Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), with about 6.7% of all adults estimated to have experienced a major depressive episode in 2014. Veterans are no exception, and according to an estimate provided by VA, nearly one-third of all veterans who visited primary care facilities in 2008 reported depression-like symptoms.
VA devotes significant efforts to studying the causes, effects, and treatment methods for mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And while depression hasn’t been proven to afflict veterans more severely than non-veterans—as PTSD does, for instance—it is still treated with the utmost seriousness, and VA provides disability compensation based on depression’s effect on your life.
Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment of Depression
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, is a medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. It often causes feelings of sadness, and/or a loss of interest in things you typically enjoy. Symptoms may vary widely among those who suffer from it, and when a doctor diagnoses it, they may add one or several specifiers, meaning that your depression has a specific subset of symptoms. Common symptoms range from mild to severe, and include the following:
- Sadness or depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things or activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite, including weight loss or gain
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Slowed movement, slowed speech, or conversely, fidgeting
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or decision-making
- Frequent thought about death or suicide
Depression may only occur once in a person’s life, but people typically have multiple episodes. Symptoms are often serious enough to affect day-to-day living, negatively affecting your work, school, social life, and personal relationships.
The exact cause for depression remains unknown, but certain factors include biological differences, including physical changes in your brain, brain chemistry, hormones, and family history. Depression typically hits you in your teens, 20’s, or 30’s, but can occur at any age. Additional risk factors for depression include the following:
- Personality traits like low self-esteem, pessimism, or being overly dependent or self-critical
- Traumatic or stressful events, including sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, death or loss of loved ones, difficult relationships, or financial hardship
- Family history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or suicide
- Personal history of mental disorder, including anxiety disorder, eating disorders, or PTSD
- Unsupportive environments for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Suffering from a serious or chronic illness
- Certain medications
Thankfully, depression is a treatable condition. Frequently, medications and psychotherapy, often used in combination, are able to improve symptoms. In some cases, a hospital stay or outpatient program may be required.
VA Disability Ratings for Depression and Mental Health Disorders
To rate your disability for depression, VA refers to its General Rating Formula for Mental Health Conditions found under 38 CFR § 4.130, of the Federal Register. This formula is based around the diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Your symptoms must meet the frequency, duration, and severity of depression as outlined in the DSM-5 to be considered for service connection. VA grades the severity of your condition based on five domains: cognition, interpersonal interactions and relationships, task completion and life activities, navigating environments, and self-care.
As with all other mental health disorders, VA rates depression according to the level of social and occupational impairment. You should also recognize that depression is diagnosed differently from PTSD, which requires a “stressor,” or particular moment from your life to explain your condition. You should also note that VA does not rate mental health disorders individually. Instead, VA considers all of your symptoms accordingly and rates the level of your impairment according to one scale.
Ratings for mental health disorders, including depression, are as follows:
- 0% Rating: You have a formal diagnosis along with mild or transient symptoms that do not impair your social or occupational functioning, cognition, or capacity to care for yourself. You don’t require continuous medication. A 0% rating does not grant you any monthly monetary compensation
- 10% Rating: You have mild or transient symptoms that impair your social or occupational functioning during periods of heightened stress. Your symptoms can be controlled by medication.
- 30% Rating: You have some social and occupational impairment with occasional decreases in work efficiency, though you can generally function satisfactorily, care for yourself, and maintain relationships.
- 50% Rating: Your symptoms come with social and occupational impairment, including reduced reliability and productivity. You’re having trouble establishing and maintaining personal and professional relationships.
- 70% Rating: Your symptoms cause significant social and occupational impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, including work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood. Your level of self-care drops and you may have suicidal ideations.
- 100% Rating: You are experiencing total social and occupational impairment do to your symptoms, including gross impairment in thought processes and communication, delusions or hallucinations, inappropriate behavior, and/or presenting danger to yourself or others.
Assistance With Your Claim
To seek out disability benefits from VA, you will need to provide a current diagnosis for your condition along with a medical nexus proving that it was caused or worsened by your time in military service. Depression may also be claimed as a secondary service -connected condition from another disability that VA considers service connected, and it may also make you eligible for total disability individual unemployability. Because of this, you want to make sure that your claim is handled appropriately and that you get the compensation you deserve.
VA Disability Group PLLC is ready to help you with your claim or appeal for depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental health disorders. Simply call 844-VET-LAWS or contact us online to start the process and get you the disability compensation you need.