Men and women who return from military service often find their experience has had a negative impact on their mental health. If you suffer from a serious service-connected mental illness, you may be able to receive veterans disability benefits.
How the VA Evaluates Mental Health Conditions
The VA evaluates mental illnesses using the criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. Common mental health conditions eligible for disability benefits include:
- Eating disorders
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The VA does not allow compensation for mental illnesses that are genetic or the result of a developmental defect such as personality disorders. However, if you enter service with a personality disorder and later develop a second mental illness, the personality disorder will not disqualify you from receiving disability benefits.
Mental illnesses are assigned a disability rating of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. Someone with a 100% rating is unable to work or function socially due to his mental health condition. Someone with a 0% rating is ineligible for cash payments but may become eligible for VA health care and other benefits based on his disability rating. Most applicants receive ratings under 50%.
There are no set guidelines for rating mental illnesses based on a specific diagnosis, so it’s difficult to predict what rating you will receive. However, you can maximize your compensation by providing as many details as possible regarding how your mental illness affects your ability to engage in daily activities, hold paid employment, or socialize with friends and family. Be as specific as you can without exaggerating your symptoms. If friends and family can testify as to the severity of your mental illness, consider asking them to include supporting statements in your application for benefits.
Mental Illnesses With an Aggravated Service Connection
If you were diagnosed with a mental illness before your service and your active duty experience made your condition worse, you may be able to receive benefits based on what is referred to as an aggravated service connection. There are three key elements to establishing an aggravated service connection:
- You were currently diagnosed with a mental illness diagnosis by a VA doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
- You can provide evidence of an experience in military service that made your mental illness worse.
- You can provide evidence of a connection between your mental illness and the service-connected event that caused your condition to worsen.
Mental Illnesses With a Presumed Service Connection
In some cases, you do not need to provide specific evidence of a service connection to receive VA disability benefits. This is because your condition is presumed to be service-connected based on medical research.
The most common example of a presumed service connection is when an individual develops depression or PTSD after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Multiple studies have proven that these mental illnesses commonly develop after a TBI, so the VA presumes this is what has occurred in your case.
Mental Illnesses With a Secondary Service Connection
When a mental illness develops as the result of a physical disability caused by an injury that occurred while on active duty, this is referred to as a secondary service connection. In this case, a veteran is entitled to a disability rating for both the primary physical condition and the secondary mental health condition.
Depression that develops as the result of an injury leading to chronic pain is the most common example of mental illness with a secondary service connection. However, a written opinion from the treating physician is necessary to establish a secondary service connection.
Are You A Veteran Who Needs Legal Help To Obtain The Disability Benefits You Deserve?
If you are a veteran and you need help receiving the benefits you deserve you should speak with an experienced veterans disability benefits lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Virginia Beach office directly at 757.490.3500 to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk and Suffolk.