VA Disability and Depression

Service-connected mental health conditions are prevalent among veterans, and one of the most common is depression. If you experience disabling depression related to your time in the military, you may be entitled to disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA rates depression at 100 percent disabling in very rare circumstances involving gross impairment of thought processes or communication, inappropriate behavior, and other factors. Otherwise, the VA will rate the condition from 0 to 70 percent disabling based on the severity and extent of the symptoms. 

Key Takeaways
  • Veterans with severe depression linked to their military service may qualify for a 100% disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, though such a rating is granted under extreme circumstances.
  • Veterans seeking disability benefits for depression should undergo a thorough assessment, including a C&P exam, and provide comprehensive documentation to support their claim.
  • The VA offers various mental health services for veterans suffering from depression, emphasizing the importance of seeking treatment and support.

Your disability rating for depression affects the amount of your monthly VA disability payment. The VA also provides depression health services for veterans suffering from this mental health condition. 

 Learn more about how the VA rates depression and what you need to do to support your claim. 

Yes. Veterans with depression are eligible to receive VA disability compensation Depending on the severity, veterans with extreme depression can qualify for 100% disability if it fully affects a veteran’s life and their ability to work. But again, like with all other conditions, if the depression is not extreme or severe, the VA can issue a lower VA rating for your depression.

Yes. Veterans with depression are eligible to receive VA disability compensation Depending on the severity, veterans with extreme depression can qualify for 100% disability if it fully affects a veteran’s life and their ability to work. But again, like with all other conditions, if the depression is not extreme or severe, the VA can issue a lower VA rating for your depression.

How Does the VA Rate Depression?

If you file a disability claim for your depression, you will go through an assessment process and be assigned a disability rating. The VA rates depression and other mental disorders by determining the severity of a veteran’s symptoms and the impact on their ability to function. 

If you are being assessed for depression by the VA, you will be evaluated based on a schedule of ratings at certain levels from 0 to 100 percent, with 0 percent being the least severe and 100 percent being the most severe. The ratings are derived from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, known as the DSM-5.

VA Disability Rating Formula for Depression

100 percent

Symptoms at this rating lead to total occupational and social impairment. Veterans assigned this ranking may experience gross impairment in their thought processes or communication, delusions or hallucinations, disorientation, or memory loss. They may act out and demonstrate inappropriate behavior or pose a danger to themselves or others.

70 percent

Impairment at work and in one’s social life is prevalent. Symptoms may include suicidal ideation, obsession with rituals, illogical speech, disorientation, or inability to maintain relationships. Veterans with this rating may experience panic or depression that limits their ability to function independently.  

50 percent

Depressive symptoms cause reduced reliability and productivity and difficulty in building and maintaining relationships. Veterans may have a flattened affect, experience panic attacks more than once a week, and experience impairment of short- and long-term memory, among other symptoms.

30 percent

Veterans at this rating can generally care for themselves, maintain relationships, and keep up with work and life responsibilities. They may experience periods of impairment due to depressed or anxious moods, sleep issues, mild memory loss, or periodic panic attacks.

10 percent

The impairment is mild. Symptoms causing an inability to perform work or socialize are only present during periods of high stress or can be controlled by consistent medication use. 

0 percent

A mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but the symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with work or social life. Ongoing medication may not be necessary.

Average VA Rating for Depression

The VA does not provide any specific average rating for depression. A diagnosis of major depressive disorder, often known as clinical depression, can receive any rating depending on the symptoms present and their impact. 

The VA evaluates each case individually based on the evidence presented. You need to keep thorough records of any symptoms you have experienced or any medical treatment you have undergone related to your depression. 

C&P Exam for Depression

You may be required to have a compensation and pension, or C&P, exam after filing a disability benefits claim. The C&P examiner is usually a VA staff member or a contracted physician. The C&P exam assesses the severity of your depression and its impact on your daily life. 

Expect the following components during the exam:

  • Review of medical history and records: This will include a history of any previous diagnoses, treatments, and medications you have taken or are taking related to depression.
  • Symptom assessment: You will discuss the current symptoms of depression you are experiencing.
  • Functional assessment: This assessment will consider how your symptoms of depression affect your ability to function in various areas of your life.
  • Physical examination: The examiner may also conduct a physical examination to rule out any physical health problems that might be contributing to your mental health symptoms.
  • Psychological testing: If necessary, tests to assess the impact of your depression on your cognitive functioning may be applied.

After the C&P exam, the VA will determine your disability rating. You may also receive recommendations for treatment or support services. Be open and honest during the exam and provide relevant documentation or evidence to support your claim.

Depression in Veterans

The VA has said that fewer than 50 percent of veterans returning from combat zones seek any mental health treatment. While all veterans can develop depression, those who served in combat zones or experienced traumatic events during their service are at an increased risk, especially when compared to the general population. Depression can result from deployment-related stress, combat experiences, or difficulties adjusting to civilian life.

When depression is left untreated, it can significantly hinder veterans in various areas of life, including their work and relationships. Most concerning, untreated depression can lead to an increased risk of suicide. The latest data on veteran suicide rates shows that in 2021, the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate for veterans was 71.8 percent higher than it was for non-veteran adults. 

The same report notes that 51.3 percent of veterans who died by suicide in 2021 did not receive Veterans Health Administration services.

How to Get Depression Approved by the VA

To seek VA disability benefits for depression, start by getting a formal diagnosis for your depression. A psychiatrist or psychologist should base the diagnosis on the criteria for depression in the DSM-5, which is the standard classification system used by mental health professionals.

With your diagnosis, you will file your disability claim with the VA. Consider taking the following steps to help support your claim:

  • Document your symptoms: Make note of your depression symptoms and how they impact your daily life.
  • Seek treatment: Consider therapy or medication if your health care provider recommends either.
  • Attend your C&P exam: It is essential to attend this exam and be honest about any symptoms and their effects on your life.
  • Collect and submit supporting evidence: Gather and submit any relevant medical records, treatment history, and supporting documentation to the VA to support your claim for depression. Documentation might include medical records from VA health care providers, private practitioners, therapy notes, medication records, or relevant statements from family members or friends.

You must be proactive, thorough, and persistent throughout the claims process. If you would like the assistance of an experienced representative as you work through this process, contact Veterans Guide to get started.

Depression as a Secondary Disability

Depression can be a secondary disability to another service-connected primary disability or condition. There are many primary conditions that depression can be secondary to, including:

These are just several examples of conditions where depression can develop into a secondary disability. If you have already filed a claim for a primary condition or are currently receiving benefits for that service-connected disability, you can file a new claim with the VA for depression as a secondary disability. 

Help for Veterans in a Mental Health Crisis

In the event of an emergency, always call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are experiencing a crisis, the Veterans Crisis Line is a confidential, 24/7 resource available to you or your family members and friends. You can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or text 838255 to connect with a trained responder who can provide support, guidance, and resources. 

For less emergent situations, the VA provides a variety of mental health services, including crisis intervention, counseling, medication management, and inpatient psychiatric care. Many centers offer peer support programs.  Contact your local VA medical center or Vet Center to learn more about getting access to the best treatment options.

Need Help Filing an Appeal?

If the VA denies your claim for depression or you disagree with the assigned rating, you have the right to appeal the decision through the VA’s appeals process. Navigating the VA disability claims process is not always easy. Seek assistance from an experienced legal representative at Veterans Guide..

If you believe your rating is too low or if you were denied benefits, contact Veterans Guide for help.

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