Occupational & Social Impairment: How It Affects Your VA Claim

Hundreds of thousands of US Veterans experience mental health conditions and chronic illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

While the health impacts of mental health conditions can be difficult to measure, the Department of Veterans Affairs uses specific metrics to determine how much a disabled Veteran should receive in monthly compensation.

One of the most important metrics is occupational and social impairment. Read on for more information about occupational and social impairment and how it can affect your VA claim and overall disability rating.

What Is Occupational and Social Impairment?

Occupational and social impairment involves consistent difficulty or struggles with occupational or social challenges and situations. 

“Occupational” means pertaining to the workplace or your job, while social can include any social situation involving friends, family members, spouses, or strangers.

If you experience occupational and social impairment, you have difficulty with daily situations and events in one or more areas. Some examples include:

  • Being unable to maintain social relationships because of anxiety or depression
  • Having difficulty responding to workplace commands or completing work tasks because of distractions, hallucinations, or PTSD symptoms
  • Being unable to respond properly in social situations, such as speaking to someone at a store

How Does the VA Use and Define Occupational and Social Impairment Defined?

The VA defines and rates occupational and social impairment because it’s a common symptom of mental health conditions and disabilities like PTSD.

Mental health conditions do not always manifest physical symptoms like bodily injuries. Therefore, the VA needs a way to determine whether and by how much a mental health condition impairs a Veteran’s daily life and abilities.

Suppose PTSD significantly negatively affects a Veteran’s occupation and social abilities. In that case, that can be used as evidence that the Veteran needs disability benefits to pay for therapy, education, and other similar necessities. 

How Does Occupational and Social Impairment Affect VA Disability Benefits Claims?

Occupational and social impairment affect VA disability claims in a few key ways.

PTSD Claims

First, it’s an important part of all Veteran PTSD claims. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition characterized by experiencing repeated trauma triggered by one or more stressors. 

For instance, a Veteran may develop PTSD after engaging in combat while on active duty. Afterward, loud noises, such as a car engine backfiring, can trigger panic attacks or other symptoms for that Veteran.

PTSD is a mental health condition, so it doesn’t manifest physical symptoms in all cases (although it does in some cases). To rate a Veteran’s PTSD and determine the level of monetary compensation they need, the VA may look at occupational and social impairment instead of testing the Veteran in other ways.

Other Disability Claims

Although occupational and social impairment is primarily used for PTSD claims and disability ratings, Veterans can also use it for other disability claims, especially those regarding trauma or mental health conditions.

At the time of this writing, the VA rates various mental health conditions by examining the level of occupational and social impairment that a Veteran experiences. These mental health conditions include:

  • Anxiety, including panic disorder
  • Amnesia
  • Cognitive disorders
  • Chronic adjustment disorder
  • Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia
  • Mood disorders
  • Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia
  • Somatoform disorders, which are mental disorders that manifest as inexplicable physical conditions or ailments

Note that some mental disabilities may be rated with other tests, depending on whether they have any manifested physical symptoms or other effects that the VA must consider.

Levels of Occupational and Social Impairment and Corresponding Disability Ratings

The VA rates mental disorders through its Schedule for Rating Disabilities. The scale goes from 0% to 100%, and your occupational or social impairment may be rated according to the following descriptions:

0% Rating

This rating is applied if you have a formally diagnosed mental condition but your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with either your occupational or social functioning

10% Rating

This rating is applied if you experience occupational and social impairment because of either mild or transient symptoms. 

The symptoms must decrease your work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks, but only when you experience significant stress. Your symptoms must also be controllable by continuous medication

30% Rating

This rating is applied if you experience occupational and social impairment that results in an occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of being unable to perform occupational tasks. 

You must still provide generally functioning behavior regarding the conversation, self-care, and workplace routines. Symptoms can include depressed mood, anxiety, mild memory loss, suspiciousness, or panic attacks

50% Rating

This rating is applied if you experience occupational and social impairment that reduces reliability and productivity. 

It includes symptoms including: 

  • Circumstantial, stereotyped, or circumlocutory speech
  • Panic attacks that occur at a rate of more than once per week
  • Difficulty understanding complex commands
  • Long and/or short-term memory impairment
  • Impaired judgment
  • Difficulty establishing and maintaining effective social and/or workplace relationships

70% Rating

This rating is applied if you experience occupational and social impairment that results in deficiencies in most areas of your life. These include family relations, work, school, and more. It also includes symptoms including: 

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Spatial disorientation
  • Difficulty adapting to stressful circumstances
  • An inability to establish and maintain effective relationships
  • Near-continuous depression or panic that affects your ability to function independently
  • Impaired impulse control

100% Rating

This rating is applied if you experience total occupational and social impairment. 

This occurs due to symptoms including but not limited to: 

  • Disorientation to time or place
  • Memory loss for the names of close relatives or your name
  • Intermittent inability to perform daily living activities like personal hygiene maintenance
  • Grossly inappropriate behavior
  • Persistent delusions or hallucinations
  • Persistent danger of hurting yourself or others

How Does the VA Measure Occupational and Social Impairment?

The VA measures occupational and social impairment in a variety of ways.

First, the VA takes lay statements into account. Lay statements are any documented statements or written letters substantiating or stating your claims as to your physical or mental abilities.

For instance, writing a journal detailing your day-to-day feelings and difficulties counts as a lay statement. You can also request a lay statement from your spouse, family members, friends, or fellow service people. They can explain that they have noticed you have difficulty with depression or anxiety after leaving the military.

Next, the VA considers the official recommendation of a licensed therapist or another mental health professional. Suppose you see a therapist for your PTSD, for example. In that case, your therapist’s recommendation or breakdown of your symptoms will be valuable in determining your social and occupational impairment level.

Finally, the VA may order an independent diagnosis or evaluation from a mental health care provider they appoint. During your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination, you’ll be tested and examined, and the results of that exam will affect your overall disability rating and the VA’s compensation decision.

How Do You Improve Your Disability Benefits Claim?

If you believe that your mental health struggles have reduced your occupational and social abilities, recording that information as often as possible is important. 

Write your experiences in a journal and ask your coworkers, friends, and family members to write lay statements. Collect all of these before submitting any disability benefits claim.

You should also contact educated Veterans law attorneys right away. These attorneys can provide further advice and counseling regarding the type of evidence you should gather and recommend various resources to help you strengthen your claim.

More importantly, the right attorneys can help you file your disability benefits claim accurately and properly from day one. That way, you won’t have to wait for the VA to get back to you only to have them request more information or reject your claim because of an avoidable error.

Contact Berry Law Today

Your occupational and social impairment level can affect your VA disability claim and the disability rating you may eventually receive. Understanding the different levels of impairment and the evidence you need together to prove yours is vital to ensure that you receive the maximum compensation possible.

Berry Law can help with this and much more. Our educated, experienced attorneys know exactly the kind of evidence to gather and can help you file a successful VA disability claim. Contact us today to learn more.


VA Mental Health Services | Veterans Affairs 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | NIMH

38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities – Web Automated Reference Material System |

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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