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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Depression is often a side effect of serious back pain. If a Veteran experiences chronic back pain or limited mobility, they:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
These medical records will prove that you have depressive symptoms that negatively affect your quality of life.
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.
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.
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
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