Statistics show that 18.2 million US citizens are war veterans.
For many veterans, coming home is not the and of their battle. Instead, it can be merely the start of a new battle with the fallout effects that combat can have on the mind and emotions, such as complex PTSD (also known as CPTSD).
According to research, up to 17% of veterans develop PTSD.
If you are applying for VA disability, and have experienced any of the symptoms of PTSD or other combat-related mental disability, you need to know about the GAF score and how it will impact your VA rating.
Your VA rating ultimately determines the amount of disability aid you will receive, therefore its crucial that you understand how the GAF scale works and how to ensure that you get a fair and accurate score.
Read on to get clear on GAF scores.
What Is a GAF Score
First up, what is a GAF score? GAF stands for the Global Assessment of Functioning. The GAF scale is designed to evaluate what level of disability someone is suffering as a result of a mental condition such as PTSD or a depressive disorder.
To evaluate the patient, doctors will conduct an assessment. They will usually request a personal statement from you and ask you questions about your day-to-day life and how you are coping with things like employment, relationships, and any past trauma you experienced.
Once they have completed their assessment, the doctor will assign you a GAF score. The GAF score will indicate what level of disability you are suffering as a result of your past or how you are dealing with current circumstances.
This score is then used by the VA to determine your VA rating (which is percentage-based). The VA rating you receive will then determine the disability payments that you are eligible for.
To understand more about GAF scores, let’s take a look at the GAF scale and what determines the scores.
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The GAF Scale Explained
The GAF scale runs from 0 to 100. The lower your score, the more severe your disability is. The closer it is to 100, the higher your quality of life is deemed to be and the less severe your disability. It can be confusing because it runs opposite to your VA disability rating. A high VA disability rating means you get more money because you are more disabled. A high GAF rating means that you have a high Global Assessment of Functioning. That means you are highly functional and don’t need as much disability money.
The GAF scoring criteria are as follows.
GAF Score: 0
A GAF score of 0 is given when there is insufficient evidence to assign any other rating. This is like a blank or a null. This is not the worst of all rating, this is not a rating at all.
GAF Score: 1-10
On-going probability of causing severe harm to self or others, or on-going inability to maintain personal hygiene. Persons who have attempted suicide with the direct intention of causing death are also likely to score between 1-10 on the GAF scale.
GAF Score: 11-20
Some danger of causing severe harm to self or others. This includes suicide attempts, although without certain expectation or intention of death, as well as frequent violence and manic excitement.
The criteria for a GAF score between 11-20 also includes failure to maintain personal hygiene and severe communication issues. For the purpose of the GAF criteria, this would be incoherence and muteness.
GAF Score: 21-30
Delusions or hallucinations are experienced and influence behavior. Serious impairment of judgment and communication, suicidal preoccupation, or inability to function normally in most areas of life are also qualifying criteria for this score range.
This includes not being willing or able to get out of bed, not being able to secure a job, cutting off ties with friends and lack of ability to establish new social connections.
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GAF Score: 31-40
This range of scores is applicable when some impairment in reality testing or communication is detected. Major impairment in a number of areas, such as family relationships, mood, thinking, is also criteria for these scores.
GAF Score: 41-50
Scores between 41-50 are meant to be given when a person shows serious disability symptoms such as thoughts of suicide, acts of shoplifting, severe obsessive rituals, as well as severe impairment in areas such as social interactions and keeping a job. Even if you’ve burned some bridges, some letters from past bosses that fired you would really help your case.
GAF Score: 51-60
GAF scores of between 51 and 60 are given to persons who exhibit moderate symptoms such as flat and circumstantial speech and occasional panic attacks. They can also be given to individuals who exhibit moderate difficulty in their occupation as well as in social functioning.
GAF Score: 61-70
The criteria for this range are mild symptoms such as a depressed mood and mild insomnia, or issues with social and occupational functioning.
One of our VA disability lawyers talks about VA ratings for mental disorders and unemployability.
GAF Score: 71-80
For this range, symptoms are mild, include understandable reactions to psychosocial stressors, and only slight impairment is present in social and occupational functioning. For example, a person in this range may lose concentration at work after a family argument, but will generally be able to work without impairment.
GAF Score: 81-90
Minimal symptoms with good functioning in all areas. Persons are perceived to be interested and involved in a wide range of activities and are socially active and relatively satisfied with life.
GAF Score: 91-100
No symptoms and the veteran displays superior functioning in a wide range of areas and activities. He or she may even be sought out by others for assistance with handling problems.
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How the VA Rates Mental Illness
GAF scores are one of the main ways the VA analyzes the impact of mental illness disorders such as C-PTSD on an individual’s ability to function. GAF scores impact the VA rating that you receive.
Let’s take a look at how the VA ratings work.
VA Ratings Explained
VA ratings are, like GAF scores, broken up into the following categories.
- 100%: Complete inability to function socially or occupationally, coupled with severely inappropriate behavior, inability to care for one’s self, and confusion
- 70%: Inability to function socially or occupational, demonstration of obsessive behaviors, depression, panic, violence without provocation, inability to maintain relationships
- 50%: Some social and occupational impairment, lack of productivity or reliability, memory loss, mood swings, and panic attacks
- 30%: Some social and occupational impairment, along with depression, suspicious, insomnia, and panic attacks, are however mostly able to care for self and communicate normally
- 10%: Mild symptoms may cause social or occupational impairment during times of stress, or mild symptoms that are managed successfully using medication
- 0%: Mental illness such as complex PTSD present, however, symptoms are mild, do not require medication, and do not interfere with daily functioning
How the VA Combined Ratings Table works from our VA disability lawyers team.
Depending on which category your GAF score lands you in, you may be eligible for varying levels of monthly compensation. The exact amount you receive depends on other factors as well, such as how many dependents you have.
For the current rates of compensation, you can use our VA disability calculator to estimate your total compensation amount.
Social Security Disability and GAF Scores
You may be wondering if GAF scores affect your social security disability. It shouldn’t. Although the Social Security Administration did utilize the GAF scale at one point, they abandoned this set of criteria because it wasn’t very helpful to clinicians, nor was it entirely reliable.
If a clinician uses a GAF score as the sole basis for a decision, this would be a violation of the SSA’s regulations.
It’s helpful to be aware that one’s GAF score is also not an indication of whether or not you will be eligible to receive social security disability compensation. Unlike the VA that bases compensation on degrees of disability, the SSA deems you either disabled or not disabled.
In other words, they have to decide whether you can or can’t work. If they deem you to be unable to work, then you may be eligible for compensation.
One of our VA disability lawyers gives you tips to prepare for your C&P Exam.
Drawbacks the GAF Scale
Unfortunately, there are a number of drawbacks to the GAF scale. As mentioned above, the SSA does not even officially make use of it anymore.
The main issue with GAF scores is that their accuracy can be very poor. Depending on the circumstances, you may be assigned the wrong GAF score for your symptoms, which means that you could receive less compensation than you should.
Let’s take a look at why this can happen.
The GAF Scale Is Very General
Firstly, as you may have noticed, the GAF score is very general. Additionally, some of its criteria do not seem to progress logically. In some cases, individuals might experience certain symptoms from more than one score range.
Because of these factors, even a very thorough clinician might not be able to properly apply the GAF scale to all of their patients.
Your Rating Could Change Depending on the Day You Were Evaluated
Mental illness is not a straight-line graph as you may well know. There are good days, bad days, and even good and bad ‘seasons’.
This is particularly true for complex PTSD.
Because of this, the state that you are in on the day that you have your assessment done could severely skew the outcome. For example, if you are having a very smooth period, a clinician would assess that your case is less severe, and not pick up on the extent of the symptoms you experience.
Your Score Can Be Skewed by Bias
Another way your GAF score may be skewed is through bias. Analysis has indicated that one of the frequent problems with the GAF scale is that it is prone to location-based bias. This is where a certain clinic is prone to either giving lower or higher ratings.
How to Increase Your Chances of a Fair VA Rating
Even though your GAF score has a big impact on you, you aren’t guaranteed that it will be accurate. However, there are a few ways you can maximize your chances of getting a score that is a true reflection of your symptoms.
Be Detailed in Your Personal Statement and Compensation and Pension Exam
When you are being questioned by the clinical for your evaluation, make sure that you are as detailed as possible in your responses. Avoid yes and no answers, elaborate, and include everything that you need to.
Do not be untruthful, but do not try to minimize your symptoms and experiences.
This also applies when submitting your personal statement. Provide as much information as you can, and do not minimize or trivialize the symptoms you are experiencing.
How to use credible buddy statements to strengthen you VA disability claim from on of our certified VA disability lawyers.
Don’t Leave out Supporting Statements
Besides your own personal statement, you should also include supporting statements from friends, co-workers, and family members. These can provide valuable third-party information regarding your symptoms.
Track Your Symptoms
Speaking of symptoms, you should also track these prior to applying for benefits or for a revised rating.
By tracking your symptoms you can give hard data around what you experience, its severity, and the frequency.
You Can Include Performance Evaluations From Your Employer
Something else you can include to get a fair and accurate rating is any performance evaluations you may have from your employer, especially if these indicate difficulties you might experience in carrying out your duties thanks to your mental disability.
Consider Including Any Criminal Records (But Speak to a Lawyer First)
If you have any criminal records such as DUI that could act as evidence of your symptoms, you can consider submitting these. However, this should be very cautiously considered.
For this reason, you should speak to a veterans disability lawyer before including any criminal records with your application.
Apply for a VA Higher-Level Review
If your first Compensation and Pension Exam with a VA psychiatrist was not a success, and you were assigned an incorrect rating, you can contest this by applying for a VA higher-level review.
During this review, your score will be re-assessed by a senior claim adjudicator.
Get Professional Help
Unfortunately, even though you might urgently need compensation, the GAF score system is wide open to errors. What’s more, the VA is notorious for providing very low ratings for mental health conditions.
If you are having issues with your VA disability compensation benefits claim, you may need to seek professional, legal, help. By bringing a professional onboard you will be able to dramatically increase your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.
Do you need professional help? If so, you’re in the perfect place. Here at Woods and Woods, we specialize in veteran claims. What’s more, we offer free consultations, free claim assistance, and you only need to pay us if we win.
Contact us for a free VA claim evaluation. We are available to vets all over the USA.
Your VA rating isn’t as clean cut as converting it from your GAF scale rating to your VA disability rating. Your GAF rating can be innacurate and your VA rating is decided on a complex group of factors, not one single score.
It all depends on the clinic. Since the Social Security Administration stopped using it, some VA clinics are dropping off too. There are other ways to rate and diagnose your PTSD, so don’t be concerned if your doctor doesn’t give you this test at your C&P exam.