENT(S)
When I left Vietnam and flew back to the states I remember being relieved
and at the same time depressed and angry. I was glad to leave combat, where I lost many buddies and saw horrible things that no one should be subjected to. I was extremely sad as well. I
was sad that some of my buddies would never be returning to their families, and I was really sad knowing that I was leaving
some of my buddies in harms way. When I got back to the states I was pissed. People
called me a baby killer, war monger, and death machine. People who knew nothing about the war thought I
was an animal and it made me very angry.
As a result, I found that I could not tolerate being around people, not even my family. Strangers
who knew I served my country treated me with disdain. My family treated me like I had a disease.
They were afraid to talk to me, and when they did muster up the courage to talk to me they always seemed to say the
wrong thing. I go to bed angry and afraid most nights.
Angry that my military experience in Vietnam has caused many problems for me. And afraid to go to
sleep because the nightmares of Vietnam scare me badly. My brain cannot tell fact from fiction and when
I have dreams about Vietnam it’s like I am re-living those horrible firefights I used to have in Vietnam.
Daily, I find myself checking my windows, my door locks, and checking under my bed for intruders. I
learned those skills in the Marine Corps, but my third wife seems to think I have lost my mind. She calls
Also, since I separated
from the Marine Corps I have had a very difficult time sustaining employment. I first worked for the police
department, but I was let go because my supervisor thought I was “trigger happy.” I later worked
for many small security guard firms, but all of them let me go. They said I had a temper that was out of
control and that I was going to hurt someone. To earn a living I sold cars for many different dealerships.
I was fired from every place I worked. The sales managers would piss me off. On
one occasion, a sales manager refused to pay me and the next thing I knew I was being pulled off of the guy. I
must have snapped, because I do not remember attacking him. I realized after working for automobile dealerships
for more than a decade, I had to find something that I could do on my own. Since I knew the car business
pretty well, I decided to open a small note lot. That didn’t last very long. The
customers would make so angry that I could not sleep at night. I have been in a downward spiral of despair
I went to the VA to seek help for my mental anguish. I was informed that I may have PTSD.
The psychological impact of multiple war experiences may have led to the many negative psychological issues and cognitive
distortions that I have struggled with since departing Vietnam. I currently participate in a combat PTSD
group at my local Vet Center, and I take many medications to help with my anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.