In this blog we’re going to be talking about VA compensation claims for mental disorders besides PTSD. PTSD claims have their own separate set of circumstances, so we’ll cover them in another blog. Just to recap from previous blogs, there are three things you have to show to get VA disability compensation: a medical diagnosis, proof of service, and the establishment of a “nexus” or connection between your disability and service.
Five Ways to Establish Service Connection
As is the case with any disability compensation claim, there are five ways to establish service connection with your mental disorder. The mental disorder can first be evidenced while you were in service. We call that a direct service connection. For example, I had a client who was in the DMZ and was discharged under a mental disability order or evaluation.
Secondly, the mental disorder could have pre-existed your military service, but was aggravated during the service. Thirdly, the mental disorder would have been caused by some kind of service-connected physical condition. Maybe you have depression or anxiety as a result of some physical injury that occurred during your service.
The fourth way to establish service connection is through listed presumptions defined by the VA. Mental disorders are not usually considered to be presumptive unless they occur within a year of service or are manifested during a prisoner of war scenario. I’ve yet to see any clients with mental disorders that were manifested within a year of discharge and I’ve yet to meet any prisoners of war, so this one is rare. Finally, if you are injured by VA medical care and the mental disorder is a result of that injury, you’ve got service connection. This is more like a medical malpractice claim.
Filing Mental Disorder Claims
Disability claims for mental disorders presents a whole host of unique challenges that we are going to be exploring here. One of the biggest challenges for a mental disorder claim is deciding the type of mental disorder for which service connection is going to be established. It would be pretty devastating if you sought disability compensation for a particular mental disorder, but it turns out that you actually have another mental disorder. Your claim could be denied because you sought compensation for the wrong mental disorder.
I’m not trained to diagnose mental disorders and chances are that you aren’t either. The VA will look at all the theories listed above to service connect your mental disorder. If you claim anxiety but actually have schizophrenia, they’ll likely rate you for schizophrenia instead of anxiety. They’ll look at all the medical evidence presented in your claim to establish a connection between your mental disorder and your service.
It’s very important that you get a qualified medical professional to diagnose your mental disorder. You need to have a complete diagnostic workup for whatever mental condition(s) you have. We need to make sure your medical professional is as thorough as possible so that your claim is not delayed.
Denied in the Past?
If you had a mental disorder claim that was denied in the past due to an incorrect diagnosis, you can have that claim reopened. Maybe you claimed ADHD in the past and the VA denied that claim based on prior ADHD medical definitions. But now due to updates in the DSM5 manual, your symptoms qualify as ADHD. You are able to get your case reopened from that standpoint and have your ADHD claim re-evaluated.
What happens if you have multiple psychiatric disabilities that have been separately denied by the VA. You can file a request to reopen your claim of service connection for a specific mental disorder. But just because you reopen a claim for a particular disorder, they won’t reopen the claim for everything you were previously denied. You have to be very careful when you’re reopening claims and make sure that you cover all your bases. This is where a full blown mental evaluation can be so valuable.
The VA says that they’re obligated to help reopen your claim, but I don’t suggest relying on them to be sympathetic to your case. The best course of action is to state that your claim is being filed for service connection for any and all mental disorders from which you suffer. State that your disability is due to a particular mental disorder or list of disorders, but not limited to — and then you fill in the blanks. Those are the buzzwords that you need to use. We’ll work with your psychologist or psychiatrist to make sure those buzzwords are in the report.
Filing for Multiple Mental Disorders
If you suffer from multiple mental disorders, filing a claim can get quite complicated. You can receive service connection for more than one mental disorder, but each disorder is usually given a separate rating. However, there are exceptions if your diagnoses are overlapping. In that case, you’ll usually get the higher of the two separate ratings.
Let’s say that you suffer from major depressive disorder and PTSD. Each of these disorders resulted from your military service and the two disorders produced a similar set of symptoms. The VA will service connect both disorders and will assign one overall disability rating. You’d get one rating for two disabilities — the major depressive disorder and the PTSD.
Now let’s look at a slightly different situation. Let’s say that your major depressive disorder is not related to your military service, but your PTSD is service connected. If your medical professional cannot separate the symptoms produced by your major depressive disorder and the PTSD, then the VA will consider all the symptoms to be due to PTSD when setting your rating. But if your medical professional can isolate the symptoms from each, the PTSD rating will only be based on the symptoms produced by the PTSD itself.
The Best Advice
As you can see, this mental disorder claim business is actual rocket science. You have to be very careful when claiming a secondary disorder as it can come back to bite you. The VA attaches special meaning to words such as compensation and your physician attaches different words that they like to use — called “terms of art.” To understand and argue a mental disorder claim, you should know these special terms. If you don’t, then don’t argue the claim.
Don’t just Google symptoms for a mental disorder and state you have a particular disorder based on that. If you don’t know the medical meaning of those terms, don’t put them in your claim. You should get a licensed clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to give you a full blown examination so they can use the medical terminology that the VA wants to see.
The best advice I can give you is to get a comprehensive mental evaluation before submitting a mental disorder claim to the VA. Tell the medical professional that you are seeking VA disability compensation for a particular disorder or set of disorders. That comprehensive evaluation will produce benefits for you and will make the claims process much easier.
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