The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes all forms of clinical depression as potential service-connected disabilities. The VA also knows that due to Veterans’ exposure to traumatic events while in military service, all Vets are at an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may lead to depression. Alone or together, these disorders can be debilitating for the afflicted Veteran. Fortunately, each of these ailments can be treated or improved in most cases.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression and been denied Veterans disability compensation for depression, let us review the facts and discuss whether you should file a VA disability appeal. Contact Berry Law Firm for a free consultation. Our team is built of Veterans and military family members who help fellow Veterans appeal VA disability claim denials and disability rating decisions. From our headquarters in Nebraska we are able to handle Veterans’ disability appeals throughout the United States.
As Veterans ourselves, we understand the sacrifices that Veterans make while serving our nation. As attorneys, our mission is to fight for you to receive all the VA disability benefits that you earned.
What is Depression?
Depression, or depressive disorder, 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 experience feelings of guilt, unworthiness or low self-esteem, and they may start avoiding being around people.
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, posttraumatic 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 most of your 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 you have no energy almost every day
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms (for example, almost every day for at least a few weeks), you may be depressed.
Medication and counseling have proven very effective for most people, and many types of professionals are able to treat depression.
If your depression is service-connected, you deserve VA disability benefits for depression to pay for your medical treatment. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should provide you additional compensation if you cannot work for a living because of disabling depression that is serviced connected.
Establishing Direct Service Connection for VA Disability Depression Benefits
If you have been diagnosed with depression, you must establish that the disorder was caused by military service to obtain VA compensation for depression. Once you have established a service connection, the VA will determine your level of impairment and assign a disability rating.
Fortunately, the VA recognizes the connection between military service and depressive disorder. A 2016 clinician guideline summary for managing major depressive disorder 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.”
The prevalence of major depression among active duty soldiers is five times higher than among a comparable civilian group, according to one study cited by the VA manual. Further, an analysis of 25 studies estimated that recent major depression occurs at rates of 12% among currently deployed U.S. military personnel, 13% among previously deployed and 5.7% among those never deployed.
Your service records, medical records and statements from fellow Veterans, friends and family can help establish that your depression began during your service. Service records may identify a specific event that caused emotional or psychological harm, perhaps along with physical injury. This may be an event you don’t recall as significant, but which a review of your records or interviews with former comrades helps to pinpoint.
Sometimes, the VA fails to make the connection between a Veteran’s service and a diagnosis of depression. When that happens, our dedicated attorneys are ready to work with you to pursue an appeal and present evidence needed for the VA to make the proper decision.
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 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, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can damage the brain and trigger depressive symptoms, the loss of a limb or other disfiguring or disabling wounds, which can lead to depression.
Depression may be a symptom of service-connected PTSD, including cases in which medication for PTSD symptoms cause the 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 major depressive disorder (MDD).
Eligibility for VA Compensation for Depression
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 addresses persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), major depressive disorder and unspecified depressive disorder. There are five levels of ratings from 0-100% in 10 percent increments that result in benefits.
A 10% rating requires:
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.
A 50% rating requires:
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.
A 100% rating requires:
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.
In addition, a Veteran who has been rated below 100 percent 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 schedular requirements are that:
- The Veteran has one service-connected disability rated at least 60 percent disabling; OR
- The Veteran has more than one service-connected disability, with one condition rated at least 40 percent, and a combined rating of at least 70 percent. For example, a Veteran may qualify for TDIU based on VA ratings for PTSD or TBI and for depression considered a secondary disability proximately due to PTSD or TBI.
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 would need to 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 Vet’s depression and/or primary disabling condition.
Even with such evidence submitted, the VA may require you to go to a local VA medical center for a Compensation and Pension Examination, or “C&P exam,” to determine whether a diagnosis of depression is valid in the VA’s eyes.
How Can a VA Disability Lawyer Help Obtain VA Benefits for Depression?
As Veterans who serve Veterans, the attorneys at Berry Law Firm 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 to their ability to make a living. We recognize the need for Veterans to obtain treatment for depression and other psychological conditions brought on by military service or related causes.
At Berry Law Firm, we stand ready to help you appeal denied VA disability claims in order to seek access to the resources that you need to fight depression. We represent Veterans with mental health impairments in VA disability appeals nationwide. Our efforts to protect the rights of disabled Veterans have helped established new VA law to support Veterans. If you have been denied VA disability compensation for depression or your disability rating is too low, we will use our knowledge of the appeals process experience to help you receive a fair and thorough review of your denied claim or inappropriate disability rating.
Contact the Berry Law Firm to Appeal a VA Claim for Depression
We urge Veterans not to delay seeking treatment if they suffer from symptoms of depression. You have earned the help you need for this potentially debilitating medical condition, including a proper VA rating and the associated monetary benefits promised to you.
Berry Law Firm 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 are dedicated to providing Veterans the guidance they need to seek proper VA disability benefits, especially when their mental health is at stake.
If your VA disability claim for benefits related to depression was denied or rated too low or you need to add depression to your rating, we want to help you. 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.