What VA disability claim documentation is needed for anxiety?
Published March 17, 2023
Monthly tax-free benefit payments are paid to veterans who have service-connected anxiety. Are you entitled to receive VA disability compensation too? What does the VA disability process look like?
This article reviews the VA claims process, what the VA needs to process your claim, and what you can do if the VA doesn’t properly decide your anxiety claim.
What does the VA consider when evaluating anxiety claims?
There is a wide range of psychiatric conditions that may be related to your military service, including anxiety and PTSD with anxiety symptoms. The VA psychiatric disability claim process can be confusing. Although we all know there are dramatic differences between mental health issues, the VA uses the same set of rating criteria to evaluate all of them, ranging from anxiety and depression to PTSD, and even bipolar and schizophrenia. The ratings levels range from 0% (formal diagnosis, but symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication) to 100% (total occupational and social impairment), with intermediate steps at 10%, 30%, 50% or 70%.
Although all psychiatric claims are rated using the same criteria, they are processed differently within the VA disability claim process. This is the case in comparing a straightforward anxiety claim versus a PTSD claim that includes anxiety symptoms. An anxiety claim will be evaluated using a DBQ (disability benefits questionnaire) for “Mental Disorders (Other Than PTSD And Eating Disorders).” However, a PTSD claim has a separate “Review Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” DBQ that asks different questions, including whether you have anxiety.
In determining the ratings level for an anxiety claim, 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 suicidal 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. You can look at the general rating sheet for mental disorders here.
What do you need when making an anxiety disability claim?
All VA disability claims start with preparing and filing an initial claim. You can start that process by filing a Notice of Intent form, which basically says, in a general fashion, “I’m getting ready to file a claim, but don’t have all my paperwork together yet.” This is an optional step that can start the clock on your effective date, the date from which your benefits will start if they are eventually granted. You have one year from the filing of this Notice to file your formal claim.
When you file your disability claim (VA Form 21-526EZ) there are two ways you can file it: (1) Fully Developed Claim; or (2) Standard Claim. Designating your claim as a Fully Developed Claim means that you have collected all of the necessary claim documentation to support your claim, and it is ready for review. This is optional but might speed up the VA’s processing time a little bit. A Standard Claim is one that does not yet have all of the necessary documentation and requires some additional work to compile service and medical records.
As with all disability claims, anxiety claims require three basic elements: (1) proof of a current diagnosis of anxiety; (2) proof of an in-service event, condition or stressor; (3) proof of a nexus, or connection, between the two.
Something important to note here again is that Anxiety can be a standalone diagnosis, but can also be a symptom of PTSD.
What happens if your claim is denied? Or if the rating is lower than expected?
Unfortunately, the VA often denies initial claims for disability benefits, including claims for service-connected anxiety. Even if they grant benefits, the VA disability rating may be lower than expected or appropriate. Realize that you are in good company if this happens to you, and that there are things that can be done to change the VA’s decision.
VA claim appeals have to be filed within 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.
The simplest type of appeal is a Higher Level Review. This may be appropriate if all of the necessary information for the correction you want is already in your claims file and the VA reviewer just didn’t notice it or improperly considered it.
A Supplemental Claim allows you to add new evidence to be considered by the VA. This may be appropriate if your Ratings Decision shows some gaps of information, perhaps saying that there is no evidence in the file of this or that piece of information that would allow for a better decision.
A Board Review allows you to have a live hearing (either in person or via video conference) with a Veterans Law Judge. Sometimes the details of your current condition and the in-service stressors that led to your current anxiety and possibly also PTSD cannot adequately be explained on paper and that is one example of when requesting a Board Review may be your best option.
Don’t make the decision on whether to appeal and what type of appeal to pursue on your own. Whether you work with a VSO or find an attorney to represent you, you need someone else to walk through the process with you. Attorneys are specially trained to be an advocate for you, to do much more than filling out forms. They have worked with hundreds or thousands of other veterans like you and can more easily understand why the VA decided the way they did, and what steps are needed to correct that.
What should you look for in a good VA claim attorney?
Looking for a good VA disability attorney is a different process than looking for an attorney to represent you for other matters. VA disability claim attorneys are part of a very small niche legal speciality requiring additional accreditation that other lawyers don’t have. You need a lawyer that has the patience and tenacity to work through the bureaucratic process of a government agency, not one who prides themselves on being aggressive and confrontational.
The VA benefits process is explicitly non-adversarial. This means that the VA is formally on the veteran’s side and is not trying to “win” by denying claims. Instead, the VA simply needs to be able to see the necessary evidence to say “yes, your benefits are approved.” Remember that the VA personnel reviewing your claims file are not doctors and not lawyers and they do make mistakes. However, when shown how and why they have made a mistake, they are obligated to fix it.
Just one word of caution – it is a violation of the law for anyone to charge a veteran to prepare an initial VA disability benefits claim, even lawyers. There are veteran services officers everywhere, sometimes working through veterans organizations and sometimes paid by your local county or state, that are accredited and trained to assist you with your initial claims. After you have received your Ratings Decision and if you want to appeal, then you can hire an attorney to help you. You can check to see if they are VA accredited here.
Are you ready to have an experienced VA disability compensation attorney review your ratings decision? You may be able to get a better outcome for your anxiety claim with the experience of Veterans Law Group’s experienced legal team. Request your complimentary case review now.