A 2008 VA study estimated about 1 in 3 (33.3%) of Veterans have some symptoms of depression; 1 in 5 (20%) have serious symptoms and 1 in 8 (12.5%) have major depression, requiring treatment with psychotherapy and antidepressants.
How to Establish Service Connection for Depression
There are three basic elements to service connection:
- A current diagnosis of the condition
- Evidence of an in-service event, injury or illness
- A medical nexus linking the current, diagnosed condition to the in-service occurrence
It is important to note that for depression diagnosis’, it is not necessary to establish a stressor (i.e., a traumatic event).
This is only required when establishing service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
VA Disability Ratings and Diagnostic Criteria for Depression
The VA relies on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to rate all mental health conditions.
As long as a veteran’s symptoms meet the frequency, duration and severity outlined in the DSM-5, they should receive a diagnosis of depression.
Once this diagnosis is reached, VA will apply the General Rating Formula for Mental Health Conditions found under 38 CFR § 4.130.
The possible disability ratings are: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70 and 100 percent.
All mental health disability ratings are based on the severity of the condition and the resulting level of social and occupational impairment.
0% VA Rating for Depression
This is typically a very mild presentation. If the VA awards a 0 percent rating, they have determined the veteran has a diagnosis, but the symptoms do not result in a functional impairment or require medication.
This rating is also non-compensable, meaning the veteran will not receive monthly payments for this condition.
10% VA Rating for Depression
This rating also represents a less severe form of depression or anxiety.
The veteran may experience mild periods of depression resulting in social or occupational impairments, but no major functional impairments, and can be managed with medication.
30% VA Rating for Depression
This rating is also meant to represent mild symptoms, but more pronounced than the 10 percent rating.
“Occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks” may occur–meaning the veteran might miss work on occasion, or be less involved in social activities.
However, their depression does not fully incapacitate them.
50% VA Rating for Depression
This rating is a significant increase in the frequency, duration and severity of symptoms.
There are several additional symptoms included in this rating that are not included previously.
Veterans receiving this rating likely display more cognitive impairments.
Some mood-associated symptoms may begin to manifest.
Social and occupational impairments may also be significantly worse, and have a greater day-to-day impact.
70% VA Rating for Depression
This rating represents a wide array of symptoms, including progression of previously noted symptoms.
Veterans may suffer from all the symptoms of previous ratings, but at higher frequency, duration and severity.
The depression is likely constant, and causing regular issues with their day-to-day life.
100% VA Rating for Depression
This is difficult to obtain because the symptoms need to be so severe that they totally impair the veteran’s life, to the point they are unable to function.
The jump from 70 to 100 percent is significant.
There is a substantial decline in cognitive and emotional function.
Self-injury and suicide attempts/idiology are consistent with a 100 percent rating.
A 100 percent rating for depression also includes homicidal ideations.
Denied Mental Health Benefits? Let Us Help!
If you have been denied mental health benefits, or are attempting to increase your rating, the team at Hill & Ponton may be able to assist you.
Click the button below to get more information.
Do Veterans Get Separate VA Ratings for Mental Health Conditions?
Veterans do not receive separate disability ratings for each mental health condition.
Instead, they receive a single disability rating that considers and accommodates all of their associated symptoms.
However, certain mental health conditions could be rated separately if deemed appropriate.
For example, the VA does have separate criteria for eating disorders outside of the General Rating Formula.
There are certain circumstances where separate ratings may happen, but it’s generally rare and for the most part, mental health conditions are rated together.
100% Individual Unemployability (TDIU)
In cases where a veteran’s depression is so severe they are unable to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment, they can apply for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) benefits.
TDIU provides monthly compensation at the 100 percent level, even if a veteran’s combined disability rating is less than 100 percent.
Symptoms of Depression in Veterans
Depression is defined as a “mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in day-to-day activities.”
Most often diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), depression affects how you think, feel and behave, and can lead to a wide range of problems.
Pre-screening for MDD typically begins with the completion of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
Some of the signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration
- Loss of interest in activities
- Sleep disturbances, whether it is sleeping too much or too little
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Reduced appetite or increased cravings for food
- Anxiety, agitation and restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts, attempts or suicide
C&P Exams for Depression
When determining a rating for a mental illness, the VA will normally send veterans to Compensation and Pension Exams, for a doctor to review all the veteran’s symptoms and give a medical opinion.
Since there is variability in this process, it can be extremely difficult to predict the exact rating a veteran will receive.
Understanding the way that the VA rates a mental health condition like depression is a crucial aspect when filing a claim for VA disability compensation.
Veterans who understand the initial claims process will have the insight and knowledge that is needed, with one foot already in the door.
Check out one of our top interviews with Psychologist Dr. Vonetes here!
Can you be depressed and have PTSD at the same time?
Both PTSD and Depression tend to coexist with other medical conditions.
Some of these other conditions include chronic pain, headaches, substance abuse disorders, and anxiety disorders.
These two conditions often exist together within the veteran population.
It has also been shown that PTSD can lead to Depression, and Depression can have symptoms similar to those of PTSD.
So, you might be experiencing both PTSD and depression symptoms together.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event can suffer from PTSD.
Military combat veterans, accident victims, people who have survived a natural disaster, sexual assault victims, and children who have been abused can all be subject to PTSD.
According to the VA, other factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation.
This may contribute to PTSD and other mental health problems.
These factors include your military duties, the politics around the war, where the war is fought, and the type of enemy you face.
Risk factors for depression include negative life events, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or loss of employment.
Research shows that chronic stressors (such as illness, lack of social support, and numerous “daily hassles”) are also linked to a higher risk for depression.
In fact, stress from adjusting to military life has also been known to cause depression.
Are You or Someone You Love in Crisis?
The VA has a Veterans Crisis Line equipped with responders who are trained to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
This Crisis Line connects service members, as well as their family and friends, with caring professionals through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text messaging service.
The Crisis Line can be accessed any of the following ways:
- Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
- Send a text message to 838255
- Start a confidential online chat session at veteranscrisisline.net/chat
- Find a VA facility near you
Getting Help With Your Claim
If you or a family member have had a disability claim denied and are unable to work due to mental illness, the team at Hill & Ponton is here to help.
Our experienced veterans’ disability lawyers can asses your case and help with your appeal. Contact us today to get started.
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