VA Disability Rating for Depression Secondary to Back Pain

VA Disability Rating for Depression Secondary to Back Pain

The VA offers disability benefits to Veterans suffering from certain physical and mental ailments or injuries, including mental illnesses like depression. However, many Veterans don’t know that depression, or other mental health condition, caused by another injury or illness can also qualify them for additional disability benefits.

If back pain caused your depressive symptoms, read on. We’ll explain the VA’s disability rating system for depression secondary to back pain and other service-connected injuries and illnesses. We’ll also explain how you can maximize your chances of a successful VA disability claim.

Does the VA Offer Disability Benefits for Depression?

Yes, the VA offers disability benefits for depression. The VA has recognized mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety as legitimate grounds for disability benefits for several years now. This makes sense, given that mental illnesses can be just as difficult and debilitating as physical injuries and illnesses — sometimes even more so.

To receive disability benefits for depression, Veterans must provide three crucial pieces of evidence:

  • A current diagnosis of their condition from a licensed medical practitioner or a VA medical practitioner
  • Evidence of an in-service event, illness, or injury that caused or catalyzed the condition
  • A medical nexus that links the current and diagnosed condition to the in-service event or injury

These three elements can be difficult to fulfill for mental illnesses like depression, which may not have easily identifiable nexus events. Instead, veterans frequently experience stressors or traumatic events that may lead to depression or similar conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The VA categorizes major depressive disorder under diagnostic code 9434. Veterans may receive disability benefits for depression if their symptoms meet the severity, duration, and frequency outlined in the DSM-V. A Veteran may receive a percent rating between 0% and 100% total disability.

Although depression is a primary service-connected condition for many Veterans, you may also receive benefits if your depression is a secondary condition.

What Is a Secondary Service Connection?

The VA awards a secondary service connection when it finds that a current health condition was caused or aggravated by the Veteran’s original service-connected injury or illness. Here is an example of depression as a secondary condition:

  • A Veteran experiences a major back injury during a Veteran’s service. They receive treatment but still experience significant pain and discomfort daily.
  • After leaving the military, continued uncomfortable or painful symptoms negatively affect the Veteran. They cannot enjoy activities they once did before joining the military, or they find that their quality of life decreases.
  • The constant pain and lower quality of life catalyze an episode of depression that would not have affected the Veteran if they had not been injured.

In this example, the Veteran’s military service did not directly cause their mental condition. However, the Veteran’s other service-related disability caused depression. That makes depression a secondary condition. This can also be true for other primary service connected conditions that lead to a Veteran’s depression. 

Fortunately, Veterans can claim their depressive symptoms as secondary conditions and receive Veterans benefits such as VA disability compensation.

How Can Veterans Link Depression to Back Pain?

Depression is often a side effect of serious back pain. If a Veteran experiences chronic back pain or limited mobility, they:

  • May have a lessened range of motion
  • May have trouble maintaining gainful employment
  • May experience consistent or chronic pain or discomfort
  • May be unable to participate in their favorite activities
  • May be bedridden or confined to a chair for long periods

Because of these symptoms, many veterans cannot enjoy life as they did before. Their medical condition can severely negatively affect their mental health, leading to symptoms of depression.

Veterans can link depression to back pain if their back pain leads to loss of ability, lower quality of life, or constant pain and discomfort despite painkillers and other treatments.  

Disability Ratings for Depression Secondary to Back Pain

The VA rates a Veteran’s disability related to their depression between 0% and 100%. Like all of the VA’s mental health disability ratings, these ratings are based on the severity of symptoms and the level of occupational or social impairment.

For example, a Veteran with a 50% VA rating for their depressive symptoms may display noticeable cognitive shifts or deficits, such as an inability to make decisions or difficulty following instructions. 

The general rating formula for secondary conditions is not intuitive. The VA takes the secondary rating as a percentage of the Veteran’s original rating, then adds these two percentages together. Here’s an example:

  • A Veteran already has a disability rating of 30% for a back injury.
  • The Veteran receives a disability rating for their depression secondary to back pain of 20%.
  • The VA calculates the 20% of the 30% disabled rating above. That is, 20% of 30% is six percent.
  • Adding up 30 and six equals 36%. 
  • However, because the VA always rounds up to the nearest factor of 10, the Veteran’s new total disability rating becomes 40%.

Since this formula can be difficult to calculate, you should contact knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys if you plan to file a claim for depression secondary to back pain.

Are Mental Health Condition Ratings Separate From Physical Disability Ratings?

Both mental health conditions and physical disabilities or conditions use the same disability rating system. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about your depression rating not increasing your total disability rating or benefits.

How To Get Disability Benefits for Depression Secondary to Back Pain

It can be difficult to receive disability benefits for depression secondary to back pain. Depression is a mental health condition with fewer outward symptoms than physical ailments or injuries. Furthermore, proving a nexus element for a secondary condition can be tougher than establishing it for a primary injury or illness.

To apply for disability benefits for depression secondary to back pain, you’ll need to gather and submit private medical records, establish a nexus opinion, and contact legal professionals. We’ll break down each of these steps in more detail below.

Gather and Submit Private Medical Records

As the first step in the claims process, it’s crucial to gather and submit private medical records that showcase symptoms relating to your depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Medical records can include:

  • Notes from your doctor
  • Prescriptions for antidepressant medication from a licensed medical practitioner
  • Journal notes from yourself, which could serve as evidence of your mental state

These medical records will prove that you have depressive symptoms that negatively affect your quality of life.

Establish a Nexus Opinion

The nexus opinion ties a Veteran’s primary service-connected condition and a secondary condition together. Both must be fully established to receive benefits for your secondary condition.

You can form a nexus opinion by gathering more medical evidence alongside the recommendation of a licensed health care practitioner, like a doctor or therapist. The nexus medical opinion must explicitly tie your current depressive symptoms to your primary service-connected injury or illness.

If disabled Veterans experience back pain and have a diagnosis of depression, their nexus opinion should include a breakdown of how their back condition leads to their depressive symptoms. Other contributing factors like tinnitus, sleep apnea, or other physical conditions are not relevant in this case.

Contact Legal Professionals

Gathering records and establishing a nexus opinion can be difficult, even for service members well acquainted with the VA disability benefits system. It’s always wise to hire a law firm to help you gather the evidence you need, understand what the VA looks for when deciding whether to provide benefits for a secondary connection claim, and assist in many other ways. 

Furthermore, Veterans law attorneys can assist with appealing the VA benefits decision if the VA decides to reject your claim.  

Get Legal Help Today With Berry Law

It can be difficult to prove a nexus opinion for depression secondary to back pain. Don’t do it alone. Instead, contact Berry Law, and let us help you receive the benefits you deserve.

As knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys, we’re the perfect team to help you through this process. Whether you experience depression alone or have other secondary conditions because of your back pain, we can help you file successful claims and even navigate the appeals process if necessary. 

We’ve helped many Veterans like you receive benefits for their depression and other mental health conditions. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation and consultation.


Secondary Service Connection for Diagnosable Illnesses Associated With Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) | Federal Register 

38 CFR § 4.130 — Schedule of Ratings — Mental Disorders | Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute

The Nexus Letter | North Dakota Veterans Affairs

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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