Being a veteran with a mental disability can make almost everything in life challenging. Your brain is fighting against you, and things that once seemed normal and effortless may suddenly become insurmountable ordeals. So when it comes time to apply for VA disability compensation, how do you summarize your struggles in an objective, organized way that can translate to a disability rating?
The VA used the Global Assessment of Functioning test to evaluate veterans’ mental functioning. But in recent years, that has fallen out of favor, and the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule test has begun to take its place. Read on to learn more about both of these tests and how they can impact your overall disability rating.
Table of contents
- What Is a GAF Score?
- How Does It Work?
- GAF Test Scores
- Downsides of the GAF Scale
- What Is WHODAS?
- How Does It Work?
- WHODAS Scores
- How Testing Works
- Impact of WHODAS on a VA Rating
- Qualifying for VA Disability
- VA Disability Rating Schedules
- How the VA Rates Mental Illness
- Disability Compensation
- What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied
- Get Your Compensation Today
What Is a GAF Score?
A Global Assessment of Functioning test is a tool used to assess a veteran’s overall level of functioning. In this context, “global” refers to a person’s overall wellbeing, rather than meaning “international.” This test was established in 1976 and is in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-V.
The GAF uses a scale of 0 to 100 that indicates how much difficulty a veteran has maintaining a normal, healthy life. It looks at their overall psychological, social, and occupational health to determine how much their mental illness impacts their daily life. However, as we’ll discuss later, the GAF model has some flaws that make it hard to get a true read on a veteran’s mental state.
How Does It Work?
The VA used to use several different sources of information to determine a GAF score. They would talk to the veteran, interview their family members or caretakers, and review the veteran’s medical records. They would also look at any police or court records the person had that may have resulted from their mental illness.
Using this information, the VA would assess the veterans and place them on one of ten different “anchor points.” These were rankings in sections of ten that broadly described a veteran’s overall level of functioning. The higher the score, the higher the veteran’s ability to function normally in daily life.
GAF Test Scores
As we mentioned, the GAF uses a scale of 0 to 100, with scores being sorted into one of ten “levels.” For scores between 91 and 100, the GAF says a veteran has “superior functioning in a wide range of activities, life’s problems never seem to get out of hand, [and they are] sought out by others because of his or her many positive qualities.” For scores between 71 and 80, a veteran would have only slight impairments in their life, and most symptoms would be transient.
Scores of 51 to 60 indicate that a veteran may have occasional panic attacks or moderate difficulty functioning normally in life. Scores of 21 to 30 show that a veteran’s behavior is considerably influenced by their mental illness and they are unable to function in most areas. A score of 1 to 10 is assigned when a veteran is in persistent danger of severely hurting themselves or others due to their mental illness.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Downsides of the GAF Scale
At first glance, the GAF scale may seem like a solid, comprehensive way to assess a veteran’s mental health. The trouble is that the GAF scale is based on subjective evidence and the doctor’s own opinion of the situation. There is very little specific, symptom-based guidance in assigning a GAF score.
If a doctor has become jaded and cynical, they may assign a veteran a higher score based on their belief that the veteran is inventing or exaggerating symptoms. There is also significant room for interpretation in what qualifies as “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.” Oftentimes, this may lead to veterans receiving a higher GAF score than they should.
What Is WHODAS?
Due to these issues with the GAF scale, the VA has begun to replace it with WHODAS. The World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0 became the gold standard for mental health assessment with the publication of the DSM-V in 2013. One of the primary differences, which we’ll discuss more later, is that the WHODAS is a self-assessment, rather than an external assessment.
The WHODAS looks at a veteran’s ability to function as a concern separate from the veteran’s diagnosis. In the GAF model, a veteran’s mental illness may not have been viewed as a disease in the traditional sense of the word. The WHODAS recognizes mental illness as a disease and evaluates functioning level with this approach in mind.
How Does It Work?
The WHODAS evaluates a veteran’s overall level of functioning based on six factors. The questionnaire asks about the veteran’s ability to do certain things over the period of the last thirty days. The six areas of evaluation include cognition, mobility, self-care, getting along, life activities, and participation.
There are two different versions of the WHODAS, one with thirty-six questions, and one with just twelve. The twelve-question test is useful for getting a quick idea of a veteran’s overall mental state. But if you want an in-depth assessment of all six areas of evaluation, as well as the overall score, you’ll need to use the longer questionnaire.
There are two ways to score the WHODAS assessment – a simple version, and a complex version. In the simple version, each criterion is assigned a score of zero through four, representing either no difficulty, mild, moderate, severe, or extreme difficulty. Each of the scores for the six areas of evaluation is added together, giving you your total score between zero and twenty-four.
In the more complex version, different factors on the assessment are given different weights in the final score. You begin by assigning each assessment item a score, just as you would in the simple scoring model. But then you run these scores through an algorithm that weighs them based on difficulty to give you an overall ability score between 0 and 100.
How Testing Works
The WHODAS test uses a self-administered model that doesn’t rely on a doctor’s opinion of the patient’s situation. A veteran can complete the questionnaire themselves if they are able to. But if their mental state is such that they can’t complete such an objective assessment, a loved one or caretaker can do it for them.
If you plan to apply for VA disability compensation, it’s a good idea to complete the thirty-six-question assessment. It will give you a more complete view of the person’s mental state so you can include as much information as possible with your application. You can take a self-administered test, a proxy-administered test, or a rater-administered test that relies on a neutral third-party’s assessment of the veteran.
Impact of WHODAS on a VA Rating
It is important to note that once you receive your WHODAS rating, it does not automatically provide you with the same VA disability rating schedule. As we’ll talk about in a moment, the VA uses a similar rating scale of 0 to 100 when assessing a veteran’s level of disability. But just because you received a 30 on the WHODAS scale does not mean you’ll receive a disability rating of 30 percent.
The WHODAS assessment is one of many tools the VA uses to determine how much a veteran’s mental disability impacts their life. In fact, the lower your WHODAS score, the higher your VA disability rating should be. The VA may look at your relationships, your work history, and your medical history in addition to your overall WHODAS score to get a better sense of your condition.
The VA Rating formula for mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, and others mental health disorders is explained by one of our veterans disability lawyers in this video:
Qualifying for VA Disability
So now that we know a little about how the GAF and WHODAS tests work, let’s talk some about how VA disability compensation works. In order to qualify for VA disability, you must meet three criteria. You must have an official diagnosis of your condition, you must be able to point to a specific incident in your service record that could have caused your condition, and you must have a medical nexus connecting the two.
Your first step towards getting VA disability compensation will be to get an official diagnosis from a VA-approved physician. Then you must be able to prove that there was a specific incident or set of circumstances during your service that could have caused your mental illness. Finally, your doctor must testify that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by the incident you indicated.
VA Disability Rating Schedules
Once the VA has approved your disability claim application, they will assign you a percentage rating. This rating reflects how much your condition impacts your ability to lead a normal, healthy life. These ratings are expressed in percentages between 10 percent and 100 percent, with higher ratings indicating a higher level of disruption.
How the VA Rates Mental Illness
The VA rates mental illness a little differently than physical disabilities. With physical disabilities, you may be assigned a rating anywhere between 10 percent and 100 percent. But with mental illness, you’ll be sorted into one of a few “tiers” designed to represent different levels of functionality.
If a veteran receives a 100 percent disability rating for mental illness, it means they cannot care for themselves at all. A 70 percent rating will indicate that they cannot care for themselves most of the time, and a 50 percent rating will show that they require hospitalization some of the time. A 30 percent rating is used when a person can care for themselves most of the time, but occasionally requires hospitalization, and a 10 percent rating indicates that they are rarely, if ever, hospitalized.
Once you have your VA disability rating, that will be used to determine the amount of compensation you’ll receive. For instance, a 10 percent rating will get you $152.64 per month. For ratings of 30 percent and over, the VA also considers how many people you have financially relying on you.
What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied
If your VA disability claim gets denied or if you think it’s too low, don’t worry. You can appeal the decision on your claim all the way up to the BVA in Washington, D.C. if needed. The trick is to stay organized and persistent and not to give up until you get the rating you deserve.
If you plan to appeal your decision, you may want to hire an attorney who specializes in veteran law. Not only can they help you navigate the appeals process, but they also know tips and tricks to maximize your compensation amount. They can also help you keep up with deadlines and other appeal requirements.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods are often asked about veterans disability claims and appeals.
Get Your Compensation Today
Applying for VA disability compensation for a mental illness can be a tricky process. But luckily, the GAF test being replaced with the WHODAS test increases your odds of getting the rating you deserve. Start working on the WHODAS questionnaire and take the first step towards getting a fair compensation amount from the VA.
If you’d like help with your disability claim or appeals process, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, LLC. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today to start getting the compensation you deserve for your service-connected disability.