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Veterans Law

VA Disability Benefits for Panic Disorder

March 7, 2020
woman staring into window reflection. she has panic disorder

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks – sudden feelings of intense fear and terror when there is no real danger.  Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and without warning.  Symptoms may include the following:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control, going crazy, or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feelings of unreality (depersonalization or derealization)

Additionally, panic disorder is often marked by an intense fear of experiencing another panic attack.  Some people may fear having panic attacks so much that they avoid certain situations where they believe they may occur.  Potential causes of panic disorder include genetics, major stress, temperament that is more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions, and certain changes in the way parts of your brain function.  If left untreated, panic disorder can have a negative impact on daily functioning.  Complications that panic attacks may cause or be linked to include:

  • Development of specific phobias, such as fear of driving or leaving your home
  • Frequent medical care for health concerns and other medical conditions
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Problems at work or school
  • Depression, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric disorders
  • Increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Financial problems

Treatment for this condition may involve psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medications.

Service Connection for Panic Disorder

In order to establish service connection for panic disorder on a direct basis, veterans must show evidence of the following:

  • A current diagnosis of panic disorder. Typically, the easiest way to show proof of a diagnosis for the condition is through medical records.  It is important to note that the diagnosis must be current in order to qualify for VA disability benefits.
  • An in-service event. The best forms of evidence to prove an in-service event include service treatment records as they will have documented any injury or illness, including panic disorder or panic attacks, for which you were treated while on active duty.  This is very beneficial in proving a condition arose during service or shortly after service.  Unfortunately, not all veterans have this type of evidence available to them.  In this case, lay statements from the veteran and/or their family members can be particularly effective.  These statements can be used to describe both the onset and progression of the veteran’s disorder, as well as how it relates to their service.
  • A medical nexus between the panic disorder and the in-service event. A statement from a qualified healthcare professional affirming that they believe your condition was “at least as likely as not” caused by your military service can serve as a medical nexus.

How VA Rates Panic Disorder

Mental health conditions are rated at 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, and 100 percent using VA’s General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.  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.  For example, a veteran experiencing mild symptoms, or whose symptoms are well controlled by continuous medication, may receive a 10 percent disability rating for panic disorder.  Veterans with more severe symptoms, such as near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, may receive a 100 percent disability rating.  Self-injurious behaviors and suicide attempts are also consistent with a 100 percent rating.

Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability

If a veteran is unable to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of their service-connected panic disorder, they may be entitled to a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).  VA should consider entitlement to TDIU benefits when evaluating the veteran’s claim for their disorder; however, veterans can also file for TDIU explicitly either as its own claim or as part of an increased rating claim.