Dysthymia is a continual and long-lasting type of depression for which VA offers disability benefits as long as your current diagnosis is tied to your service history. While dysthymia—also known as persistent depressive disorder—is not considered as severe as major depression, you may experience episodes of major depression amid longer occurring periods of more mild to moderate symptoms.
VA disability ratings for dysthymia come from VA’s General Rating Formula for Mental Health Conditions, which encompasses all mental health conditions and rates your condition based on its effects to five different domains: your cognition, interpersonal interactions and relationships, task completion and life activities, navigating environments, and self-care.
VA will require a complete picture of your condition’s effect on your whole life, which means you will need a current diagnosis and thorough documentation from a medical professional, your service records, and submitting to a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination through VA. If your condition is serious enough to affect your ability to maintain regular work, you may be eligible for total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) as well, which technically grants you a 100% disability rating.
Dysthymia Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment
Symptoms of dysthymia may change over a period of years and may vary in severity, but they will never be absent for more than a couple months at a time. In fact, many people will grow so accustomed to the feelings associated with dysthymia that they accept them as a normal part of their lives and will not seek professional assistance. Symptoms will, however, to some degree negatively affect your ability to cope with day to day life, happiness, and long-term thinking. Importantly, major depressive episodes may occur at any time, as well.
Some of the most common symptoms experienced by those with dysthymia include:
- Sadness, depressed mood, or empty feeling
- Loss of interest in, or avoidance of, daily activities or in things you once enjoyed
- Tiredness, low energy, and fatigue
- Low self-esteem or heightened self-criticism
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or decision-making
- Difficulty accomplishing tasks well or on time
- Impatience, irritability, quickness to anger
- Changes in appetite, including weight loss or gain
- Sleeping problems
- Feeling of guilt or worry, particularly about the past
Dysthymia doesn’t have an exact known cause, though it is more likely to affect those who have experienced traumatic life events, such as loss of a loved one, financial problems, or other kinds of prolonged stress. Biological differences or changes to the brain, brain chemistry, and inherited traits may also contribute to dysthymia.
Dysthymia can be linked to other negative outcomes in your life, such as a lower quality of life, poor relationships, vulnerability to other mood and personality disorders, substance abuse, and self-harm and suicide.
Diagnosis of dysthymia can be handled by your healthcare provider, and treatment is available. Dysthymia may be diagnosed in adults if its symptoms are experienced regularly for a period of over two years. Treatment varies for the individual, but may involve talk therapy, antidepressants, or a combination of the two, to help alleviate symptoms.
VA Disability Ratings and TDIU for Dysthymia
As mentioned above, VA rates dysthymia under its General Rating Formula for Mental Health Conditions (38 CFR § 4.130 of the Federal Register), which is based around the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
To be eligible for disability compensation, you must provide a current diagnosis of your condition, an in-service event, injury, or illness that contributed to your condition, and a medical nexus establishing a link between your condition and and your in-service event. VA will likely order a C&P Exam to further probe the validity of your claim.
For VA to recognize a service connection for your condition, your symptoms must meet the frequency, duration, and severity of dysthymia as outlined in the DSM-5, which focuses on your condition’s level of social and occupational impairment. To reiterate, VA does not rate mental health disorders individually, but rather based on your condition’s cumulative effect on your quality of life. VA considers your symptoms regardless of the diagnosis for mental disorder and rates the level of your impairment according to a single scale.
Briefly, before going into VA’s disability ratings for dysthymia, you will want to know that you may be eligible for total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) based on your diagnosis of dysthymia. TDIU grants veterans a technical 100% disability rating in one of two ways:
- Schedular TDIU: you must have one condition (in this case, dysthymia) rated at 60%, or two conditions that add up to 70%, in which one of those conditions is rated at a minimum 40%. In either case, overall condition must hinder your ability to maintain gainful employment.
- Extraschedular TDIU: Without being able to the meet the criteria for schedular TDIU, your condition must uniquely hinder your ability to maintain gainful employment.
Besides TDIU, ratings for dysthymia 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
Dysthymia can leave a lasting mark on your life, impairing your ability to live happily, contribute the work you want, and build the relationships you desire. For that reason, it’s highly recommended that you seek out a diagnosis if you experience the symptoms above, and to seek out disability benefits from VA if you suspect your condition is tied to your military service.
If you need assistance with your claim or need help filing an appeal, VA Disability Group PLLC is ready to help. Call us at 844-VET-LAWS or contact us online to start the process and get the disability compensation you deserve.