Is it possible to file a VA Disability Claim for Increased Social Anxiety?
Published March 24, 2023
Whether you suffer from generalized anxiety or specifically social anxiety, the VA psychiatric disability claim process and VA disability appeals process provide you with avenues for initially getting VA disability benefits and then increased benefits if your condition worsens.
This article reviews what the VA considers when it looks at increased social anxiety and other anxiety claims, how to address increased severity of symptoms after your initial VA claims have been processed, and what to look for in a VA disability attorney to assist you in the process.
What does the VA consider when evaluating anxiety claims?
Anxiety VA claims are considered by the VA within the wide scope of psychiatric conditions that may be related to your military service. Anxiety can be its own separate diagnosis or can be a symptom of PTSD and the VA approaches its evaluation in a slightly different way for each.
The VA will review your medical records for a diagnosis of anxiety, and will also look at your service records to see if you made a complaint of anxiety while in service. If you didn’t, odds are that they will deny your claim. However, if you make a PTSD claim with anxiety being one of your symptoms, the VA will review your service records in a different light. Were you in combat? Were you exposed to some situation that is likely to have triggered PTSD? One way or another, they will most likely schedule you for a C&P Exam (Compensation & Pension Exam) with a designated medical professional.
At that C&P Exam, a straightforward anxiety claim will be evaluated using a general “Mental Disorders” DBQ (disability benefits questionnaire), but they use a different DBQ that asks different questions for a PTSD claim.
Based on the findings from the C&P Exam and the rest of the information in your claims file, the VA will determine whether you have service-connected anxiety and, if so, what the appropriate rating percentage will be. The rating schedule focuses on the level of interference with your occupational (work) and social functioning, whether it only occasionally interferes and can be controlled with medication may warrant a 10% rating, if you are having suicide ideation and other serious impairment, that may warrant a 70% rating, and being a persistent danger to hurting yourself or others can warrant a 100% rating. You don’t need to meet every symptom at any one rating level, but the VA assigns the level where you seem to have the most symptoms. VA disability ratings for anxiety are 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% or 100%. You can look at the general rating sheet for mental disorders here.
If your social anxiety condition increases, can you file a VA Disability Claim?
You can file a VA disability claim for service-connected social anxiety. If your social anxiety increases after you have already received a service-connection decision on your anxiety, you may request an increased rating at any point.
If you want to increase your rating within one year of your Rating Decision, this may take the form of a Supplemental Claim appeal (which is actually asking the VA to consider that you should have been at a higher rating in the first place). If more than a year has passed, you can file a new VA Form 21-526EZ claim form and follow the instructions relating to “Increased Disability Compensation.” As specified in that form, “if VA previously granted service connection for your disability and you are seeking an increased evaluation of your service-connected disability, we need medical or lay evidence to show a worsening or increase in severity and the effect that worsening or increase has on your ability to work.” You can accomplish this easily by providing a statement.
What happens if your claim is denied? Or if the rating is lower than expected?
Sometimes the VA denies your claim for anxiety benefits, and there are a number of reasons for that. Sometimes you didn’t provide proof of a diagnosis of anxiety, sometimes they were unable to establish a service connection for your anxiety; there are many reasons. Although this happens too frequently, there are remedies in the way of filings of VA claim appeals to challenge the decision of denial or an underrating in a VA disability decision.
The deadline to appeal is one year from the date of your Ratings Decision letter. There are currently three types of appeal that you can file – Higher Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and Board Review. The right appeal type for you will depend on the specifics of your case. Read more about the details of these types of appeals here.
If you are considering appealing the VA’s decision on your anxiety claim, don’t make the decision of what and how to appeal on your own. This is the perfect opportunity to look for an experienced VA disability attorney to help walk you through your options and pick the best one. You’ve filed one VA disability claim; they have filed thousands. Most of these attorneys will represent you on a contingency basis which means that they don’t get paid unless and until you get a favorable decision and backpay award from the VA.
What should you look for in a good VA claim attorney?
Look for an experienced VA disability claims attorney rather than just a well-meaning, but ill-prepared lawyer who spends their days working on different types of legal work. VA disability attorneys are part of a very small niche legal speciality requiring additional accreditation that other lawyers don’t have. You need a law firm whose staff has the patience and tenacity to work through the bureaucracy of the VA. A bonus is a law firm that actually hires veterans who have personally walked through the VA disability process themselves.
The VA benefits process is explicitly non-adversarial. Getting a successful outcome happens with careful analysis up front as to what evidence and arguments will make it easy for the VA to say “yes” to your claim and then the patience to go through the steps to get there.