Over the last couple of years, I have come to learn that the most difficult disabilities to understand are the disabilities that have to do with mental health. The reason behind it is that simply put; you cannot see a mental health disability. If someone breaks their arm and they are wearing a cast, it is evident that there is a physical handicap. But, when it comes to a mental health disability, you cannot see the person’s PTSD, depression, or anxiety. This issue has become overwhelmingly evident with the VA. Every day veterans are struggling with disabilities that we cannot see. Veterans are struggling to make the VA see their disability. But just because you cannot see a mental disability, does not mean that it does not exist. The VA has come up with a rating formula that measures the level of mental disability the veteran experiences from 0 percent to 100 percent. For mental health disabilities, there are five ratings that can be assigned.
- 0 percent: a mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but symptoms are not severe enough to either interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication. It is important to note that this rating is noncompensable.
- 10 percent: Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress; or, symptoms controlled by continuous medication.
- 30 percent: occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work tasks (although generally functioning satisfactory, with routine behavior, self-care, and normal conversation), due to such symptoms as:
- Depressed mood
- Panic attacks that occur at least once a week
- Chronic sleep impairment
- Mild memory loss
- 50 percent: occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to symptoms such as:
- Flattened affect
- Circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech
- Panic attack that occurs more than once a week
- Difficulty understanding complex commands
- Impairment of short and long term memory
- Impaired judgement
- Impaired abstract thinking
- Disturbances of motivation and mood
- Difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships
- 70 percent: occupational and social impairment with deficiencies in most areas such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood due to symptoms such as:
- Suicidal ideation
- Obsessional rituals that interfere with day to day activities
- Illogical speech
- Near-continuous panic attacks
- Depression that affects the ability to function independently
- Impaired impulse control
- Neglect of personal hygiene an appearance
- Difficulty adapting to stressful situations (including work or worklike settings)
- Inability to establish and maintain effective relationships
- 100 percent: total occupational and social impairment due to symptoms such as:
- Gross impairment in thought process or communication
- Persistent delusions or hallucinations, grossly inappropriate behavior
- Persistent danger of hurting yourself or others
- Intermittent inability to preform day to day activities
- Disorientation of time and place
- Memory loss of names of close relatives, own occupation, or name
For most mental conditions, regardless of the diagnosis, the VA will use the same rating schedule, as described above, in order to rate the veteran’s mental condition. The VA will normally use exams, such as a Compensation and Pension Exams, and will examine all of the medical evidence on the veteran’s symptoms and functional limitations before assigning a rating. The variability in the process means that it can be extremely difficult to predict the exact rating a veteran will receive.
It is common that the VA will generally give out a low disability rating or they may deny the claim to start out with. However, this should not dissuade a veteran from applying for disability compensation. If a veteran has a mental condition that is linked to the military, the veteran should always pursue the claim. If the claim is denied or if the rating given is too low, the veteran can always appeal.
Understanding the way that the VA rates a mental health condition 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.