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How to Get Veterans Disability Benefits for Mental Health Disorders

— January 5, 2022

Your VA doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist will also have to provide written documentation that your mental health worsened during your service in the military.

Veterans often experience mental illness resulting from extreme physical injury or an incident they witnessed or were involved in during military service. As a veteran, you may be eligible for service-connected disability benefits for certain mental illnesses. 

To receive disability benefits for a mental health disorder, you must meet certain criteria set by the Department of Veteran Affairs. It is essential to provide viable evidence of your condition and prove a military service connection.

How Does the VA Evaluate Mental Illness? 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs evaluates mental illness using the VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities, which follows the guidelines outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Eligible compensation categories for mental illness include: 

  • Psychotic disorders
  • Cognitive disorders including amnesia and other mental disorders that affect brain function
  • Anxiety disorders including PTSD, panic disorders, agoraphobia, and other phobias
  • Dissociative disorders such as multiple personality disorders causing you to lose time or forget what you did or where you were
  • Somatoform disorders (symptoms of a physical condition without a formal diagnosis)
  • Mood disorders 
  • Adjustment disorders that include being extremely stressed about life adjustments that lead to self-destruction
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia

If you’re experiencing one or more of these mental disorders with similar symptoms, the VA will issue one disability rating for you. 

Mental Disorders That Cannot Be Connected to Military Service 

The VA will not give you service-connected disability benefits for mental illnesses that are classified as “genetic or developmental defects.” Intellectual disabilities or personality disorders are, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, to be developmental or genetic defects, which means veterans are not compensated for these conditions. 

With that being said, if you have a diagnosed personality disorder and you enter military service and develop PTSD during your military service, you could receive benefits for PTSD based on underlying personality disorder. 

Determining Direct Service Connection for Mental Illness 

As with other disabilities, you are required to provide evidence of your mental illness connected to active-duty service to receive disability compensation. To receive financial benefits, you need to have: 

  • An updated mental illness diagnosis
  • Proof of an event or accident during active duty that caused the mental illness 
  • Medical evidence about your current mental illness and its connection to a service-related incident. 

A qualified veterans benefits lawyer can help you understand the nature of your service-related disability and the compensation you deserve. You should also have a lawyer on your side to learn about the documents and information you should submit to the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure you get your benefits as soon as possible. 

Veterans with Pre-Service Mental Illness 

In some situations, you may have been experiencing mental illness before enlisting in the military. Your experiences during active duty may have worsened your mental condition. If this describes your case, you could receive compensation based on “aggravated service connection.” 

To prove that you have an aggravated service connection, you should present: 

  • A current diagnosis of mental illness from your psychologist, psychiatrist, or VA doctor
  • Evidence that an incident during military service worsened your mental illness 
  • Medical proof of a connection between the worsening of your mental illness and the service-related event. 

You’ll also be required to provide evidence that you had a mental illness before entering the military. This step is likely easy if your mental condition was mentioned on your enlistment exam. If the condition is not on your exam, you’ll have to submit medical records proving your pre-service diagnosis. 

Your VA doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist will also have to provide written documentation that your mental health worsened during your service in the military. This will serve as evidence that your condition relates to active duty and not the natural progress of your prior mental illness. 

Presumed Active Duty Connection 

Sometimes you can receive service-connected mental illness benefits without evidence that the illness was due to your military service.

Man sitting on sofa resting his head in his hand; image by Nik Shuliahin, via
Image by Nik Shuliahin, via

For example, depression is common among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, especially if these veterans suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The VA will assume that your depression is because of TBI if the depression develops within a particular time frame after you’ve been diagnosed with TBI.

Seek Legal Help

Applying for veterans disability benefits for mental health disorders can be a complicated process, which is why you should have a qualified attorney by your side. Your lawyer can help you gather the evidence and documentation needed for a successful application.

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