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Veterans Law

What Is a GAF Score and How Does it Affect My VA Disability?

Robert Chisholm

March 2, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023

GAF Score

Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores are frequently used by VA to assess veterans’ mental health disorders.

*NOTE: GAF scores were included in a previous edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that is no longer in use.  The current edition of the DSM does not include GAF scores in evaluations of mental disorders.

What Is a GAF Score?

Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores measure how much a person’s psychological symptoms impact their daily life. The scale ranges from 0 to 100 and is often used in VA assessments of the severity of a veteran’s psychological disorder. The GAF assessment breaks down into ten sections that test how you are able to handle daily activities. The higher you score on the GAF scale, the better you’re able to handle aspects of daily life including social and occupational functioning.

The GAF system is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is a manual for mental health professionals that offers a standardized method of diagnosing and assessing mental health disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety. Since the score is standardized, doctors across mental health fields are able to interpret GAF scores the same way. Meaning if one doctor assigns a GAF score of 50, for example, another doctor will be able to look at that score and have a good understanding of the severity of that patient’s mental disorder.

What Is the GAF Scale?

According to the DSM, the complete list of GAF scores is below.

100 – 91: Superior functioning in a wide range of activities, life’s problems never seem to get out of hand, is sought out by others because of his or her many positive qualities. No symptoms.

90 – 81: Absent or minimal symptoms, good functioning in all areas, interested and involved in a wide range of activities, socially effective, generally satisfied with life, no more than everyday problems or concerns.

80 – 71: If symptoms are present, they are transient and expectable reactions to psychosocial stressors; no more than slight impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning.

70 – 61: Some mild symptoms, or some difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning, but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.

60 – 51: Moderate symptoms, or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning.

50 – 41: Serious symptoms, or any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning.

40 – 31: Some impairment in reality testing or communication, or major impairment in several areas, such as work or school, family relations, judgement, thinking, or mood.

30 – 21: Behavior is considerably influenced by delusions or hallucinations, or serious impairment in communication or judgement.

20 – 11: Some danger of hurting self or others, or occasionally fails to maintain personal hygiene, or gross impairment in communication.

10 – 0: Persistent danger of severely hurting self or others, or persistent inability to maintain minimal personal hygiene, or serious suicidal act with clear expectation of death.

How Does the VA Use My GAF Score?

The VA often assesses for GAF scores in the context of a Compensation and Pension examination. VA Examiners will assess for GAF scores based on talking with the veteran at the examination and reviewing the veteran’s medical records. The VA then uses the results of these exams, along with the GAF score, to assign the appropriate rating for a veteran’s mental health condition. However, psychologists have noted that GAF scores can change from day-to-day based on a person’s level of functioning, so they may not be the most reliable indicator of continued levels of impairment.

For this reason, the VA may assign an incorrect rating for a veteran’s mental disorder based on a GAF score in a VA examination. Since GAF scores can vary day-to-day, the examiner may not accurately assess a veteran’s overall functioning level over time; instead, they may base their assessment on the veteran’s functioning level that day. This may result in veterans being under-rated for their mental disorders.

If you think that you have been rated incorrectly for your mental health disorder by the VA, our office may be able to help. Call our office for a free case evaluation at 800-544-9144.

About the Author

Bio photo of Robert Chisholm

Robert is a Founding Partner of CCK Law. His law practice focuses on representing disabled veterans in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and before the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a veterans lawyer Robert has been representing disabled veterans since 1990. During his extensive career, Robert has successfully represented veterans before the Board of Veterans Appeals, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

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