Basics Screening - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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Screening for PTSD

Only a mental health or medical professional can diagnose PTSD. This section helps you understand how PTSD is identified and how you can take a first step to screen a person who should be referred to a provider for a PTSD assessment.

How Is PTSD Identified?

Only a licensed mental health or medical provider can diagnose PTSD. However, clergy members may have a role to play in screening for the condition. Screening is a way to assess whether someone needs a more extensive evaluation to determine the presence of a diagnosis.

All branches of the military have routine systematic screening programs for depression and PTSD in their post-deployment health programs and primary care clinics6, and all Veterans being seen at VA facilities receive a PTSD screening. A positive screen indicates that further assessment is warranted, but it does not necessarily mean that the Veteran has PTSD.
Primary Care PTSD Screen
The Primary Care PTSD Screen for DSM-5 (PC-PTSD-5) is a 5-item screen that was designed to identify those with probable PTSD7. Those screening positive require further assessment from a mental health professional. The results of the PC-PTSD-5 should be considered "positive" if a client answers "yes" to any three of the five items about experiences in the past month related to an event.

Sometimes things happen to people that are unusually or especially frightening, horrible, or traumatic. For example:

  • A serious accident or fire
  • A physical or sexual assault or abuse
  • An earthquake or flood
  • A war
  • Seeing someone be killed or seriously injured
  • Having a loved one die through homicide or suicide
Have you ever experienced this kind of event? YES or NO

  • If no, screen total = 0. Please stop here.
  • If yes, please answer the questions below.
In the past month, have you ...

  1. Had nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you did not want to? YES or NO
  2. Tried hard not to think about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the event(s)? YES or NO
  3. Been constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled? YES or NO
  4. Felt numb or detached from people, activities, or your surroundings? YES or NO
  5. Felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself of others for the event(s) or any problems the event(s) may have caused? YES or NO

What If I Think Someone Has PTSD?

If you believe that a Service member or Veteran has PTSD based upon the PC-PTSD-5, make an appropriate referral to a mental health clinic or specialized PTSD clinic. There are many PTSD treatment options for active duty personnel, and all VA medical centers offer PTSD treatment, as do many Vet Centers and VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics. You can find specialized PTSD programs by using Military OneSource or VA's PTSD Program Locator.

Get help for PTSD

If you need help right away:

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PTSD Information Voice Mail:
(802) 296-6300
ncptsd@va.gov
Also see: VA Mental Health

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