Mental injuries can be just as debilitating as physical ones, and healing from them is never an easy endeavor. Fortunately, service-connected disability compensation is available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for various cognitive, behavioral, and emotional conditions resulting from active duty service.
Like with any other VA disability claim, it is important to provide as much detail as possible to prove not only that you suffer from a serious mental health condition, but also that your impairment stemmed directly from circumstances you were exposed to during military service. Assistance from a skilled lawyer is often critical to ensuring your veterans’ mental health claim is properly filed.
The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities classifies mental illnesses based on the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In other words, veterans can seek compensation for any service-related mental health condition that the DSM-5 explicitly lists, including but not limited to:
Importantly, the VA does not provide compensation for mental disorders that stem partially or wholly from “genetic or developmental defects.” That being said, the existence of a diagnosed personality disorder prior to entering service does not disqualify a veteran from seeking benefits for another condition brought about by active service. For example, a servicemember diagnosed with a personality disorder before they enlisted could still pursue compensation later for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The most essential component of any veteran’s mental health claim is definitive proof of a direct service connection. In other words, you must prove that your mental illness is the direct result of conditions you encountered during active service rather than any pre-existing issues. Relevant evidence to submit with a claim generally includes an up-to-date diagnosis from a medical professional, details regarding a specific incident(s) during active duty that led to your mental condition, and documentation from a medical professional connecting the illness to the named incident(s).
Certain mental illnesses are presumed to have a service connection if they occur within a certain period of time after discharge from the military. Additionally, compensation is available for mental illnesses with a “secondary service connection” that stem directly from a physical disability acquired during active service. For instance, depression brought on by the loss of a limb in an IED explosion could qualify a veteran for additional benefits.
If a veteran can prove they have a service-connected mental health disorder, their condition will be rated based on the VA’s General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders, which rates mental illnesses according to the applicant’s level of impairment from zero to 100 percent.
A condition that leaves a former servicemember completely non-functional would receive a 100 percent, while a diagnosed disease that does not impair their ability to function would get a zero percent rating. A zero percent rating would not make a veteran eligible for cash benefits, but it would still allow them to seek health care through the VA and grant them access to certain other benefits.
It is not unusual for a veteran to experience multiple mental health conditions after leaving the military. In fact, many different mental health conditions occur in tandem or as a result of the same incident. For example, it is not uncommon for a person diagnosed with PTSD to also suffer from anxiety or depression. Having multiple service-related mental health conditions could complicate a claim for benefits but may ultimately yield more compensation with the right legal guidance.
Fortunately, veterans do not have to file a claim for each individual mental health condition they are facing. To simplify the process of claiming VA disability benefits for multiple mental health impairments, the VA considers the combined effects of all eligible mental conditions and will assign a rating based on how these combined effects contribute to a veteran’s social impairment and occupational challenges. In other words, all of a veteran’s service-related mental disorders will receive one cumulative rating from the VA.
Furthermore, the VA examines the evidence provided with a veteran’s mental health claim moreso than the conditions listed by the applicant, meaning certain conditions that he or she did not mention in the paperwork may warrant disability compensation. Regardless, it is best to include the most comprehensive information possible when pursuing a claim for service-connected mental health disorders.
While the VA must consider all service-related mental conditions when assigning a disability rating, it may be challenging to accurately quantify all the ill-effects of a combination of mental disorders. This can lead the VA to overlook or underestimate the severity of one or more of a veteran’s mental conditions. One of the ways an attorney can assist with a former servicemember’s mental health claim is by challenging an inadequate disability rating.
The primary focus of VA mental health claims is the financial needs of disabled veterans. However, in some cases, benefits could also be available to a former servicemember’s dependents. These benefits are intended to help ease the financial strain in a veteran’s home and provide for the dependents that relied on the vet during his or her military service career. Dependent benefits are available for veterans with disabilities rated at 30 percent or higher.
The more dependents a veteran has, the higher their maximum benefit may be. Each additional dependent could increase the amount of benefits he or she receives, up to a point. The dependents that may qualify for benefits include parents, spouses, or children of a disabled veteran.
The process of pursuing disability benefits from the VA is complicated, especially if your wounds are not externally visible. However, your mental health is just as important as your physical health and just as deserving of fair compensation if your military service resulted in lasting mental damage.
Talking to our team of dedicated lawyers should be the first step you take toward filing a successful veterans’ mental health claim. Call us today to learn more about your options.