Posted by Gregory M. Rada | September 1, 2023 | Disability Compensation
For veterans grappling with mental disorders, navigating disability compensation claims can present a unique set of challenges. These challenges may differ from claims based on physical disorders, and understanding the nuances can make a significant difference. In this post, we delve into some of these challenges and offer tips to overcome them.
In order to establish a service connection for a mental disorder, a veteran usually needs to demonstrate the following:
There are generally five avenues to connect a mental disorder to service: directly, via pre-existing condition aggravated by service, secondary to a service-connected physical condition, on a presumptive basis, or as a result of an injury from VA medical care. However, claims for mental disorders present distinctive difficulties, demanding careful attention to detail.
A crucial element in mental disorder cases is identifying the precise type of mental disorder. Misidentification can jeopardize a veteran’s claim. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) ruled in Clemons v. Shinseki that the claimant’s diagnosis is not the sole determinant. Rather, a claim for any mental disorder is considered for any mental disability that fits the claimant’s description, symptoms, and the information provided.
That said, a claim for service connection for a mental disorder should make clear in the filing that the veteran seeks service connection for “any and all mental disorders” the veteran may have, rather than limiting the claim to a specific diagnosis.
Further complications arise when a veteran suffers from more than one mental disorder. While a veteran can receive service connection for multiple psychiatric disorders, separate disability ratings will not be assigned if the disorders produce overlapping symptoms, which is usually the case.
For instance, if a veteran suffers from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and PTSD, both due to military service and with similar symptoms, the VA will connect both disorders and assign a single overall disability rating. If the MDD is unrelated to military service, but PTSD is service-connected, the symptoms produced by the PTSD will be the basis for the disability rating.
In situations where a veteran is already service-connected for a mental disorder and suffers from a second one, filing a claim to service-connect the second disorder is not always the wisest course of action. This is because it can lead to a reduction in the current disability rating if the VA determines the symptoms from the non-service-connected disorder are separate.
When considering filing a claim for a second mental disorder, it’s crucial to weigh the likelihood that the VA will service-connect the second disorder against the potential risk to the existing disability rating. Oftentimes, it is best to simply ask for an increase on the already-service-connected mental disorder.
The process of navigating mental disorder claims for disability compensation involves complex issues and requires a careful, informed approach. Armed with knowledge and strategic planning, veterans can optimize their claims and successfully navigate these challenging waters. Remember, the journey may seem daunting, but with the right guidance, the goal of receiving the benefits you rightfully deserve is well within reach.
Gregory Rada is an Air Force veteran that helps veterans nationwide receive the benefits to which they are entitled. He works with all his clients one-on-one from the start of their case to the end and never hands them off to case managers or paralegals. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.