What Does The VA Consider For A Mental Health Disability?

Mental health conditions are prone within the Veteran population, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being the most common mental health disorder Veterans face. If you are one of the many Veterans with a mental health issue, you need to understand the VA mental health ratings & what disability benefits are available to you.

The VA estimates that about 30% of Veterans have at least 1 or more mental health disorders. You completed your military service & made it home physically unscathed, but your mental health tells a different story. The VA estimates that 50% of returning Veterans are in need of receiving some form of mental health treatment. If you are one of these Veterans, you will want to understand the various mental health ratings that the VA has.


We will answer the following 5 questions about VA mental health ratings:

  • What is the general rating formula for mental health disorders?
  • What is a mental health DBQ?
  • Can multiple mental health conditions be combined into a single rating?
  • Can a Veteran get a mental health rating & qualify for TDIU?
  • How can VLG’s Team help you?


What does the VA consider to be a mental health disorder?

Any emotional condition that impacts your thinking, mood, & behavior is considered a mental health disorder. For the VA rating of mental health, the VA should consider the severity, duration, & frequency of the psychiatric symptoms. The VA rating should also reflect the occupational & social impairment the mental health disorder has caused.

There are more than 300 different mental health diagnoses that exist in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the diagnostic tool that mental health professionals use. The VA recognizes several of these mental health disorders, including:

  • Mood disorders like depression, dysthymic disorder, or bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders like anxiety or panic disorder
  • Trauma disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorders like alcohol or drug addiction
  • Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia

Mental health disorders do not disappear completely, they may subside for a while but they will resurface when you least expect it. Mental health disorders typically will worsen if left untreated. The VA does provide various mental health service for Veterans with mental health condition. The VA also provides mental health compensation for those Veterans who qualify.


What is the general rating formula for mental health disorders?

There are VA disability benefits for a mental health disorder that was caused by or worsened by the Veterans military service.

For the mental health conditions the VA uses the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders in the Schedule of Ratings. There are specific diagnostic codes that the VA uses depending on the mental health disorder. But all of the mental health conditions have the same rating criteria. Mental health disorders are rated at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%, all depending on the frequency & severity of the symptoms that the Veteran has.


Criteria for a VA mental health rating:

VA Rating Formula for Mental Health Disorders 3



What is a mental health DBQ?

DBQs stands for Disability Benefits Questionnaires, which are specific VA forms. During a mental health consultation with a Veteran the examiner would use a DBQs to help guide them. To qualify for a VA disability rating for a mental health condition, the Veteran needs to have an official diagnosis for the specific mental health condition(s). The VA will require a qualified mental health provider to complete the DBQ. The VA considers a board-certified psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist to be qualified mental health providers.

The qualified doctor will use the DBQ to record the severity of the Veterans condition. Then the VA uses that DBQ to evaluate the level of social & occupational impairment. If the VA service-connects the mental health disorder then the VA will use the information on the DBQ to determine the disability rating.

The DBQ typically includes:

  • Your symptoms
  • A diagnosis
  • Medications you’ve used or are using to treat the condition
  • A description of the condition’s impact on your overall health & ability to function

The VA uses one DBQ form for mental disorders, except PTSD & eating disorders. PTSD uses its own form. Since eating disorders have their own unique mental health concerns, which the VA does recognize but handle differently.

The VA might still require the Veteran to have a compensation & pension (C&P) exam done by one of their examiners as part of the claim process, even if the Veterans own mental health doctor completed the DBQ. When the VA asks the Veteran to complete a C&P exam for mental health the Veteran should read up on what to expect from a C&P exam. Mainly the Veteran needs to make sure there are open & honest about how their mental health symptoms affect their daily life and activities, also make sure the doctor spends time documenting all of their concerns.


Can multiple mental health conditions be combined into a single rating?

It is extremely common for people to have multiple mental health diagnoses & Veterans are no exception. When a person or Veteran is affected by more than one mental health disorder it is called “comorbidity.” Comorbid mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, & PTSD, occur quite frequently, the VA will not rate them as separately if they are all service-connected. The VA only gives one mental health rating per Veteran based on the overall occupational & social impairment to avoid “pyramiding” their symptoms.

Pyramiding is when a Veteran receives more than one rating for the same disability or symptoms. Federal law prohibits pyramiding.

For example:

If the Veteran is service-connected for both depression & PTSD, both share certain symptoms like irritability, detachment, & persistent feelings of sadness. Since the VA mental health rating is based on the overall symptoms & how they affect the Veterans daily life, the VA will not consider the irritability, detachments, & persistent feelings of sadness twice. Since being rated twice for the same symptoms is considered pyramiding.


Can a Veteran get a mental health rating & qualify for TDIU?

While one Veteran may function well with a mental health disorder, another Veteran could experience severe symptoms that make it difficult for them to hold down a job. Mental health disorders can be debilitating. A Veterans condition may make them distracted at work or make working with others extremely difficult for them. A Veteran may struggle regardless of whether the job is more physically demanding or is a desk job answering phones. A Veterans symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, & severe depression can make it impossible for them to keep employment.

If a Veteran with a service-connected mental health disorder that is severe enough to keep them from maintaining what the VA calls “substantially gainful employment” can qualify for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU). TDIU is a tax-free benefit that ensures those Veterans can still support themselves & their families without working. Veterans that are eligible for TDIU receive VA disability compensation at the 100% rating without their specific condition(s) being rated at 100%.

To qualifying for TDIU you have to meet one of the following requirements:

  • at least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR
  • two or more service-connected disabilities, at least one disability ratable at 40% or more, with a combined rating of 70% or more.

Since Veterans with mental health conditions are often also rated for other physical conditions in a combination that would qualify them for TDIU.


How can VLG’s Team help you?

At Veterans Law Group we help Veterans nationwide get the VA benefits they have earned. Fill out our consultation form for a free case evaluation to find out how we can help. If we take your case, we only receive 20% of your back pay if we win.



Leave a Comment