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VA Disability Ratings for Anxiety

May 22, 2019
Anxiety

Anxiety is often defined as intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.  It is estimated that one-third of adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders.  The most common symptoms of anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Feeling restless, jumpy, or on edge
  • Excessive worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded
  • Difficulty sleeping

There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.  Veterans suffering from anxiety disorders may be eligible for VA disability benefits if they can demonstrate that their anxiety is due to their military service.

How Does VA Rate Anxiety Disorders?

When rating service-connected anxiety disorders, VA uses the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders included in 38 CFR § 4.130 to assign one of the following percentages: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100.  These ratings are based on the level of social and occupational impairment a veteran experiences, and the severity of symptoms VA uses to characterize that impairment.  Importantly, all of the following anxiety disorders are categorized by a diagnostic code (DC) and rated based on this general formula:

  • DC 9400: Generalized anxiety disorder
  • DC 9403: All phobias, including social anxiety disorder
  • DC 9404: Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • DC 9410: Other specified anxiety disorder
  • DC 9411: Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • DC 9412: Panic disorder and/or agoraphobia
  • DC 9413: Unspecified anxiety disorder

This portion of the rating schedule is based upon the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).  According to 38 CFR § 4.125, Diagnosis of Mental Disorders, if the diagnosis of a mental disorder does not conform to DSM-5, the rating agency will return the VA examination report to the examiner to substantiate the diagnosis.  Additionally, if the diagnosis of a mental disorder is changed, the rating agency will determine whether the new diagnosis represents (1) progression of the prior diagnosis, (2) correction of an error in the prior diagnosis, or (3) development of a new and separate condition.

Do Veterans Have to File Separate Claims for Multiple Mental Health Conditions?

Since mental health conditions share similar symptomatology, VA will consider the combined effects of the conditions to determine the overall level of social and occupational impairment.  Although veterans may have another diagnosed mental health condition in addition to their anxiety disorder, VA will only assign one disability rating.  Importantly, when veterans submit a claim for a particular mental health condition, VA will process your claim as a claim for any mental health condition.  Therefore, VA does not limit its consideration to the particular mental health condition that was identified in the veteran’s claim.  For example, if a veteran’s initial claim is for PTSD, but the evidence of record reflects that he or she is also diagnosed with depression, VA is required to consider the veteran’s depression in connection with the initial claim for PTSD.  As such, the assigned rating will reflect the severity and impact of both.

What if Veterans Were Diagnosed with Anxiety Before Service?

Even if a veteran received an initial diagnosis of an anxiety disorder before entering the military, he or she may still qualify for VA disability benefits.  In this case, the veteran would need to prove that his or her military service aggravated, or worsened, the preexisting anxiety disorder beyond its natural progression.  This process is similar to proving service connection on a direct basis.  Here, the difference is that VA classifies the worsening of a preexisting condition as service connection based on aggravation.

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