Many veterans experience physical injuries and wounds while on active duty, but none linger like mental health effects. Depression is one of the most common mental health struggles that service members experience, and it can affect their wellbeing and quality of life.
One type of depression that veterans experience is dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. Much like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression-like dysthymia is often invisible, and it can be hard to categorize.
Thankfully, veterans experiencing dysthymia/depression may be eligible for service-connected disability benefits. Let’s learn how the VA classifies depression and break down the rating for this condition.
In this article for veterans with dysthymia:
- How Does the VA Classify Depression?
- Dysthymia vs. Depression
- How Do I Establish a Service Connection for Dysthymia?
- What If I Had Dysthymia Before Service?
- What If I Have Dysthymia Due to a Physical Service-Connected Condition?
- How Does the VA Rate Depression?
- What Is a VA Compensation and Pension Exam?
- Things That Can Hurt Your VA Claim
- How Can I Apply for Disability for Dysthymia?
- Are You Eligible for Dysthymia Benefits?
How Does the VA Classify Depression?
In the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities, depression is rated under the schedule of mental disorders. Three types of depression are listed: persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), unspecified depressive disorder, and major depressive disorder.
A VA diagnosis of major depressive disorder requires at least two significant episodes of depression that continue for at least two weeks. It also requires symptoms after these episodes that significantly alter daily functioning and wellbeing.
Symptoms of a major depressive disorder include:
- Little interest in most of your activities and hobbies
- Feeling depressed most of the day
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Feeling fatigued or with low energy
- Suicidal thoughts
Dysthymic disorder is typically less severe than a major depressive disorder. But, the results are longer-term.
A dysthymic disorder requires feeling depressed for two years or more for most of the time. It also requires having symptoms that significantly interfere with functioning and wellbeing.
Symptoms of a dysthymic disorder include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling hopeless
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- A frequently depressed mood
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Trouble concentrating
Here one of our lawyers talks about how to file a VA disability claim for depression.
Dysthymia vs. Depression
We’ve covered the basics of dysthymia, but let’s delve into the disorder a bit more.
Dysthymia is a form of chronic depression, typically lasting for an extended length of time. This can sometimes be longer than two years. Dysthymia is also known as persistent depressive disorder.
Even though dysthymia is thought to be a mild type of depression, its symptoms can lead to serious problems that make it difficult to function in day to day life and maintain positive wellbeing.
The focus on dysthymia is that sufferers often experience anhedonia, which is the inability to find pleasure in hobbies and activities. Individuals with dysthymia may be unable to work and unable to participate in routine activities. In severe cases, they may feel suicidal.
Elderly veterans and those with chronic physical ailments are more likely to suffer from dysthymia.
Many patients suffering from dysthymia later experience a worsening of their symptoms, which can lead to a major depression diagnosis. Treatment of dysthymia usually involves antidepressants and psychotherapy.
How Do I Establish a Service Connection for Dysthymia?
To receive depression disability pay from the VA, the former service member must show that their depression is connected to their time in the military. To prove a direct service connection, the following must be offered:
- Current diagnosis of depression
- Evidence of an incident in service that caused depression
- Medical evidence of a link (causation) between the current depression diagnosis and the event in service.
What If I Had Dysthymia Before Service?
In some cases, a former service member may have experienced depression before entering service. Certain events in service may have caused the depression to aggravate. In such cases, it’s possible to receive disability benefits under the circumstances of ‘aggravated service connection’ if an event during service worsens the depression.
Aggravated service connection for a pre-recorded diagnosis of depression needs:
- A recent diagnosis of depression by a VA doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist
- Proof of an event or incident in service that worsened the depression
- Medical evidence of a link between the worsening of depression and events in service
The former service member must prove that the depression was a pre-existing condition. The simplest way to do this is when depression is recorded on the veteran’s entrance medical exam. If not, the former service member must provide medical evidence of a pre-service diagnosis of depression.
The theory that depression worsened during time in service isn’t enough. A medical opinion is required from the veteran’s psychiatrist or psychologist, noting that the in-service incident was accountable for the aggravation of the depression. Otherwise, the VA may decide that the worsening of the depression was due to the natural progression of depression and won’t give any benefits.
If you can supply a buddy statement and a lay statement from friends or family about how you were before service compared to after service, it will help your claim. A buddy statement might detail how you were when they first met you at basic compared to what your mood was at discharge.
Here is a video in which one of our VA disability lawyers talks about how the VA rating for mental conditions works.
What If I Have Dysthymia Due to a Physical Service-Connected Condition?
Many veterans develop dysthymia as a result of a physical injury or ailment. When a veteran has a physical ailment or disability resulting from service that is proven to be service-connected, it’s possible to submit an increase in disability compensation for depression. This is done under the principle of ‘secondary service connection.’
A doctor’s view is usually required to prove that the physical condition formed the depression.
Creating a secondary service connection for depression requires:
- Current diagnosis of depression
- Service-connected physical disability
- Medical proof of a link between depression and a service-connected physical disability
How Does the VA Rate Depression?
The VA rates depression as it does with all other mental health disorders, according to the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.
Depression is rated according to how much it affects a veteran’s social and occupational abilities. While the symptoms of depression are important for the specific diagnosis a veteran is given, they don’t affect the rating.
The ranking is based on the effects of the symptoms on a veteran’s ability to function, and not on the symptoms alone.
The available ratings for depression are 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. A 100% score is only warranted when a service member has no way of functioning socially or working.
A 0% rating is given when a veteran’s ability to function isn’t impaired, despite having symptoms of depression. However, a 0% rating is still helpful as it opens the door for Aid and Attendance and SMC compensation.
Here is one of our VA disability lawyers talking about SMC (Special Monthly Compensation) for vets.
What Is a VA Compensation and Pension Exam?
When establishing a rating for mental health disorders, the VA usually sends veterans to a Compensation and Pension Exam. There, a doctor will assess all the veterans’ symptoms of depression and offer a medical opinion.
Since this process is subjective, it can be challenging to achieve a fair rating. The VA may offer a low disability rating or deny the claim. However, this shouldn’t dissuade a veteran with depression from applying for disability benefits.
If you suffer from a mental health condition that’s service-connected, you should pursue the claim for your deserved benefits. If the submission is rejected or the rating is low, we can work on an appeal for you.
Understanding how the VA rates mental health conditions such as depression is essential when filing a claim for VA disability reimbursement. Veterans who learn about the claims process will already have one foot in the door, armed with the necessary insight and knowledge.
Things That Can Hurt Your VA Claim
Various principles apply when claiming dysthymia benefits. These include:
A single condition can only be rated once. But if another disability co-exists with dysthymia (and is not caused by it), it can be evaluated too.
If two exams rate mental health conditions differently, the review with the most exhaustive data and performed by the most qualified medical professional in that specialty will be the basis for the exam.
A Tie Goes to the Veteran
If two equally strong exams offer opposing data, or if the disorder can be equally graded under two different codes, then the one that provides the highest rating is used. Every dispute should be resolved in favor of a higher rating.
A medical practitioner in your exam must record the required information to rank your condition. Take note of the information we’ve given so you’re aware of what must be measured and recorded. Make sure that this is appropriately recorded for a concise rating.
How Can I Apply for Disability for Dysthymia?
There are various ways to apply for VA disability benefits based on dysthymia. You can apply online, by completing the application for veteran’s compensation or pension, or by contacting a local VA office.
During your call, we take you through a thorough interview with our case managers that talk to veterans every single day. We’ll help you with all of the necessary forms and fully develop your claim before we submit it to the VA. We’ll keep you in the loop and let you know as soon as we hear anything back from Uncle Sam about more paperwork, your C&P exam, or anything else.
Veterans should make a claim as soon as possible. But, even it’s been many years since a service member worked on active duty, they are still eligible for VA benefits.
As part of the application process, veterans must list any illnesses or injuries for that they’re requesting disability compensation. It’s best to be as specific as possible when noting these.
Add the approximate date you first experienced symptoms of dysthymia. We’ll ask you a lot of questions and look over your C-file to make sure we aren’t missing anything. If we think you have more disabilities to claim, we’ll list them too.
Depending on the contents of your application, it can take anywhere from months to three or more years to process your submission and to receive a decision from the VA.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
Are You Eligible for Dysthymia Benefits?
If your claim for dysthymia benefits and you were rejected or received a low rating, don’t give up hope. If you believe you deserve a different outcome based on your dysthymia depression, it can be helpful to speak with a disability lawyer about your options.
The right attorney can help you have your records changed, and your status upgraded so that you can become eligible for the benefits you rightly deserve.
Here at Woods and Woods, our attorneys have years of experience working with veterans to help them receive the right benefits for their condition.
We only charge payment if you win your case. If you don’t receive VA disability benefits, you won’t have to pay us a cent. Our law firm never charges for phone calls, and we never charge by the hour.
If you have questions about your claim and your chance to receive disability benefits, get in touch with our team at Woods and Woods. Contact us for a free legal consultation today.
Dysthymia is like a shallow dive that goes on for years. Major depression is a deep dive that happens in waves that might last a week or so at a time.
When you go for your C&P Exam, the doctor will rate you on whatever combination yields the highest rating. If you have multiple symptoms that can be lumped under one mental health condition, though, they will rate you for that one single condition. Make sure you have a lawyer to help you with your doctor’s statement for the VA.