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.
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.
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.
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.
You can establish a service connection if you can show a nexus (causal link) between your depression and your military service.
To determine whether your depression is service-connected, the VA will look for evidence of the following:
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.
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:
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.
The VA provides several methods for veterans to file for disability compensation:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
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