How the VA Rates a Service-Connected Mental Disability

The VA rates all service-connected mental illnesses by the severity of limitations and symptoms.

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Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney (Seattle University School of Law)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rates all service-connected disabilities, including mental disabilities, according to the VA's Schedule of Rating Disabilities. Once the VA has determined that your mental health condition is related to your military service, the agency will review your medical records to assign you a disability rating based on how severe your symptoms are.

What Conditions Qualify for VA Mental Health Ratings?

All mental health conditions are rated under the same criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Examples of mental health disorders that the VA will assign a disability rating for include:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • depression
  • amnesia and cognitive disorders
  • adjustment disorders (difficulty coping with stressful life changes)
  • mood disorders (such as bipolar)
  • anxiety, and
  • eating disorders (such as bulimia or anorexia).

For information on how the VA evaluates these disorders, see our article on getting veterans disability compensation for mental illnesses.

How the VA Assigns Disability Ratings for Mental Health

The VA will review your medical record for evidence of mental health symptoms (such as changes in mood and difficulty concentrating) when determining your disability rating. Doctors' notes containing observations of your behavior, diagnostic mental health tests, and medication lists contain important information on how severe your symptoms are.

Once the VA has reviewed your medical records, the agency will give you a disability rating. Disability ratings are given in percentages that reflect how seriously your mental health affects your ability to work. Your VA rating also determines the amount of your disability benefit.

Percentage Ratings for Mental Illnesses

VA regulations provide for ratings of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100% for mental health conditions. While VA ratings are generally available in 10% increments from 0 to 100, the rating schedule provides that all mental illnesses will be rated as "chronic adjustment disorders" with only the percentages listed above.

Depending on your rating, you'll receive a certain base monthly benefit, with additional amounts if you have dependents (such as a spouse, children, or parents). While a 0% rating doesn't provide any payments, it does allow you to be eligible for health care and other benefits.

What Each Mental Health Rating Means

100% rating: The veteran is completely unable to function socially or at work with symptoms such as:

  • severely inappropriate behavior
  • ongoing hallucinations or delusions
  • consistent threats of harming self or others
  • inability to remember basic information (like the names of close relatives)
  • severe confusion and disorientation, and
  • inability to take care of oneself.

The 2023 base benefit amount for a veteran with a 100% disability rating is $3,621.

70% rating: The veteran is unable to function in most social and work areas with symptoms such as:

  • obsessive behaviors
  • illogical speech
  • persistent severe depression and panic
  • suicidal thinking
  • inability to control impulses (including becoming violent without provocation)
  • neglecting self-care such as basic hygiene
  • inability to handle stress, and
  • being unable to maintain relationships.

The 2023 base benefit amount for a veteran with a 70% disability rating is $1,663.

50% rating: The veteran has some impairment in the ability to function socially and at work resulting from a lack of reliability and productivity, due to symptoms such as:

  • trouble understanding instructions
  • memory loss (forgetting to do things)
  • poor judgment
  • mood disturbances
  • difficulty maintaining work and social relationships, and
  • panic attacks (at least once a week).

The 2023 base benefit amount for a veteran with a 50% disability rating is $1,042.

30% rating: The veteran has some trouble functioning socially and at work—meaning occasionally being inefficient with work or unable to perform work tasks—but is generally able to take care of themself and speak normally. Symptoms can include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • chronic difficulty sleeping
  • mild memory loss
  • suspiciousness, and
  • infrequent (less than once a week) panic attacks.

The 2023 base benefit amount for a veteran with a 30% disability rating is $509.

10% rating: The veteran has mild symptoms that cause them to struggle with work and social interactions when under significant stress, or the veteran has mild symptoms that are managed successfully with ongoing medication. The 2023 base benefit amount for a veteran with a 10% disability rating is $166.

0% rating: The veteran received a diagnosis of mental illness, but has symptoms mild enough that they don't require continuous medication or don't interfere with social and work functioning.

Maximize Your VA Disability Rating

The VA doesn't have any set guidelines for mental health ratings based on specific diagnoses. Instead, the agency uses its discretion and examines all medical evidence about your symptoms and functional limitations before deciding on a rating. This makes it very difficult to predict what rating you will receive, but general trends show that the VA usually provides low ratings for mental health conditions.

Below are some ways to help increase your chances of getting a higher mental health disability rating from the VA.

Be Honest During Your Compensation and Pension Exam

When you go for your Compensation and Pension Exam with the VA psychiatrist, avoid exaggerating or trivializing your symptoms. Just be factual and tell the truth. Try not to give simple yes or no answers. Instead, explain your yes or no responses and describe your symptoms. You know more about your social and work impairments than anyone else. Your medical records will contain some details, but you're the expert on what your daily life is like with your mental illness.

Provide Details in Your Personal Statement

When you apply for disability benefits (or for an increased rating), give the VA as many details as you can about your day-to-day functioning with family, friends, social activities, and work. Write a statement about how your illness affects your daily life. Describe what a typical day is like for you, from start to finish. Make sure to be very specific—phrases such as "Often I don't get out of bed at all" or "I am afraid to leave the house" —will provide context to the VA doctor's observations in your Compensation and Pension Exam report.

Discuss how frequently you suffer your most severe mental health symptoms, as this can help increase your rating. For example, if you received a high GAF on your Compensation and Pension Exam report because you were having a "good day" on the date of the exam, discussing how poorly you function on a "bad day" can put that score in a different light (and lead to an improved rating).

Submit Supporting Statements

Sometimes people close to you can provide very helpful information about how your illness affects you and how it decreases your functioning. Statements from your family and friends can help the VA understand how your mental health has an impact on your ability to perform activities of daily living like getting dressed, making meals, and doing household chores.

When deciding who to ask for a statement, consider people who've known you for a long time, see you on a regular basis, and can provide the VA with additional insight into how your life has changed as a result of your mental health disorder. Statements should always be signed and dated, and include this sentence at the end: "This statement is true and correct to the best of the writer's knowledge and belief."

Track Your Mental or Emotional Symptoms

If you're planning to apply for disability benefits, start keeping a record of your symptoms in your calendar. This can help you remember how frequently you have panic attacks, take medication, and visit the doctor. You can submit your calendar, diary, or journal to the VA in order to support your claim.

Address Criminal Records With Care

Sometimes criminal records can be submitted to prove issues with anger or violence, but you should approach this with caution. For instance, DUIs might show that a veteran self-medicates with alcohol, and arrests for domestic violence might support a veteran's statements about experiencing aggressive and violent outbursts, but you should speak to a veterans disability lawyer for advice on when to do this.

Gather Performance Evaluations From Past Jobs

If you've left jobs in the past due to performance issues, try to obtain a performance evaluation from your past employer. Having a written evaluation from your old boss documenting your struggles with full-time employment can show the VA any issues you have with decreased inefficiency, insubordination, trouble following directions, or other work-related difficulties.

Get Legal Help to Increase Your Ratings

When applying for an increased rating, it's a good idea to have an experienced attorney who can make sure that you aren't submitting information that supports your current low rating, or even damages your claim by supporting a lower rating than what you've already received.

How to Get a 100% VA Disability Mental Health Rating When You Can't Work

If you aren't entitled to a 100% rating under VA criteria because your symptoms aren't severe enough, you still might be able to get payment at the 100% rate if you can't work a job that pays you enough to live above the poverty level. The VA calls this "Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability" (TDIU). To obtain TDIU, you must show you can't work as a result of your service-connected mental illness.

For more information, see Nolo's article on VA disability ratings and TDIU.

Updated May 10, 2023

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