Active Vs. Passive Suicidal Ideation

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation (SI) is a common occurrence among many veterans struggling with mental health conditions. More than 6,000 veterans have committed suicide every year since 2005. For those struggling with thoughts of suicide, there are typically two categories of severity:

  • Passive Suicidal Ideation, where the veteran has thoughts of suicide or self harm but no intent or plan to carry it out. 
    • Can also be described as thoughts of “not wanting to exist anymore” or “not wanting to wake up in the morning”
  • Active Suicidal Ideation, where the veteran has thoughts of suicide or self harm and some intent to commit self harm and/or a plan to do so.

For veterans who have applied or plan to apply for service connection for their mental health condition, it is crucial that they report any and all thoughts of suicide they may expeirence to the VA either on their application for compensation or in their Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. Understanding the difference between the above types of SI is important because under 38 CFR § 4.130, “suicidal ideation” is one of the requirements of a 70 percent schedular disability rating, and the VA routinely dismisses claims requesting a rating of 70 percent or greater for a veteran’s mental health disorder if the veteran does not have “active” SI. This occurs despite the regulation’s lack of clarification on what type of SI constitutes “suicidal ideation” for rating purposes. In general, the VA tends to underrate claims for mental health conditions by misapplying regulations and dismissing or writing off symptoms that would give the veteran a higher schedular disability rating. 

Thankfully, in a recent case decided by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), the CAVC ruled that the language of 38 CFR § 4.130 indicated that the presence of suicidal ideation alone, whether active or passive, may cause occupational and social impairment and should thus be considered a symptom indicative of a 70 percent rating. The CAVC clarified the definition of SI that can be used in deciding VA disability claims and gave veterans disability lawyers and veterans themselves a legal reference to dispute VA claim denials that occur on the basis of passive versus active SI. 

No matter what type of suicidal ideation a veteran experiences, whether passive or active, or once per month or every day, he or she should report it to the VA and his or her treating physicians. Although there is still a chance the VA will deny the veteran a proper schedular disability rating by imposing a harsher requirement than that imposed by the rating schedule, the regulation makes clear that even passive suicidal ideation is sufficient to establish entitlement to a 70 percent schedular disability rating.

Getting Help With Your VA Claim For Mental Health

If you are a veteran in need of assistance with getting service connection for your mental health condition or are seeking experienced attorneys to help you appeal a VA denial, please contact our office today. Our veterans disability lawyers are ready to help you get the compensation you earned.

Resources For Those Experiencing Thoughts of Suicide

While there is a lot of stigma surrounding the discussion of suicide, we encourage veterans who are struggling with thoughts of SI to seek help. Please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 if you need help right away. Their services are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For more resources, visit the VA’s suicide prevention resources page. You are not alone.