VA Disability for Mental Health: Ratings and Compensation

For Many Veterans, Mental Health Issues Can Be a Daily Struggle. 

The transition out of the military back into civilian life can be jarring for many Veterans. The intense and often traumatic experiences that many soldiers have can leave them permanently affected, both physically and mentally. The long-term effects of military service can often include mental health issues like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

If you are a Veteran who struggles daily with a mental health condition, you may be eligible to receive monthly disability benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The VA provides tax-free monthly support to Veterans who suffer from service-related disabilities, both physical and psychological. To qualify for VA disability benefits for a mental health issue, you typically only need a diagnosis from a mental health professional, an in-service event or occurrence that led to your disability,  and sufficient evidence that your condition is directly connected to your military service.

Sadly, it is not always as simple as it should be for Veterans struggling with mental health problems to get the support that they need and deserve from the VA. We’ll walk you through the key parts of getting approved for mental health-related benefits from the VA, as well as some of the critical conditions that the VA recognizes as disabilities.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Veterans 

One of the most common forms of mental illness that many Veterans suffer from is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is extremely common in Veterans due to the many traumatic experiences that can come with military service. Whether a Veteran experiences something traumatic on the frontlines, in the form of assault or abuse, or from other circumstances, they may end up suffering from the long-term effects of their trauma. 

PTSD can arise years after a traumatic experience, with the condition often catching Veterans by surprise. A Veteran may suppress memories of their trauma for years, sometimes experiencing debilitating physical symptoms as a result. When the trauma finally surfaces, it can come back in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and other extremely troubling symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder in Veterans can be easy to trace back to a specific experience or set of events during a Veteran’s time in the military. This connection to certain trauma is often described as a “nexus,” a link between a specific trigger and the symptoms of PTSD that a Veteran experiences. Finding the nexus that connects a Veteran’s PTSD symptoms to their military service can play a major role in a Veteran’s ability to qualify to receive benefits from the VA.

In order to approve a Veteran for monthly benefits, the VA needs sufficient medical evidence – a diagnosis – to support a Veteran’s application for support. In addition, a Veteran applying to receive benefits will need to verify with medical evidence that their disability is directly connected to their military service. When it comes to PTSD, getting approved for monthly benefits from the VA typically involves getting a diagnosis from a mental health professional who examines your military medical records and finds a verifiable connection between your military service and the symptoms you are suffering from.

In addition to an evaluation by a mental health professional, the VA will also have you undergo their own examination before you can be approved for benefits. Known as a compensation and pension exam (C&P for short), this exam helps the VA get a sense of your symptoms and how they affect your life. Then, they will be able to determine how much monthly support to give you.

Anxiety and Depression in Veterans 

Many Veterans re-enter civilian life suffering from some form of service-related anxiety or depression. Transitioning back to “normal” life can be jarring for any Veteran and can often cause some debilitating emotional weight to set in. Often referred to as adjustment disorder, the anxiety, depression, frustration, and numbness often experienced during a major transition is often experienced by Veterans in the years after they leave the service.

Veterans can suffer from anxiety or depression for a number of reasons. One common long-term effect of military service is chronic stress and a feeling of always being “on.” The high-stress environment that many soldiers live in, sometimes for years, can have a lasting effect on a Veteran’s mental health. Whether the long-term effect of the many stressors of military service is anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, or other symptoms, a Veteran can struggle long after they have left the military. 

The VA recognizes service-related anxiety and depression as disabilities, making a Veteran eligible to receive monthly benefits. However, the severity of these mental health issues can have a big impact on the disability rating that the VA gives to a Veteran. The VA gives each Veteran who applies for disability benefits a rating between 0 and 100. This disability score represents how much a Veteran’s service-related disability affects their ability to live. The more severe a Veteran’s disability is, the higher their rating from the VA will be.

Because anxiety and depression can vary in severity from person to person, the VA’s disability ratings for these conditions can vary as well. If a Veteran is suffering from anxiety or depression that is so severe that it makes it impossible for them to work or socialize, the VA is much more likely to give that Veteran a higher score, potentially even the highest possible rating. If mental health issues are making it extremely hard for you to work and live a life that you love, you deserve to receive the support you need from the VA to take care of yourself and your loved ones as you recover.

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder in Veterans

If you are a Veteran with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the VA will likely give you a higher disability rating. These conditions can be debilitating, often making it difficult for a Veteran to maintain a job. In situations where a disability makes a Veteran unemployable, they can qualify for a status called Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). TDIU can help to verify to the VA that you should qualify for a 100% disability rating because your condition is so severe that it makes you unable to work.

What if the VA Gives Me a Rating That Is Too Low? 

In a situation where you need support from the VA in order to take care of yourself, it is worth it to do everything you can to get the disability rating you deserve. When you need your disability rating raised, there are some key steps you can take to contest the VA’s ruling on your claim. 

If the VA gives you a rating that is too low, you have the right to enlist the support of an attorney to appeal the decision or request a decision review. If you appeal, the VA will revisit your case and may come to a different conclusion that leads to a better outcome for you. Decision reviews sometimes involve the VA asking you to present further evidence to support your claim, such as testimonials from fellow soldiers or a statement from your doctor. A decision review can also involve having a senior VA official look at your claim, leading to a different ruling.

If a decision review does not leave you with the rating you deserve, you can continue to contest the VA’s ruling by making another appeal. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can successfully make a case in court to the VA that you deserve to have a higher disability rating. An attorney can help you compile evidence and navigate the appeals process in order to get the best possible outcome. 

In some cases, the VA does not give an accurate rating to a Veteran suffering from a mental health condition. Mental illness is often especially difficult for the VA to assess, and you can end up getting fewer benefits than you deserve based on an inaccurate rating. You shouldn’t have to fight with the VA to get the support that you need and deserve, but when you do, one of our team of skilled attorneys is here to help.

Berry Law exists to provide Veterans with all of the help and support they need in appealing VA decisions and getting the benefits they deserve. If you are a Veteran suffering from a mental illness and need help making an appeal, we’re here to team up with you. We can help walk you through the appeals process no matter how far it goes, representing you at any level – from your regional VA office to higher courts. Appeals can go through multiple stages, and we want to stick with you all the way through, helping you to compile the evidence you need to support your claim and get the outcome that you deserve. Call Berry Law today to schedule a free case evaluation.

 

Sources:

https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/6/3/94

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jts.20460

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796705001026