For all service-connected disabilities, the VA references its own rating schedule, and the criteria listed therein, in determining the appropriate rating. Most common disabilities are listed on the rating schedule, and for those that are not listed, the VA assigns an analogous rating by choosing a similar disability on the rating schedule which has the same types of symptoms as the unlisted disability. For psychiatric, or mental, disabilities, the VA uses a General Rating Formula For Mental Disorders. So whether your disability is PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, or Depression, the VA rates all of these disabilities on the same rating schedule, looking at the same range of symptoms.
This general formula can actually be beneficial to a veteran because psychiatric diagnoses can be fluid. I have seen files where a veteran has been treated by multiple doctors, and each doctor assigned a different diagnosis, from schizophrenia to adjustment disorder to PTSD. While it is important that your psychiatrist or other mental health professional knows all of the details of your condition so as to provide proper care, as far as the VA disability benefits system is concerned, the diagnosis is less important than the range of symptoms exhibited by the veteran.
Let’s discuss how the rating schedule for mental disorders works. I don’t see a noncompensable rating assigned very often for mental disorders, but sometimes the VA will determine that a veteran, while diagnosed with a mental condition, does not have any symptoms that interfere with occupational and social functioning or require continuous medication. In that case, the VA will assign a 0% rating.
A slightly higher rating of 10% is assigned where a veteran’s psychiatric symptoms are completely controlled by medications. A 10% rating might also be assigned if the VA psychiatrist determines that the veteran has only mild symptoms or symptom that come and go which only impair the veteran very rarely, for instance under periods of high stress.
When a veteran’s psychiatric symptoms begin to impair the veteran’s work efficiency more often or more intensely, a 30% rating would be assigned. For this rating, VA is looking at symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks which happen weekly or less often, chronic sleep impairment, or mild problems with memory. This rating is assigned when the veteran is generally functioning well but does have occasional problems socially and occupationally.
The more often a veteran is experiencing psychiatric symptoms, or the more serious those symptoms are, the higher the rating. A 50% rating is assigned in cases where the veteran is experiencing more consistent problems with work and socially. Here, the VA would be looking for symptoms such as panic attacks more than once per week, impaired judgment or thinking or speech, disturbances of mood and motivation, or difficulty with effective work and social relationships.
A higher rating of 70% is assigned where the veteran has occupational and social difficulties in most areas, such as with work and school, family relationships, judgment, thinking or mood. To assign a 70% rating, the VA must find symptoms such as suicidal ideation, ritualistic behaviors, illogical speech, nearly continuous panic or depression, impaired impulse control, difficulty adapting to stress, neglect of personal appearance or an inability to maintain relationships (work or social).
Finally, a total disability rating is assigned in only the most severe cases. To be rated 100% for a mental disorder, the veteran must demonstrate gross impairments in thought or behavior, persistent delusions or hallucinations, an intermittent inability to maintain hygiene and/or perform personal functions, disorientation to time or place, or present a persistent danger of hurting self or others. Of note, we find that many veterans who are at the 70% level of impairment still find themselves unable to work and 100% occupationally impaired even though they don’t meet the criteria for the 100% schedular rating. For those veterans, it can be helpful to apply for individual unemployability as an alternate route to a total rating.
It’s important to know that for each of these categories, a veteran need not suffer from every symptom listed. The VA is supposed to look at all of the veteran’s symptoms and determine into which category he or she most closely fits. A veteran should make sure to report all of the symptoms he or she is experiencing, whether they are on the list or not, so that VA can appropriately consider the veteran’s entire disability picture when assigning a rating.