What Is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is an emotional or behavioral response to a stressful event or change in a person’s life. The reaction is considered an unhealthy or excessive response to the event or change within three months of it occurring. Since adjustment disorders typically result in response to an identifiable incident (s), there is not a single direct cause for the condition. Each individual’s personal history, temperament, vulnerability and coping skills can all contribute to the development of adjustment disorder and how long it lasts. 

A recent research study shows that around 7 percent of all active duty service members have been formally diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Comparatively, only around 2 percent of active duty service members have PTSD. Despite being the most prevalent mental health condition among military members, adjustment disorders are still the least researched and understood. For symptoms to qualify as an adjustment disorder, they have to be clinically significant, such that the stress is more than one would expect a stressor of that kind to normally elicit, or the individual is having difficulty functioning socially, occupationally, or in some other important context. Many veterans with adjustment disorders have other conditions secondary to the adjustment disorder. For example, many veterans find themselves being rated by the VA for having “adjustment disorder with depressed mood” or “adjustment disorder with anxiety” rather than for adjustment disorder alone. 

While most adjustment disorders only last 6 months, the VA only provides disability benefits to veterans with chronic adjustment disorder. Chronic adjustment disorders can last for much longer than 6 months, especially if the stressor is ongoing, like a type of employment or ongoing fear of hostile military activity.

Getting Service Connected For Adjustment Disorder

The most important records veterans can provide when applying for service connection for their adjustment disorder are medical records. Ideally, these medical records will show that (1) the adjustment disorder was diagnosed in service or within one year of discharge or (2) the veteran showed symptoms of adjustment disorder in service that could indicate the presence of the disease, even if it wasn’t diagnosed at the time. Medical records can also provide the VA with information related to the severity of the disorder, which is important for determining what schedular disability rating it should be given.

Service personnel records are another helpful source of evidence for the VA. These records can provide information about any incidents the veteran may have experienced or witnessed in service that could lead to the development of an adjustment disorder, which can help with establishing service connection for the condition.

How The VA Rates Adjustment Disorder

Under 38 CFR § 4.130, the VA evaluates adjustment disorder using the same disability rating schedule that is used for all other mental disorders. VA ratings officers determine the severity of the condition and its effects on a veteran’s social, occupational, and every day functioning using the following criteria:

Diagnostic Code 9440: Chronic Adjustment Disorder

  • 100 – Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.
  • 70 – Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.
  • 50 – Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.
  • 30 – Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due to such symptoms as: depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events).
  • 10 – Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by continuous medication.
  • 0 – A mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but symptoms are not severe enough either to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication.

Veterans who receive less than 100 percent for their schedular disability rating of adjustment disorder, but who are unable to work or maintain substantially gainful employment, qualify for a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) rating. This rating provides those who are unable to work due to their condition the opportunity to receive VA disability compensation at the 100 percent rate.

Help With Your Adjustment Disorder VA Claim

If you are a veteran seeking help with your adjustment disorder claim, please contact our office today. Our experienced veterans disability lawyers are ready to help you get the compensation you are entitled to.