Getting Veterans Disability Compensation for Depression

Veterans struggling with depression may be able to get a VA disability rating based on how severe the symptoms are.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Many veterans suffer from depression as a result of their military service. Common causes of depression in veterans include the stress of combat, separation from loved ones while deployed, death of a friend on-duty, and physical or sexual abuse.

The VA recognizes that depression can significantly affect a veteran's ability to perform their daily activities and engage in employment after they've been discharged from service. So, veterans may be eligible for service-connected disability compensation for depression.

How the VA Assigns Disability Ratings for Depression

VA ratings for depression, along with all other mental disorders, are assigned according to a percentage system. Using a formula called the "Schedule of Ratings," the VA reviews medical records for evidence about how much depression symptoms impair a veteran's social and occupational ability.

The available ratings for depression are 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. The more severe your symptoms are, the higher your VA disability rating will be.

For example, a veteran with a 100% disability rating for depression may need constant inpatient mental health treatment, while a veteran with a 70% disability rating may be able to live independently, but has regular bursts of anger. A veteran with a 50% VA depression rating may be able to control their impulses but need extra time to complete work tasks, while a veteran with a 30% rating may complete work tasks on time, but has chronic difficulty sleeping.

For more information, see our article on how the VA rates a service-connected mental disability.

Can You Get a 100% VA Rating for Depression?

The average veteran with depression will have a VA rating somewhere between 10-70%. But even if your symptoms aren't severe enough to get a 100% disability rating, you might be able to get payment at the 100% rate if your disability keeps you from working ("total disability based on individual unemployability," or TDIU). And vets with a 0% rating are still entitled to VA benefits such as health care.

Getting a VA Rating for Depression

In order to get a depression VA disability rating, you'll first have to show that your depression is service-connected—meaning that the disorder was caused or worsened by your time in service. Once you've established a service connection, you'll then need to provide medical evidence showing how significantly your symptoms of depression limit your ability to function.

Establishing Service Connection for Depression

You can establish a service connection if you can show a nexus (causal link) between your depression and your military service.

  • Direct service connection is established when an incident that happened during active duty caused your current depression.
  • Aggravated service connection is established if you had depression before you entered the military, and your time in service made it worse.
  • Secondary service connection is established if you have another service-related medical condition, such as chronic pain, that causes your depression.

To determine whether your depression is service-connected, the VA will look for evidence of the following:

  • a current diagnosis of depression
  • documentation of an incident that happened during service that caused or worsened your depression, or that caused the medical condition that resulted in depression, and
  • medical evidence showing a link between the incident and your current depression.

When you file your VA disability claim, you'll need to submit all of your medical records—including treatment with both military and civilian providers—as well as your discharge documents (DD 214) and service treatment records. You should also submit any doctor's opinions that can help show the relationship between your depression and the on-duty incident.

You can learn more in our article on how to obtain your VA records.

Documenting Your Depression Diagnosis and Symptoms

In the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities, major depression—and a related disorder, dysthymia—are listed under the category for mood disorders. Your disability claim should contain medical evidence of a diagnosis and symptoms of a mood disorder. VA doctors use a tool called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to determine whether a veteran exhibits symptoms of depression or dysthymia.

Major depression is characterized by a depressed mood and loss of interest in activities (anhedonia). Your doctor can diagnose you with depression if you experience at least five of the following symptoms, daily or almost daily, over a two-week period:

  • feeling sad most of the day
  • lacking motivation to do basic functions, even enjoyable ones
  • fluctuating weight (loss or gain)
  • lethargic (slow) movements
  • fatigue or having low energy
  • feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • trouble thinking or concentrating, and
  • frequent thoughts about death.

Dysthymic disorder (also known as persistent depressive disorder) is generally less severe than major depressive disorder, but it lasts for longer. Your doctor can diagnose you with dysthymia if you've had milder symptoms of major depression—such as low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating—most of the time for at least two years.

Make sure that you submit to the VA the treatment notes from every medical provider you've seen—including counselors and therapists—for your depression. Your providers' notes should contain their observations on how you're acting and feeling (such as being withdrawn or tearful) during your visits.

How to Apply for Disability Based on Depression

The VA provides several methods for veterans to file for disability compensation:

  • File online with the VA's electronic Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation
  • Download, print out, and mail Form 21-526EZ to this address:

Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444

  • Fax Form 21-526EZ to 844-531-7818 (from inside the U.S.) or 248-524-4260 (from outside the U.S.), or
  • Apply in person at your local VA office.

Note that while many veterans with depression have also been diagnosed with other mental health disorders, such as PTSD or anxiety, you don't need to submit a separate claim for each disorder. The VA will consider all documented mental health conditions in your claim for benefits.

Updated May 17, 2023

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