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.
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.