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Navigating Mental Disorder Claims for VA Disability Compensation: A Comprehensive Guide

Posted by Gregory M. Rada | Disability Compensation

For veterans grappling with mental disorders, navigating VA disability compensation claims can present a unique set of challenges. These challenges may differ from those experienced in 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.

  1. The Basics: Service Connection for Mental Disorders
  2. Navigating the Diagnosis: The Crucial Role of Correct Identification
  3. Balancing Multiple Mental Disorders: The Complexities of Co-existing Conditions
  4. Optimizing Your Claims
  5. Conclusion

The Basics: Service Connection for Mental Disorders

In order to establish a service connection for a mental disorder, a veteran usually needs to demonstrate the following:

  1. A diagnosis or chronic symptoms of a current disability;
  2. Evidence of in-service incurrence or exacerbation of a disease, injury, or precipitating event; and
  3. Competent evidence linking the in-service event to the current disability (i.e., a medical nexus opinion).

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 the veteran’s claim. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) has ruled in Clemons v. Shinseki that the claimant’s diagnosis is not the sole determinant. Rather, a claim for one mental condition is considered a claim for any mental disability that fits the claimant’s description, symptoms, and the information provided.

This is because oftentimes veterans only know that they have symptoms of a mental condition and do not know their precise diagnosis. The holding in Clemons ensures veterans are not penalized for not knowing their specific diagnosis. For example, let’s say a veteran makes a claim for PTSD but at the C&P exam, the examiner renders a diagnosis of major depressive disorder with anxiety. VA has to consider service connection for the newly diagnosed major depressive disorder with anxiety and can’t just deny the claim because there was no diagnosis of PTSD.

Generally, when you make a claim for a psychiatric condition, you should wrote that you are claiming service connection for “any and all mental disorders” rather than limiting the claim to a specific diagnosis.

Balancing Multiple Mental Disorders: The Complexities of Co-existing Conditions

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 almost always 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 service 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.

Optimizing Your Claims

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.


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 within reach.