Veteran sitting on the floor holding his head in pain from a migraine

How Headaches Can Be Linked to Mental Health

Legally reviewed by

Summary

  • Many veterans suffer from debilitating migraine headaches caused by service-connected disabilities, including mental health issues.
  • Research suggests mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD can cause migraines.
  • The VA recognizes migraines as secondary conditions, so vets can potentially secure a higher disability rating with greater benefits.

One of the most common health issues that many veterans struggle with is intense recurrent headaches that can disrupt their professional and private lives. While many people experience aches and pains in the head that can accompany overexertion, temporary illness, and other factors, veterans have been found to suffer intense migraines at a higher rate than the general populace. 

Connections between the prevalence of veterans experiencing debilitating chronic headaches and mental health disorders have been found. Veterans struggling with these impediments to their daily lives may be able to tie them to psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression they suffered as a result of their service.

Our seasoned team at VetLaw is ready to help you seek appropriate VA disability benefits for headaches linked to mental health conditions. To get in touch with our team of veterans disability claim attorneys about scheduling a free consultation, you can either call VetLaw at (855) 912-2948 or fill out our contact form on our site.

United States Military Veteran Migraines

A migraine is a neurovascular syndrome where the nerves in the blood vessels located in the head send pain signals to the brain. The cause for this inflammation and nerve action is yet unknown.

Migraines not only cause intense pain but can also cause an increase in sensitivity to light, mood changes, sleep problems, and nausea. Migraines experienced by veterans have been reported to last anywhere from four to even 72 hours. 

Veterans Are at an increased Risk of Headaches and Migraines

Many people suffer headaches but studies have indicated that those who serve in the military could be at increased risk of suffering from debilitating migraines compared to the general populace. 

American veterans of all major conflicts going as far back as World War II have been found to suffer from migraines at higher rates than the general population. Closer scrutiny and studies have shown that this problem is worse than initially thought with migraine diagnosis seemingly increasing among veterans of recent conflicts. 

The U.S. Armed Force’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) found that there was a 27% increase in migraine diagnoses in all branches of the U.S. Military from 2001 to 2007.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, only 3% of the general population suffers from chronic migraines compared to 20% of the veteran population of those who served in post-9/11 conflicts suffering the same debilitating symptoms. 

Veterans Psychological Injuries

Military service comes with a high risk of injury that includes not just physical but psychological injuries as well. Mental health disorders may be intangible but they can have genuine consequences on your physical health that can manifest in the form of severe and chronic headaches. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Headaches

One of the most severe psychological injuries suffered by veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The intense nature of combat and the experiences of many veterans can have a significant impact on their mental state. That often leads to intense stress that can manifest a wide array of symptoms such as:

  • Flashbacks to the traumatic event
  • Intense avoidance of conditions related to the traumatic event
  •  Intense recurrent fear
  • Sleep problems
  • Intense emotional reactions and distress when reminded of the traumatic event
  • Negative changes in mood
  • Relationship issues
  • Self-destructive behavior

PTSD can drastically affect a veteran’s ability to go through their daily life and negatively affect relationships with loved ones if left untreated. The good news is there are treatments ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). They have proven to be effective in treating this condition. 

Depression Suffered by Veterans

Many veterans struggle with depression (major depressive disorder) and as a result, may also suffer related migraines. Depression is often mistaken for simply being a state of intense sadness but actually goes a step further.

It’s true that feelings of severe melancholy are certainly a component of this mental condition. However, depression involves experiencing these emotions with enough intensity and frequency that they interfere with your ability to lead a healthy life. 

Anxiety Disorder

Many people experience anxiety but not to the point that it can cause issues with their ability to function. Anxiety disorder is when a person experiences excessive levels of anxiety nervousness and fear that manifest severe symptoms. This can take the form of intense phobias, avoidant behaviors, and more.

Headaches and Veteran Mental Health Injuries

Psychological injuries don’t have the same visibility as physical wounds but they can have real physical effects on your body. Intense headaches and migraines suffered by veterans are potentially caused by the prevalent mental injuries found among those who have served. 

Researchers have suspected the comorbidity of migraines and mental disorders for some time. One Slovenian Journal of Public Health survey discovered that among over 6,000 surveyed adults, those who reported having migraines had twice the chance of reporting mental health issues compared to those who did not report migraines. 

Another significant correlation between these health issues has been found in the Migraine and Mental Health Connection Survey conducted by the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Their survey found that several significant percentages of patients with migraines reported being diagnosed with the following mental conditions.

  • Almost 60% were diagnosed with anxiety disorder
  • 50% diagnosed with depression
  • 25% diagnosed with PTSD

This study and others have found that migraines and mental health disorders share a high correlation. However, there is no clear explanation as to why the two health conditions are related.

What we do know is that treatment of one of these health issues is related to the other with those experiencing successful treatment of mental health disorders experiencing improvement regarding their migraines. 

Can Veterans Seek Compensation for Debilitating Headaches?

If you have experienced severe and chronic migraines and have also been diagnosed with a service-related mental disorder then you may be able to seek VA benefits for your migraines.

Since severe headaches and migraines have been recognized as potential secondary conditions of mental health issues like PTSD and depression, migraines can receive a disability rating from the VA that determines the amount of benefits you may be entitled to. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a disability rating of up to 50% for migraines. Veterans who suffer migraines can fall into the following disability rating percentage categories depending on the intensity of their migraines and their effects. 

  • 0% disability ratings for veterans who only suffer infrequent migraines that do not include prostrating attacks (periods where the migraine is so intense that you need to lie down). 
  • 10% disability ratings for veterans that suffer migraines leading to prostrating attacks that happen infrequently over several months.
  • 30% disability ratings for veterans that suffer migraines leading to prostrating attacks that occur once a month.
  • 50% disability ratings for veterans who experience high-frequency migraines with regular prostrating attacks that significantly hamper their ability to work. 

Proving Headaches Are Related to Injuries Sustained During Military Service

The studies linking migraines to mental health issues are one matter. Connecting severe headaches to a service-related mental health injury is another issue altogether. Your ability to seek VA benefits can hinge on your ability to connect these comorbidities. 

Establishing a service connection between your migraines and service-related psychological disorders requires the satisfaction of several criteria. First of all, veterans must provide documentation of a migraine diagnosis as well as a diagnosed related mental condition. 

Next, veterans need to be able to provide documentation of an event or incident during their service that caused or aggravated the mental health issues and migraines in question. Then the injuries in question will need a medical nexus that connects them to the in-service event or incident believed to be the cause. 

Contact a VA Disability Lawyer About Your Service Related Migraines

With the assistance of an experienced veterans’ disability lawyer, veterans can seek VA benefits for the severe effects of chronic migraines related to their service injuries. The process of filing claims and interacting with the VA can be frustrating. Having a professional versed in the bureaucratic nuances of the VA can prove invaluable. 

With the stakes of veterans’ disability benefits involved, you should approach your VA claim with every advantage available to you. A VA disability lawyer can get involved with your case once your claim has been denied.

If you have experienced difficulty pursuing VA benefits for severe headache comorbidities associated with mental health issues then consider contacting the VA-accredited lawyers of VetLaw. To schedule a meeting about your case, call (855) 912-2948 or use our contact form.


Frequently Asked Questions

How can you treat a migraine headache?

To prevent chronic migraines, you can take prescription or over-the-counter medication. Also, try to avoid your migraine triggers like certain foods or stressful situations. Other medications can dampen the effects of a migraine, which you would take when you notice the early signs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for this condition.

Will I need a C&P exam for the VA to approve my mental health-related migraines for disability benefits?

You may need to submit to a C&P evaluation with a VA provider to confirm that your migraines exist and that they are being caused or exacerbated by your service-connected disability. This is up to the VA’s discretion.

What are the common risk factors for migraines vets should know about?

As discussed, mental health issues like anxiety and depression can increase a veteran’s risk of migraines. People with a family history, smokers, and women are also more like to have migraines.