Veterans with bipolar disorder suffer from drastic mood swings, often with days or even weeks spent in the intense emotional highs of mania and the extreme lows of depression. The VA rating for bipolar disorder ranges from 0% to 100%, depending on the frequency and severity of the veteran’s symptoms. In addition, many veterans with bipolar disorder also have PTSD, which has overlapping symptoms. Veterans unable to hold steady work due to a service-connected mental health condition like bipolar disorder or PTSD may also be eligible for TDIU.
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In this article about bipolar VA ratings:
Over one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the VA healthcare system have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Many of these veterans have bipolar disorder. Read on to learn more about how your bipolar disorder can be service connected and how you can get VA benefits for the condition.
Bipolar disorder in veterans
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder. It affects energy, sleep, mood, and the ability to function. Bipolar disorder is known for its symptoms of intense emotional fluctuations.
With treatment, veterans with bipolar disorders can overcome their symptoms and live rewarding and productive lives.
There are three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. Doctors make a diagnosis based on the frequency, severity, and types of episodes experienced.
Do you need help now? The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day to support veterans and their friends and family during mental emergencies.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder in veterans
As with many mental health conditions, veterans with bipolar disorder can experience a range of symptoms. Symptoms of bipolar disorder can profoundly affect everyday life, from fluctuating energy levels to impairing judgment and behavior.
Bipolar veterans may have manic or hypomanic periods where they feel like they have increased energy, mood, and self-esteem, racing thoughts, and irritability. They may also take more personal and financial risks. Manic and hypomanic episodes are usually noticeable to others.
These ‘highs’ are contrasted with shifts to depressive episodes, which are characterized by low energy and feelings of sadness and hopelessness. In addition, veterans with bipolar disorder may lose weight without meaning to and struggle to focus or concentrate.
While all people experience mood fluctuations, bipolar veterans spend more time on the far ends of the mood spectrum. People without bipolar disorder may feel incredibly happy or extremely sad for a period that can be measured in hours. In contrast, people with bipolar disorders may experience extreme ends of the spectrum for days at a time.
Additionally, people without bipolar disorder experiencing highs and lows can typically still function in their daily lives, which is impossible for those experiencing an extreme due to their bipolar disorder.
VA benefits for bipolar disorder
Veterans seeking VA benefits for bipolar disorder should get a formal diagnosis and be able to prove that their military service caused or worsened their condition.
Factors associated with military life can contribute to the development or worsening of bipolar disorder in service members and veterans. For example, high levels of stress, traumatic events, and disrupted sleep — events not uncommon in military service — are all associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders, including bipolar.
Even veterans that received a bipolar diagnosis years after their service may be able to connect it to their military service for disability compensation. “Some mental health disorders can lay undiagnosed for years,” said VA disability lawyer Zack Evans. “However, a good description of life events at the time and lay statements from loved ones can help establish continuity from an in-service event to the present day.”
Bipolar VA rating
All mental disorders are rated on this same scale. Ratings are based on how frequent and impactful the disorder’s symptoms are.
|Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.
|Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.
|Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.
|Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due to such symptoms as: depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events).
|Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by continuous medication.
|A mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but symptoms are not severe enough either to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication.
Veterans applying for VA disability benefits for mental health conditions like bipolar disorder will likely need a compensation and pension (C&P) exam to assess the severity of their conditions.
VA disability lawyer Zack Evans spoke about the importance of this exam and his advice to veterans undergoing one. “The first piece of advice I have to give you is to go,” Evans said. “Unfortunately, the VA can and will deny you if you refuse to go to an exam.”
“The C&P exams that we probably hear the most concern about from our clients are those regarding mental health examinations. It’s just because of the personal depth that these exams can dig into, but it’s very important that you attend. See if your spouse or close family member can go with you, even if they just wait in the lobby,” said Evans.
Although it may be hard, attending your C&P exam and being honest and open about your symptoms can help you get the bipolar VA rating you deserve.
PTSD and bipolar disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is considered a trauma-related disorder, while bipolar disorder is classified as a mood disorder. PTSD and bipolar disorder have many symptoms in common, sometimes making it difficult to determine which condition a veteran is suffering from. Symptoms of irritability and depression are found in both disorders, but people with PTSD do not experience the high-energy symptoms of mania.
It is also possible for veterans to be diagnosed with both PTSD and bipolar disorder. One 2020 study found PTSD diagnoses to be high among people hospitalized for bipolar. Veterans can develop PTSD after being exposed to extreme stressors. They may have symptoms such as re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares, being on edge, and avoidance of any reminders of the trauma. Bipolar disorders do not develop because of an extreme stressor, but the traumatic experiences may trigger a bipolar disorder episode.
If your bipolar and another health condition both stem from the same incident, or a common etiology, they may be considered together as one disability for rating purposes. The two conditions being considered as one disability by the VA has the potential to increase your benefits you if you are seeking individual unemployability.
TDIU for veterans with bipolar disorder
Symptoms of mental health disorders can make it difficult or impossible to hold down a job. You may find your bipolar disorder makes concentrating and working with others incredibly difficult. You may struggle to get into work at all, especially during extremely low episodes. As a result, some veterans with bipolar disorder may not meet the criteria to receive a rating of 100% for the condition but are still unable to keep steady employment.
In these cases, veterans may be eligible for total disability based on individual employability (TDIU). TDIU is a monthly benefit from the VA for veterans with severe disabilities that prevent them from holding “substantially gainful employment.” Veterans eligible for TDIU receive VA disability compensation at the 100% rate without their condition being rated 100% disabling.
To be eligible for TDIU, veterans must have at least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR two or more service-connected disabilities, with one condition rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.
If your bipolar and another health condition both stem from the same incident, or a “common etiology,” they may be considered together as one disability for rating purposes. The two conditions being considered as “one disability” by the VA has the potential to help you if you are seeking individual unemployability. One example of this is headaches and mental health conditions. If you have service-connected bipolar disorder rated at 50% and 10% for headaches secondary to your bipolar disorder, the conditions may be considered to have a common etiology. The VA may combine the ratings of these conditions into one rating of 60%, which would qualify you for TDIU.
“The firm got me to 70%, and I was happy. Individual unemployability was awarded to me and to this day, I’m so grateful. My future is no longer bleak. These people work very hard for you.“
R.C., a Navy veteran in HawaiiFacebook review
How Woods and Woods can help
Woods and Woods has worked with thousands of veterans living with mental health conditions like bipolar disorder to get them the VA benefits they deserve. Contact us today for a free case evaluation and learn how we can help. We never charge to assist with initial filings, and if we help you with your appeals case, you only pay us if you win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Veterans can be diagnosed with both PTSD and bipolar disorder. These conditions have many similar symptoms and studies have found people with PTSD may be more likely to experience bipolar disorder.
Veterans diagnosed with service-connected bipolar disorder may be eligible for TDIU if they cannot hold a steady job due to their symptoms. To be eligible, veterans must have at least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR two or more service-connected disabilities, with one rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.