When reviewing claim files for compensation for psychiatric disorders, I often find that a veteran may have received multiple diagnoses over a period of years. Five different mental health professionals may have diagnosed the same veteran with five different psychiatric disorders. This discrepancy can indicate more than one disorder, but more often it seems that the veteran is receiving competing diagnoses for the same set of symptoms. Psychiatric disorders can sometimes be difficult to differentiate as many disorders have overlapping symptoms. For instance, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will often suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression. Sometimes we even find that a veteran who is being treated at the VA for PTSD may report to a Compensation and Pension examination just to be told that he does not meet the criteria for PTSD and is, instead, suffering from an anxiety disorder.
While establishing the correct diagnosis is certainly important in so far as treatment is concerned, the important consideration for establishing entitlement to VA benefits isn’t whether the veteran has been diagnosed with PTSD or with anxiety (or with some other psychiatric disorder) but whether that psychiatric disorder is related to service. In other words, if the veteran’s depression disorder or anxiety disorder is caused by what happened to the veteran in service, he need not meet the criteria for PTSD in order to receive VA disability benefits. Even if the veteran’s condition was not caused by service, if it began during service, the veteran may also be able to receive benefits for that disability. So, for purposes of VA benefits, the diagnosis is not nearly as important as the symptoms for which the veteran is requesting compensation.
One instance where the diagnosis does matter is where a veteran has been diagnosed with a personality disorder. A true personality disorder is generally not compensable under the VA disability rating system, but it is important to note that other acquired psychiatric disorders are sometimes mistaken for a personality disorder. I often find that a veteran who began struggling with psychiatric symptoms during service was misdiagnosed with a personality disorder and discharged as unfit. A personality disorder, however, is not a condition which just disappears. If that same veteran, after service, is never again diagnosed with a personality disorder, but is consistently diagnosed with another psychiatric disorder such as PTSD or schizophrenia, that change in diagnosis must be considered by the VA.
A claim for benefits for a psychiatric disorder should focus, then, on the symptoms from which the veteran is suffering and how they are connected to service. A diagnosis of PTSD secondary to combat is neither more nor less likely to be compensated than is a diagnosis of depression that began during service. If your psychiatric disorder was caused by or began during service, you are entitled to compensation for that disability, no matter how it is labeled.