What Is Depression?
Depression (i.e. Major Depressive Disorder) affects many different people and can present in different ways depending on the person. Some of the most common signs of depression are:
- Lack of interest/enjoyment in doing most or all daily activities
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Feeling constantly tired or fatigued
Due to the increased likelihood that those who serve in the military will encounter traumatic events, such as witnessing the death of a friend or encountering the aftermath of a bombing, service members and veterans are on average more likely to develop Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) than those in the general population. Since depression affects many veterans, the VA has a number of different treatment programs for those who struggle with depression and similar mental health disorders. Accessing care is one of the most important things a veteran can do to help improve his or her mental health, but having a treatment plan may not matter much if the veteran is unable to pay his or her bills because the depression affects his or her ability to work full-time. This where the VA disability rating system comes into play. Veterans can receive a schedular disability rating from the VA and be compensated for their depression if it is connected to their service in the military.
Getting Service Connection for Depression
If this is the veterans first time applying for service connection, he or she will need to complete a VA Form 21-526ez to begin the process. However, before filling out the VA Form 21-526ez, the veteran will want to gather as much evidence as possible to support his or her claim for service connection.
The most important evidence to provide when applying for service connection for depression is medical records. Ideally, with these records the veteran will show that (1) the condition began in service or (2) the condition affects his or her daily functioning. In the event that the veteran does not have records diagnosing the condition in service, or the condition was diagnosed pre-service and the veteran wants to prove that it got worse during service, additional supportive evidence would come in the form of military service records. Service records help because they can prove that the condition was the result of a service-related incident, regardless of when symptoms began to appear, or that a service-related incident made the existing condition worse, as evidenced by reported changes in performance or behavior.
Additional helpful evidence could come from sworn statements by friends and family members who are familiar with the veteran’s condition. These statements can help the veteran prove to the VA that his or her depression severely affects his or her daily life and that the condition is related to military service.
How the VA Rates Depression
Under 38 CFR § 4.130, Major Depressive Disorder can be rated based on the following criteria:
Diagnostic code 9433 (Persistent depressive disorder), 9434 (Major depressive disorder), and 9435 (Unspecified depressive disorder):
- 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: 100%
- 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: 70%
- 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: 50%
- 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): 30%
- 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: 10%
- 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: 0%
Get Help With Your Depression Claim
If you are looking for assistance with fact-finding, filling out forms, or need help developing a strategy for your case, please contact us via our free claim evaluation form or the number above. Our experienced veterans law attorneys are ready to help you win your claim.