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VA Mental Health Ratings: Understanding the Basics

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VA mental health ratings are powerful. The rating you receive can cause your benefits to fluctuate by thousands of dollars per month. And if you are a veteran who is already struggling with problems at home and work due to your mental health condition, a low rating that limits your compensation can cause your stress to intensify.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to prevent this from happening. Below is a look at the VA mental health ratings system and how it can impact your benefits.

What is the VA mental health ratings system and why does it exist?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to helping veterans improve their well-being, noting that “mental health is a critical component to your overall wellness.” And if you developed a debilitating mental health condition as a result of your time in the military, the VA will issue benefits to compensate you for lost earnings and other ways your condition has compromised your daily living.

The VA mental health ratings system is a structured way of determining how greatly a mental health condition has impacted your life. The system was developed to help the VA fairly issue mental health benefits to veterans. In a nutshell, the ratings system involves three steps:

  • Assess your level of social and occupational impairment that developed because of your mental health condition
  • Summarize your level of impairment with a single number or “rating”
  • Provide the Government with your rating to ensure you receive compensation for your impairment

How is the rating system used?

The VA mental health ratings system is used to determine the financial compensation you receive. In a nutshell, you can expect your compensation to increase if you receive a higher rating. As outlined below, the VA will consider the results of your mental health exam in conjunction with other evidence before assigning a rating:

“VA will review the entire body of evidence to gain a clear understanding of how your mental health condition symptoms impact your social and industrial functioning and which diagnosed mental health condition(s) may be related to your claim.” – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

In light of this information, it is critical to keep organized records of any information related to any problems you have suffered as a result of your mental health condition. For example, if you recently visited a mental health provider for help with your symptoms, then your medical records will likely be helpful to your case. Or, if your supervisor expressed concern about a decline in your performance during your annual review, then a copy of your performance review may help you achieve a higher rating.

How does the rating system work?

While no two cases are exactly alike, the rating system is applied when veterans submit a claim for a mental health condition. The VA will evaluate your claim and award benefits based on their thorough review of all medical and non-medical information related to your claim. You will likely be asked to take a mental health examination to confirm your eligibility for benefits.

The rating system is used to indicate whether your symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. Ratings range from 0% disability to 100% disability, with 0% yielding $0 in benefits (but with VA recognizing the disability and allowing for medical treatment at VA facilities) and a 100% rating representing the highest level of compensation you may receive. Many veterans receive disability ratings of 10%, 30%, 50%, and 70%, indicating that they are experiencing a mild to moderate level of disability as a result of their mental health condition.

What are some common conditions assessed by the rating system?

In order for veterans to be eligible for disability benefits, their mental health condition must be directly caused by their service in the military. The rating system can be used to assess the impact of a variety of mental health disorders described in the DSM-V. Here are some of the most common conditions assessed by the rating system:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • Substance abuse caused by a condition that arose while in service
  • Anorexia, Bulimia and other eating disorders

What is the best way to improve your VA mental health rating?

While the VA mental health rating system is designed to provide a fair and accurate assessment of your condition, you may feel that the rating you received is too low. The single best way to improve your chances when it comes to your benefits is to seek the services of a veterans disability attorney. Here are a few of the many ways an experienced attorney can help you:

  • Guide you through the complexities of VA disability law
  • Ensure you don’t miss any deadlines related to your claim
  • Help you appeal any rating decisions you feel are too low
  • Help you receive any back pay you may deserve

If you receive a low rating or one you feel does not accurately reflect how heavily your mental health problems impact your life, then contact a veterans disability lawyer. With a skilled attorney in your corner, you can take steps to improve your rating and receive the compensation you deserve.