VA rates mental health conditions differently than physical ailments, and not all psychiatric disorders qualify for service-connected compensation. Eligible mental health conditions include mood disorders such as depression. Veterans suffering from depression may be eligible for VA disability benefits if they can demonstrate that their depression is due to their military service. This can often be done in a number of ways.
Direct Service Connection for Depression
In order to establish service connection for depression on a direct basis, veterans must show evidence of the following:
- A current diagnosis of depression. The easiest way to show proof of a diagnosis for depression 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 depression, 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 his or her family members can be particularly effective. These statements can be used to describe both the onset and progression of the veteran’s depression, as well as how it relates to service.
- A medical nexus between the depression 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.
Secondary Service Connection for Depression
Veterans can also receive service-connected compensation for depression on a secondary basis if their depression is the result of another service-connected condition. For example, veterans with orthopedic conditions may become depressed due to the constant pain they experience or their functional limitations that prevent them from doing everything they used to do. In cases of secondary service connection, the nexus between a veteran’s primary service-connected disability and his or her depression must be clearly established. Therefore, to establish secondary service connection for depression, veterans must demonstrate the following:
- A current diagnosis of depression
- Medical evidence showing the relationship between his or her service-connected disability and his or her depression
Service Connection for Depression by Aggravation
Service connection for aggravation may be awarded when a veteran’s depression is worsened by military service. For example, a veteran may have suffered from depression prior to entering service, but then certain events in service caused his or her depression to worsen. Establishing service connection based on the theory of aggravation often requires a medical opinion from a qualified health professional stating it is at least as likely as not the veteran’s depression worsened as a result of his or her service.
How Does VA Rate Depression?
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 depression. Veterans with more severe symptoms such as persistent delusions or hallucinations in which he or she hears voices or perceives things that are not actually there, may receive a 100 percent disability rating. Self-injurious behaviors and suicide attempts are also consistent with a 100 percent rating.
Importantly, a veteran does not need to endorse all of the symptoms listed in each rating criteria. A Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims case, Mauerhan v. Principi, established that the symptoms listed in Diagnostic Code 9411 (i.e. post-traumatic stress disorder) are not intended to constitute an exhaustive list, but rather serve as examples of the type and degree of the symptoms, or their effects, that would justify a particular rating. The same case law applies when determining a disability rating for depression. Therefore, a veteran can have any number of the symptoms listed in the rating criteria for depression and still meet that level of evaluation.
Questions About VA Disability Ratings for Depression? Call Chishom Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD Today
If you are suffering from depression as a result of your military service, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help you get the VA disability benefits to which you are rightfully entitled. For a free case evaluation, call 800-544-9144 today.