How the VA Rates Mental Disorders
The VA determines ratings for hundreds of different disabilities according to very specific criteria based on federal law. If you are interested, you can access the schedule of ratings for yourself here at the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Today, we’ll look at the rating schedule for general mental disorders. Many physical disabilities have rating schedules that are based on objective, measurable criteria. For example, ankylosis (a term for a fusion of joint bones that causes immobility) of the knee can be rated anywhere from 30% (if the knee is able to be fully extended despite the ankylosis or if the knee can be flexed between 0 and 10 degrees of movement) to 60% (if the knee cannot be flexed past 45 degrees). The rating criteria for general mental disorders are more subjective. This is due to the fact that the severity of mental disorders is usually not as easy to evaluate as the severity of physical disorders.
This schedule covers a variety of mental disorders from PTSD to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eating disorders have their own specific schedule. The schedule ranges from 0% (non-compensable) to 100% (in which an individual is considered unemployable and entitled to receive the maximum level of compensation).
General VA Rating Formula for Mental Disorders
- 0% – This category is for veterans who have the diagnosis but do not show enough symptoms to impair work performance or social functioning or to require regular medication. No compensation is awarded at this level.
- 10% – In order to meet this rating, a veteran must have mild symptoms that impair work performance and social function only during times of high stress. This rating is also appropriate for veterans whose symptoms are managed by continuous medication.
- 30% – This rating requires a generally regularly functioning veteran to have work and social impairment with occasional decreases in work performance due to symptoms from their diagnosed disorder. At times, veterans in this category may be unable to do certain tasks related to work due to their symptoms. These symptoms range from depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, weekly or less frequent panic attacks, trouble sleeping, to mild memory loss.
- 50% – This rating requires a veteran to have regular impairment of work and social functioning due to their symptoms. The symptoms may range from a flattened affect (not being able to show any emotion, good or bad); “talking in circles;” panic attacks that happen more than once a week; trouble understanding complex commands; poor short- and long-term memory; impaired judgment; trouble with abstract thinking; disturbances in motivation or mood; and trouble making and maintaining relationships.
- 70% – In order to meet the criteria for this rating, a veteran must suffer from
impairment in most, if not all, of the following areas: work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood. There are many symptoms that may cause impairment, among them suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide); obsessive rituals interfering with daily activities (for example, compulsive hand-washing); illogical, obscure, or irrelevant speech; continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function on one’s own; impaired impulse control (for example, irritability with periods of violence in response to minor inconveniences); spatial disorientation (getting lost or disoriented); neglect of personal appearance or hygiene (intentionally or unintentionally not showering or brushing one’s teeth); difficulty adapting to stressful circumstances, including at work; and inability to make or keep up professional and personal relationships. Even if you do not have any other disabilities, a single mental condition rated at 70% means you may be qualified to receive individual unemployability benefits.
- 100% – The highest possible rating. A veteran rated at 100% is considered totally disabled. As such, the requirements for this category are very severe. A veteran who receives this rating must be totally impaired due to symptoms such as overall impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations (believing things that are not true or seeing and/or hearing things that are not there); inappropriate behavior (for example, undressing oneself in public); persistent danger of hurting self or others (including suicide attempts); recurrent inability to perform activities of daily living (this includes feeding oneself, bathing oneself, dressing oneself, and using the toilet); disorientation to time (being unsure of time of day, date, or year) or place; memory loss to the degree of forgetting the names of close relatives, one’s own occupation, or one’s own name. This rating entitles you to the same benefits as an award of individual unemployability.
Why are mental disorders so hard to measure?
As discussed above, mental conditions are harder to measure than most physical conditions. It is not uncommon for a person to have symptoms that fit into two different rating categories. Applicable law states that when a veteran displays symptoms that could fit into two different rating categories, the higher rating should be assigned if the disability overall fits the criteria for that rating. Take the example of Mr. X, a veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD. Mr. X’s PTSD symptoms include trouble sleeping (30% category) and weekly panic attacks (30% category). He also gets lost very easily (70% category), which never happened before his diagnosis. Mr. X’s wife has to remind him to brush his teeth and take regular showers (70% category). Mr. X is retired from his former job as an office manager. He had to retire because dealing with employees and clients every day got to be too stressful (70% category). He also had trouble remembering to make calls, even if his secretary reminded him about them (50% category). Even though Mr. X has PTSD symptoms that could fall into three different rating categories, he should be assigned the 70% rating because he fits the overall criteria for that category.
Mental disorders are very common for veterans to experience, and can be just as disabling as a physical condition. If you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder and any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, you should apply for VA benefits to receive the compensation you deserve.