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Depression and Veterans Disability Benefits

Depression and Veterans Disability Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes all forms of clinical depression as potential service-connected disabilities. As such, Veterans dealing with depression are eligible for VA disability benefits.

The VA knows that due to their exposure to traumatic events while in military service, all Veterans are at an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may lead to depression. Clinical depression and PTSD, alone or together, can be debilitating.

All too often, however, Veterans’ claims for mental health issues are denied, or the claim is not rated as highly as it ought to be. If a Veteran has persistent symptoms of depression and has been denied Veterans’ disability compensation for depression, Berry Law can review the facts of any case and discuss whether they feel like that veteran should file a VA disability appeal.

What is Depression?

Depression, also called major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder. It may be marked by feelings of intense sadness or hopelessness. Some Veterans who are depressed find that they have decreased energy and lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy. People with depression can also experience feelings of guilt, unworthiness, or low self-esteem, and they may start avoiding being around people.

According to the VA manual, Active-duty soldiers experience major depression at a rate that is five times higher than among a comparable civilian group. A recent analysis of 25 studies estimated that major depression affects 12% of currently deployed U.S. military personnel, 13% of those previously deployed, and 5.7% of those never deployed.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most prevalent and disabling form of depression. In addition to the immediate symptoms of depression, MDD results in poor quality of life overall and decreased productivity. A Veteran with major depression may experience social difficulties, such as stigma, loss of employment, and marital conflict.

Anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse are common concurrent conditions that may worsen depression and complicate treatment.

Common signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Losing interest in daily activities.
  • Frequently eating more or less than usual.
  • Gaining weight or losing weight without planning to do so.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough almost every day.
  • Feeling exhausted as if they have no energy almost every day.
  • Irrational anger, or quick to anger.

A Veteran experiencing one or more of these symptoms (for example, almost every day for at least a few weeks)may be depressed.

Medication and counseling have proven very effective for most people, and many types of professionals can treat depression. The VA has a team of individuals trained to treat Veterans. Veterans can get treatment from the VA or through their private doctor.

VA Rating Schedule for Depression

To get disability compensation for depression, a veteran will need a diagnosis, and they must establish that their military service contributed to the development of their depression. This is called “service connection.” Once service connection is established, the VA will determine their level of impairment and assign a disability rating.

The VA rating schedule determines the amount of compensation a Veteran may receive for service-connected disabilities. The higher the VA disability rating, the higher the monetary compensation. Factors such as being married or having dependents can also increase the amount of compensation that the VA provides.

The VA’s § 4.130 Schedule of ratings – Mental disorders address persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), major depressive disorder, and unspecified depressive disorder. There are five levels of ratings from 0-100% in 10%-increments that result in benefits.

0% VA Rating

A mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but symptoms are not severe enough either to interfere with occupational and social functioning or require continuous medication.

10% VA Rating Requirements

Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms that decrease work efficiency and the ability to perform occupational tasks during periods of significant stress. The symptoms may be controlled by continuous medication.

30% VA Rating Requirements

Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due to such symptoms as: depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events.

50% VA Rating Requirements

Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as flattened affect; circumstantial or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory; impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.

100% VA Rating Requirements

Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.

Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TIDU)

A Veteran who has been rated below 100% for depression may still be entitled to a Total Disability rating based on Individual Unemployability, or TDIU. Veterans unable to obtain and maintain gainful employment due to service-connected conditions can qualify for TDIU.

A Veteran may qualify for TDIU according to the disability ratings schedule or on an extra-schedular basis. The scheduler requirements are that:

  • The Veteran has one service-connected disability rated at least 60% disabling; OR
  • The Veteran has more than one service-connected disability, with one condition rated at least 40%, and a combined rating of at least 70%. For example, a Veteran may qualify for TDIU based on VA ratings for PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) and for depression considered a secondary disability proximately due to PTSD or TBI.

If a veteran has a rating less than 100% and their service connected conditions meet the scheduler requirement and prevent them for working, they may be entitled to TDIU.

Establishing Direct Service Connection for VA Disability Depression Benefits

As with other VA disability benefits claims, a veteran must establish a connection between their military service and their disability. Service connection is based on each individual case. There is a known connection between military service and depression, but each case is unique.

A 2016 clinician guideline summary for managing MDD states that “Military personnel are prone to depression, at least partially as a result of exposure to traumatic experiences, including combat, and separation from family during deployment or military trainings.”

Service records, medical records, and statements from fellow Veterans, friends, and family can help establish that depression began during military service. Service records may identify a specific event that caused emotional or psychological harm, perhaps along with physical injury. This may be an event the veteran doesn’t recall as significant, but a review of records or interviews with former comrades helps to pinpoint it.

Common In-Service Causes of Depression

A Harvard Medical School essay about the causes of depression says there are many possible causes, including chemical imbalance, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.

When we discuss depression among Veterans, we initially focus on “stressful life events,” such as those that occur during combat. However, a variety of factors may contribute to the onset of depression, such as:

  • Deployment, particularly with combat exposure.
  • Bereavement over the loss of comrades or loss of family members while deployed.
  • Long duty hours.
  • Frequent relocation.
  • Physical wounds. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can damage the brain and trigger depressive symptoms. Likewise, the loss of a limb or other disfiguring or disabling wounds can lead to depression.

Depression may be a symptom of service-connected PTSD, including cases in which medication for PTSD symptoms causes depression. A study at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York found that about half of Veterans with PTSD also had a diagnosis of MDD.

Obtaining VA Benefits for Service-Connected Depression

To obtain VA benefits for depression, the Veteran must demonstrate that he or she has been diagnosed with depression and that its existence is service-connected. As suggested above, depression may be diagnosed as a secondary issue brought on by a primary physical or psychological condition, for which the Veteran may already have a disability rating.

To appeal a denied claim or add depression to an existing claim, the Veteran can submit:

  • Current medical records of examination, diagnosis, and treatment for depression, including a statement that the depression is a primary disabling condition or a secondary disability, as appropriate.
  • Service records or in-service medical records that provide evidence of an incident or conditions during military service that caused or aggravated the depression and/or primary disabling condition.

Even with such evidence submitted, the VA may require going to a local VA medical center for a Compensation and Pension Examination (C&P exam) to determine whether a diagnosis of depression is valid in the VA’s eyes, and connected to service.

How Can a VA Disability Lawyer Help Obtain VA Benefits for Depression?

As Veterans who serve Veterans, the attorneys at Berry Law recognize that depression is a serious medical condition that can cause Veterans significant disruption in their daily lives and relationships. Veterans with clinical depression suffer from damaging effects on their social and family life and their ability to make a living.

At Berry Law, we understand the need for Veterans to obtain treatment for depression and other psychological conditions brought on by military service or related causes. We represent Veterans with mental health impairments in VA disability appeals nationwide. Ways we can help include:

  • Gathering Evidence: A lawyer can help gather and organize medical records, doctor’s opinions, and other evidence documenting the severity and impact of depression on the ability to work and function.
  • Completing Forms and Applications: Navigating the paperwork involved in applying for VA benefits can be overwhelming. A lawyer can assist in completing forms accurately and ensuring all necessary information is provided.
  • Appeals and Denials: If a veteran’s initial application for benefits is denied, a lawyer can help navigate the appeals process. They can gather additional evidence, prepare for hearings, and represent a veteran in appeals proceedings.
  • Advocacy and Representation: A VA disability lawyer can advocate for a veteran throughout the process, representing their interests and fighting for the benefits they deserve.

Overall, working with a VA disability lawyer can greatly increase the chances of successfully obtaining VA benefits for depression. They can provide guidance and support every step of the way.

At Berry Law, we stand ready to help appeal denied VA disability claims to seek access to the resources that Veterans need to fight depression. We urge Veterans not to delay seeking treatment if they suffer from symptoms of depression. Veterans have earned the help they need for this potentially debilitating medical condition, including a proper VA rating and the associated monetary benefits promised to them.

Contact Berry Law to Appeal a VA Claim for Depression

Berry Law is committed to ensuring Veterans receive all the disability benefits they are entitled to by federal law. We are attorneys who are Veterans, former VA employees, and military spouses. We provide the guidance Veterans need to seek proper VA disability benefits, especially when their mental health is at stake.

Our efforts to protect the rights of disabled Veterans have helped establish new VA laws to support Veterans. If Veterans have been denied VA disability compensation for depression or their disability rating is too low, we will use our knowledge of the appeals process experience to help them receive a fair and thorough review of their denied claim or inappropriate disability rating.

If their VA disability claim for benefits related to depression was denied or rated too low or Veterans need to add depression to their rating, we want to help them. We represent Veterans in all 50 states and our legal team is available 24/7. Call Berry Law at (888) 883-2483 or contact us online today to schedule a free and confidential legal consultation. We know the way forward.

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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