Did you know there are mental illnesses considered by the VA to be “genetic or developmental defects” for which they will not grant direct service-connection for disability compensation? Two of these, mental retardation and personality disorders, are deemed to be genetic or developmental defects, and thus, do not meet the criteria for a veteran to receive compensation. The categories of mental illness that ARE eligible for direct service connected disability compensation include:
- Psychotic disorders (symptoms include hallucinations and delusions)
- Anxiety (including PTSD, phobias, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, which is the fear of places or situations that cause panic or anxiety)
- Mood disorders (major depression, mania)
- Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia)
- Adjustment disorders (self-destructive behavior due to stress over life changes)
Mental illnesses are rated at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. A 100% rating can only be granted if the veteran can’t function at work or socially in any form or fashion. If a veteran is diagnosed with a mental illness and has symptoms, but his/her ability to function is not impaired, a 0% rating could be assigned. While a 0% rating doesn’t amount to much in monthly compensation, it can make a veteran eligible for VA health care and other benefits. Conversely, if a veteran suffers from one or more of the above listed disorders, but the symptoms from each disorder are similar, he/she will get a single disability rating. As with other disabilities, a veteran must prove his/her mental illness is connected to military service to be eligible for disability compensation. If the mental illness was documented during the initial enlistment exam, this requirement to prove the diagnosis is satisfied. If not, medical records noting a pre-service diagnosis of the mental condition must be provided. Subsequently, a veteran can’t just state his/her symptoms worsened due to active duty. A VA doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist must state in writing that the condition worsened due to military service, and not just because of the natural progression of the mental illness.
To qualify for compensation on the basis of direct service connection, a veteran must have:
- A current mental illness diagnosis
- Evidence of an accident or event while on active duty that created the mental illness
- Medical evidence connecting the current mental illness diagnosis with the in-service incident
In some instances, a veteran may have had a mental illness before going into the service, and due to experiences while on active duty, the condition may have become more problematic. Because of this, a veteran may be eligible for disability compensation on the basis of aggravated service connection. For purposes of this blog, it is my hope there is a better understanding of direct service connection as it relates to mental illness, and the criteria that must be met for a veteran to ultimately get the highest rating possible from the VA.