How Are VA Disability Rates for Depression Determined?

Anyone with depression knows how debilitating it can be. Among the most common U.S. mental health issues, depressive symptoms include sadness, lack of interest in daily activities, and hopelessness. Depression is, unfortunately, a common issue for discharged vets, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. However, qualifying for benefits using the VA disability rates for depression is far more likely if your mental state is:

  • Due to a disabling physical injury
  • Caused by an incident that occurred while you were serving your country (e.g., PTSD-related or similar)
  • The result of another service-related mental condition, such as anxiety

Why Are There Different VA Disability Rates for Depression?

There are different ways to define depression, and no two people diagnosed with it share the exact same experience. In order to qualify for VA disability benefits, however, you must prove your depression is related to your military service. VA disability rates for depression vary based on the severity of your symptoms and how depression affects your daily life.

Since most experts believe your genes combined with stressful life events can cause depression, veterans are especially vulnerable. Since military personnel often face traumatic events during active service, they’re presumably more likely to struggle with depression than civilians. In fact, the VA estimates that 1 in 3 veterans visiting primary care clinics reportedly had depressive symptoms. Within that depressed group, 1 in 5 showed symptoms severe enough to warrant an immediate medical evaluation for major depression. And VA doctors diagnosed another 15-20% with major depression, which requires treatment either with psychotherapy or antidepressant medication.

What Formula Determines VA Disability Rates for Depression?

The VA disability rates for depression are determined using a “General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.” This category includes a scale of how severely your depression affects or impairs your daily ability to function. The assigned VA disability rates for depression may be 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. For veterans that cannot work or function socially at all, VA disability rates for depression will usually be 100%. Even if your healthcare provider formally diagnoses you with depression, the VA can still assign a 0% disability rating. This means that even though you have depressive symptoms, you’re able to function day-to-day without impairment. While a 0% rating may not qualify for disability benefits, your health care’s still covered because your depression is service-connected.

VA Disability Rates for Depression Can Vary By Individual Diagnosis

VA disability rates for depression are classified under the “Mood Disorders” category. Major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder are both included under that classification, since they each may stem from military service.

Qualifying Depression Diagnosis #1: Major Depressive Disorder

It takes two major episodes of depression for a doctor to diagnose you with major depressive order. Each episode must last for at least two weeks, and symptoms accompanying your depression must significantly impair your everyday life. Possible major depressive disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling depressed throughout most of the day
  • Inability to sleep, or sleeping excessively
  • A lack of interest in most daily activities
  • Fatigue, low energy
  • Thinking about death regularly

Qualifying Depression Diagnosis #2: Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymic disorder is usually categorized as less severe in its intensity, but lasts for much longer than major depressive disorder. Feeling depressed nearly always for two years or longer can make dysthymia (also known as persistent depressive disorder) especially debilitating. Dysthymia symptoms can be far-reaching and affect all functional areas of your daily life, including:

  • Low self-esteem
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions

Establishing A Connection Between Your Military Service and Depression

Before you can qualify for military disability benefits, a professional must establish a connection between your depression and military service. To prove you have service-connected depression, you must meet the following VA requirements:

  • A current depression diagnosis (must be either major depressive disorder or dysthymic disorder)
  • Evidence showing an incident that occurred during your military service likely caused your depression
  • Medical evidence linking or showing causation between your current depression diagnosis and that service-related incident

How Physical Conditions Affect VA Disability Rates for Depression

Although depression can stem from stressful experiences and traumatic brain injuries, physical conditions can also trigger depressive symptoms in veterans. Lost limbs or body parts, limited mobility, mental and/or physical illness, or chronic pain can all contribute to your depression.

If you’re already getting VA disability benefits for a service-connected physical condition, depression may qualify you for a monthly raise. First, you’ll need to prove your depression comes from a service-connected physical disability by meeting the following requirements:

  • A current depression diagnosis
  • A service-connected physical disability
  • Medical evidence that links your depression to the service-connected physical disability for which you currently receive benefits

In most cases, your doctor must submit a written opinion linking your current depression symptoms to your service-connected physical disability.

Tinnitus, otherwise known as ringing in the ears, is strongly correlated with depression. This auditory condition causes patients to hear buzzing, ringing, or hissing when no external sound is present. Veterans with tinnitus often have difficulty concentrating and completing everyday tasks. Research from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs shows that tinnitus is the number-one disability among veterans. Tinnitus affects at least 1 in 10 American adults, including more than half of the population over age 75. Caused by frequent exposure to loud noises, tinnitus can trigger depressive symptoms and is considered a disability on its own. That’s true even when it’s not directly linked to symptoms of depression. If you regularly experience tinnitus, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits (learn how to file your claim here).

The very nature of mental illness can make it difficult to even consider filing for benefits while struggling with depression. However, speaking to a disability advocate or VA-accredited attorney may help you get the benefits you need and deserve. A free legal consultation should help answer any questions you have about claims with qualifying VA disability rates for depression.

To connect with a veterans disability attorney in your area, click our free evaluation button below to see if you may qualify for legal assistance.

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.