Mental health disorders are becoming more common and widely understood as technology and knowledge in the scientific community improves. So, it is easy to understand there are a high number of mental health disorders being claimed as service connected in VA disability claims. Two of the most widely recognized tests used to determine the debilitating nature that a specific mental health disorder has on you are the GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) and the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
GAF scores are one tool that mental health professionals use in determining how well or poorly someone was doing under the DSM-IV. The DSM is what mental health professionals use in diagnosing mental health disorders. The DSM-IV assessed functioning on five “axes” or levels. Axis I addresses clinical disorders, like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Axis II addresses personality disorders, or developmental disorders. Axis III deals with medical or physical conditions that affected overall functioning. That could include chronic pain or anything that makes life more difficult. Axis IV addresses environmental or psychosocial factors, such as stress at work, homelessness, or anything that made life more difficult for a person. And finally, Axis V is the GAF score, taking the other four axes into account.
In the past, the VA would often rely heavily on a person’s GAF score when determining how to rate a mental health condition. GAF scores went from 1 to 100, with the lower scores indicating more severe impairment. So, someone with a GAF of 90 would likely not be rated at all by the VA, whereas someone with a GAF of 30 would get 100% for a service-connected mental health condition, like PTSD.
However, the DSM-IV is now considered mostly obsolete, and the DSM-V has taken its place. The DSM-V also made GAF scores obsolete, and now uses the WHODAS, or the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule. As of August 27, 2014, the VA now uses the DSM-V for all mental health claims.
What does this mean for your VA disability? If you’ve had a pending mental health claim, your GAF scores can provide persuasive evidence that you were entitled to a higher evaluation, particularly if your scores were 50 or below. Since VA claims can be pending for quite some time, this is valuable information. It also means that if you were given an examination for PTSD or another mental health disorder and were denied service connection, you can reapply. The standards for a PTSD diagnosis have changed under the DSM-V and you may receive a diagnosis if you didn’t previously.
However, if you’ve been diagnosed since August 27, 2014 when GAF scores were made obsolete by the VA, you might find that the doctors haven’t yet switched to using WHODAS. If you’re unhappy with your rating, it might be most helpful to find a mental health professional who will fill out the Disability Benefits Questionnaire so they can indicate what your level of functioning is currently.
Our team at Berry Law is committed to helping Veterans in their fight for disability compensation. A team with a strong military background, we feature staff and attorneys from all military branches. If you need assistance appealing a VA rating decision or think you were rated too low, we may be able to help. We assist Veterans in the appeals process of VA claims, and we have successfully assisted thousands of other Veterans like you. Contact our team today to schedule a free case evaluation and see if we can help you.
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