Qualifying for a VA disability rating for depression can be difficult for some veterans.
Because you must be able to prove that your depression was caused or made worse by your active duty military service.
However, it can often be hard to characterize depression.
Often, depression is thought of as an invisible issue since it can’t be seen.
When most people think about VA disability ratings, they consider the physical injuries of a service member.
They may not consider the mental health and well-being of the veteran.
Depression is often masked, and it is not as easy to spot as a physical injury.
In this article, we will explain how to get a VA disability rating for depression.
How to Establish Service-Connection for Depression
One of the important things to remember is that the only way to qualify for a VA rating for depression is to show evidence that the depression directly stems from service.
This logical link or “connection” is otherwise known as a Nexus.
The veteran also needs to show that they have a current diagnosis of depression.
Naturally, the easiest way to show that you or your loved one is clinically depressed is with your medical records (service treatment records, VA medical records, and/or private treatment records).
The easiest way to prove service connection for depression is by having evidence in your active duty service records.
These records will contain any illnesses or injuries during your time in the service, including depression.
Having this information in the service record can go a long way in proving the depression occurred during or shortly after active duty because of something related to the service.
However, not all veterans will have this evidence available in their service records.
Due to the culture of the military, many active-duty personnel often try to hide their depression and other mental health issues from their peers and their leaders.
These statements can help to describe when the depression began, as well as how the depression has progressed.
This will often make it easier to highlight how depression is related to their time in service.
Veterans should consider getting a Medical Nexus Letter from a qualified medical professional or an Independent Medical Opinion (IMO) that attests that they, as a medical provider, believe that the condition was “at least as likely as not” caused by service in the military.
It’s also important to add that any traumatic event that happened during active duty qualifies, ex: family death, divorce, failing to get promoted.
How to Qualify for a VA Rating for Depression
To qualify for a VA disability rating for depression, the event that caused the depression will need to have happened while you were on active duty.
However, this does not mean that it necessarily had to occur while you were in the line of duty.
It could be entirely unrelated to your experience in the military but happened while you were on active duty.
For example, you may have had an incident occur while you were in the line of duty, such as being in a firefight or having another service member die in front of you. You might have had a loved one die while you were overseas.
Many events can trigger depression in a person.
Everyone is unique and the things that might cause depression in one person might not affect another the same way.
If you are suffering from depression now, consider some of the events that occurred while you were on active duty and whether one of those may have been the trigger.
When filling for your depression VA disability claim, you will need to know the trigger (event) that caused the depression.
It’s also important to add that any traumatic event that happened during active duty qualifies as a trigger.
These can be things such as:
- Death in the family (or among troops)
- Failing to get promoted
- Stress from the job
- Training, deployments, and separation from family and friends
- Giving birth to a child
Secondary Service Connection for Depression
Let’s say that you were injured while in the military.
And years later you’re still dealing with this pain, which has caused a list of additional problems in your life.
Eventually, triggering depression.
In addition, depression could also cause or aggravate another disability.
For example, the medication that you are taking may have the side effect of another injury or condition.
You must still prove this connection through medical evidence to create the link and show the correlation.
What if I joined the military with depression? Can I still file a VA disability claim for it?
What happens when you’ve been living with depression even before you joined the military?
It is possible to file a VA claim for depression, however there must be a stressor (incident) in the military that shows that the depression was made worse.
This is known as aggravation of a pre-service disability condition.
To qualify, you will need to have a
- A current diagnosis that is provided by a VA medical professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
- Evidence of an incident that occurred while they were in the service that caused the depression to get worse.
- Medical evidence of a link between the event and the depression getting worse.
How to Understand the VA’s Ratings for Depression
After you submit your VA claim for depression for approval, the condition of depression is calculated using the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders on the VA Rating Schedule.
The VA rates mental health conditions using percentages at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%.
This rating helps the VA to determine how much mental illness affects the veteran’s occupational and social impairment.
Those who have higher social and occupational impairment will have a higher rating and vice versa.
Those who have a VA disability rating for depression of 100% are deemed as not being able to function in a job or socially.
A rating of 0 would mean that the veteran would still be able to receive healthcare for the condition; they would not qualify for a VA claim for depression that resulted in monetary compensation.
The severity and the types of symptoms help the VA to determine the rating for each of the veterans who have depression.
A veteran does not need to have all of the symptoms associated with the condition or at a certain rating level to qualify. The system is meant to be a guide for the VA to help place the veteran in the appropriate rating category.
Breakdown of the VA Disability Rating for Depression and Other Mental Health Disorders
To provide you with a better understanding of just what each percentage for VA disability ratings for means, check out the following list.
0% Depression Rating
Those who have a 0% VA rating for depression can still have a diagnosis of depression. However, a rating this low determines that the symptoms are not causing any interference with work or with the ability to function socially. Additionally, these patients are not taking any medication for depression. The veterans are still fully functional, and they can receive treatment for their depression, often in the form of therapy.
10% Rating for Depression
The veteran will have mild symptoms of depression and may undergo periods of high stress. These stressful periods could cause issues at work and in social settings. With a rating of 10%, patients will often be taking medication that can help to control the symptoms. Medication is used at all of the following ratings to help control depression, as well.
30% Rating for Depression VA Claim
Veterans who have a 30% VA disability rating because of a mental health disorder like depression will often have occasional impairment at work and in social settings. Additionally, you might find that the symptoms of depression are causing problems with your efficiency at work and at home. Some of the common symptoms of patients at this percentage include anxiety, panic attacks, and even mild memory loss.
50% Depression Rating
At this VA disability rating for depression, regular impairment interferes with performing duties at work, working with other people, and being able to handle social situations. The symptoms become difficult to handle. Efficiency at work will suffer even more so at this stage. The symptoms tend to be more severe, as well. Panic attacks are not occasional, and they can often happen more than once in a week. Some patients might also have trouble understanding and following complex commands. Short-term and long-term memory can be affected, and a person’s judgment may be impaired.
70% Rating for Depression
Veterans who are rated in the 70% VA rating for depression find that many aspects of their life are impaired. They are not able to function properly at work or in social settings, even with the family in many cases. School settings can suffer, as well. Patients will often have impaired judgment and cognitive abilities, and they may also have severe moods. Those who are in this percentage are at a higher risk to be thinking about suicide. They may also become obsessed with rituals to help them get through the day. Panic attacks are often more severe and more frequent, and the depression deepens.
100% Depression VA Claim Rating
This is the highest VA disability rating, and it means that the veteran is considered to be fully disabled. They are not capable of functioning in work or social settings. The symptoms are similar to those discussed in the lower percentage ratings, but they tend to be more severe. They may have impaired thoughts and trouble communicating. They may have memory issues, trouble performing common daily functions, and they could suffer from delusions depending on their diagnosis. At this stage, there is a chance that the patient is a danger to themselves and others.
VA Disability Rating for Depression: Recognized Mood Disorders
Before getting too deep into the VA rating for depression, it is important to understand how the condition is characterized.
According to the VA, depression is considered to be a mood disorder, and they recognize two different types of depression under this category.
Major Depressive Disorder in Veterans
Major depressive disorder is characterized by a persistently depressed mood, as well as long-term loss of interest in life or pleasure.
To receive a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, you will need to have at least two episodes of depression that last two weeks each.
Many symptoms accompany this type of depression including lack of interest in most activities.
You will likely have trouble sleeping, or maybe sleeping too much.
With this disorder, you will typically feel fatigued and depressed throughout the day, in addition to thoughts of suicide and death.
Veterans with Dysthymic Disorder
Dysthymic disorder is characterized differently than major depressive disorder.
Those who have this disorder will often have irritable mood or mild depression in addition to feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, problems decision making and concentrating for long periods.
To receive a diagnosis for this disorder, it requires that the patient has felt this way for two or more years, and the symptoms they are suffering are severe enough that they prevent normal functioning in the world.
Filing for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability with Depression
In some cases, a veteran might not be able to find and maintain a job due to depression connected to their service in the military.
Typically, the VA will consider these benefits when they examine the claim for depression.
However, the veterans will also have the option of filing for TDIU as a claim on its own, or as part of an increased rating claim if needed.
Temporary VA Disability Ratings Due to Hospitalization
There is also the possibility that a veteran might receive a temporary VA rating for depression if they are hospitalized.
If you are hospitalized for 21 days or longer because of depression, it is possible to receive a rating of 100% temporarily.
The only way that you can qualify for this is if you are getting your treatment at a VA medical center or a VA approved hospital.
Those who receive the temporary VA disability rating will find that it begins on the date that they started their continuous stay at the hospital.
The benefits will continue up until the last day of the month at which time they no longer receive care for the service-related conditions.
If a veteran has been hospitalized for longer than six months, the claim will be “referred to the rating activity for consideration of a schedular 100% rating according to 38 CFR § 4.29.”
Are Compensation & Pension Exams a Requirement for a Depression VA Rating?
This could take place at a private facility or a VA medical center.
The examiner will ask you a series of questions to get a better understanding of how this disability affects your day to day life, and then determine the rating.
What happens after my Depression C&P exam?
To view a copy of the exam after, you can request a copy from the regional VA office or by running a new bluebutton report from My HealtheVet
The VA does not provide copies of the exams to you unless they are specifically requested.
It is always a good idea to do a follow-up and get the information, so you can look at it yourself and see what was provided to the VA.
What happens if the C&P exam does not show that the veteran has depression, or that the depression is not shown to be as severe as you believe for it to be?
In those cases, the veteran will need to provide evidence that counters what was written in the exam.
Many different types of evidence could suffice, but the more you have, the better off your chances of receiving a VA disability rating. You could include additional medical evidence, lay evidence, and other arguments that are in your favor.
What is the Appeals Process for a for Depression VA Claim?
As a veteran, you have the right to appeal the exam, but you need to understand the rules for submitting evidence under the Appeals Modernization Act.
When you appeal, you will be able to choose between three different review options.
With a higher-level review, the veteran will not be able to supply any additional evidence.
Those who choose the supplemental claim route can submit evidence, but only if it is considered new and relevant evidence to the case at hand.
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