Veterans Disability Info Blog

Is PTSD And Depression the Same VA Disability?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression are two mental health conditions that can dramatically affect a person’s daily life and overall well-being. For individuals who have served in the military, these conditions may be a result of the stressful and traumatic experiences they have encountered during their service.

To ensure that these individuals receive the care and support they need, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assigns a disability rating for PTSD and depression. But can veterans receive a separate PTSD VA rating and depression VA rating?

In determining disability ratings, the VA uses the same evaluation criteria for both PTSD and depression. However, the method of establishing a service connection for PTSD is very different from proving a service connection for depression.

Should veterans file a VA claim for PTSD, depression, or both? Read on to learn how the process works.

How VA Assigns Disability Ratings for PTSD and Depression

In evaluating a PTSD VA rating and disability ratings for depression or major depressive disorder (MDD), the underlying symptoms and impact on daily functioning can be quite similar. Therefore, the VA follows a similar process.

Generally, the rating process involves a thorough assessment of the individual’s medical history, symptoms, and overall impairment caused by the conditions. A qualified VA healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist usually conducts this assessment.

To begin the evaluation, the healthcare professional will review the individual’s medical records, including any evidence of a PTSD or depression diagnosis, as well as their service records to establish a connection between the mental health condition and military service. They will also consider any other relevant medical evidence, such as records from private practitioners or previous VA examinations.

The next step in the rating process is the assessment of symptoms and their severity. For PTSD, the healthcare professional will evaluate the presence of certain symptoms, such as intrusive memories, avoidance of triggers, irritability, and negative mood and thoughts. They will assess the frequency and intensity of these symptoms and their impact on the individual’s daily functioning.

In the case of depression, the focus will be on symptoms such as persistent sadness, loss of interest, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.

To determine the severity of these symptoms, the healthcare professional may use standardized assessment tools, such as the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) for PTSD or the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) for depression. These tools provide a structured framework to evaluate and quantify the presence and intensity of symptoms. The severity of the symptoms and the duration of their impact on the individual’s functional capacity will play a significant role in assigning the disability rating.

The VA uses the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD), or “Rating Schedule,” to assign disability ratings for all mental health conditions (aside from eating disorders). The Rating Schedule provides a comprehensive set of criteria that healthcare professionals use to determine how much a condition impairs a person’s ability to function.

For PTSD VA ratings, the Rating Schedule assigns a percent disability according to the frequency and intensity of symptoms, as well as the individual’s ability to engage in daily activities, maintain social relationships, and pursue gainful employment. The severity of symptoms, the level of impairment, and the need for continuous medication or therapy are all considered. Based on these criteria, the healthcare professional assigns a disability rating ranging from 0% to 100% based on the level of impairment and its impact on the individual.

Similarly, for depression, the Rating Schedule considers factors such as the frequency and persistence of symptoms, the level of impairment in occupational and social functioning, the need for continuous therapy or medication, and the risk of self-harm or suicide. The healthcare professional evaluates these criteria and assigns a disability rating based on the condition’s impact on the individual’s daily life.

To learn more about the VA Claims Process for Depression—including eligibility requirements, tips on filling out forms, and valuable claims strategies—read our free eBook, VA Disability Ratings for Depression: An Essential Guide for U.S. Veterans.

Once the disability rating is assigned, veterans may be eligible for certain benefits and compensation based on their rating. The disability rating reflects the degree to which the individual’s ability to work and function is affected by the mental health condition. Higher disability ratings indicate more severe impairment and may result in increased compensation and access to additional support services.

How Veterans Establish Service Connection for Depression

To receive a VA disability rating, veterans must establish service connection. Unlike similar VA ratings process, establishing service connection for PTSD is different from the process involved in establishing a service connection for depression.

To prove a direct service connection for depression, veterans must demonstrate three key elements:

(1) Military service

(2) A current diagnosis of depression, and

(3) A link between military service and depression diagnosis.

Veterans must provide evidence that they served in the military and that they have a current depression diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional. The diagnosis must meet the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Veterans must also establish a link, or nexus, between military service and the current diagnosis of depression. This can be done by providing evidence of mental health treatment, behavioral problems, or substance abuse that occurred during military service and did not occur prior to military service.

Most veterans don’t have evidence of mental health problems during service. In this case, you can supply evidence of depression symptoms that appeared after your discharge from service along with school records, witness statements, employment records, or other evidence showing that you did not exhibit symptoms of depression before you entered service.

If you do not have significant evidence of direct service connection for depression, you can still get VA disability for depression through secondary service connection. Here, you will need to provide a “medical nexus” linking some other service-connected health condition to your diagnosis of depression.

Numerous health conditions and medicines used to treat them can cause major depressive disorders, including diabetes, sleep apnea, tinnitus, and chronic pain. A medical nexus letter from a qualified healthcare professional is essential in making this connection.

The medical opinion should clearly state that it is “at least as likely as not” that the veteran’s depression is related to a condition connected to military service. A VA disability lawyer can help you obtain a medical nexus letter to support your claim.

How Veterans Establish Service Connection for PTSD

For PTSD, the process of proving service connection is different. To be eligible for a PTSD VA rating, veterans need to demonstrate the following three elements:

(1) Military service

(2) A current diagnosis of PTSD, and

(3) An in-service stressor

As with depression, veterans must obtain a current PTSD diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional. The diagnosis should meet the criteria outlined in the DSM-5.

The “in-service stressor” element in PTSD claims is something different than for depression claims. In-service stressor refers to a traumatic event or events that occurred during military service and caused the veteran’s PTSD. This can include experiences such as combat, witnessing a traumatic event, military sexual trauma (MST), harassment, or personal difficulties during service.

To establish an in-service stressor, veterans must provide credible evidence. This can include military records, statements from fellow service members, or even personal diaries or letters detailing the traumatic event. Gathering as much evidence as possible to support the claim is crucial. A disabled veteran lawyer can help you collect the evidence needed to support your claim.

Can You Get VA Disability for Both Depression And PTSD?

The VA recognizes that these conditions can coexist and have unique symptoms that may warrant individual consideration. In certain cases, veterans can potentially receive separate disability ratings for both depression and PTSD.  It should be noted, however, that circumstances where a veteran receives more than one rating for multiple mental disabilities is rare, and usually requires an unusual symptom presentation that involves symptoms that are outside the scope of the normal rating code.

However, it is worth noting that the overall combined rating may not necessarily equal the sum of the individual ratings. The VA uses a complex formula to calculate the combined rating, considering how each disability affects the veteran’s ability to function. Therefore, a veteran can have a higher combined rating for depression and PTSD than the sum of their individual ratings. A disabled veteran lawyer can help you determine which route may work best for you.

In addition, the VA rates mental health conditions based on the impact they have on a veteran’s ability to function. The process differs from physical health conditions rated on specific diagnostic criteria. When evaluating a mental health claim, the VA considers the severity of the symptoms and how they affect the veteran’s ability to work, perform daily activities, and maintain relationships.

Depression and PTSD can have similar symptoms, such as feelings of sadness, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. However, they can also have unique symptoms that differentiate them from each other.

PTSD is typically associated with traumatic events, such as combat experiences, and is characterized by symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, and hypervigilance. On the other hand, depression is a mood disorder caused by a variety of factors, including traumatic experiences. It is characterized by symptoms such as persistent feelings of sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, and altered sleep patterns or appetite.

To receive a separate PTSD VA rating and rating for depression, veterans need to communicate their symptoms accurately and thoroughly during the claims process. This includes providing specific details about the frequency and intensity of symptoms, and any functional limitations they experience as a result.

Veterans should ensure they provide thorough and accurate documentation of their symptoms and functional limitations to increase their chances of receiving the appropriate disability ratings. A VA disability lawyer can assist you in gathering the necessary documentation.

How to File VA Claims for PTSD and Depression

For PTSD, you will need to complete VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This form requires detailed information about the stressor event(s) that caused your PTSD, as well as any symptoms you are experiencing.

If you are filing a claim for depression, you will need to fill out the Mental Disorders Disability Benefits Questionnaire. This form asks for information regarding your medical history, symptoms, and how your depression affects your daily life. To strengthen your claim, providing as much detail as possible in these forms is important.

To learn more about the VA Claims Process for Depression—including eligibility requirements, tips on filling out forms, and valuable claims strategies—read our free eBook, VA Disability Ratings for Depression: An Essential Guide for U.S. Veterans.

One crucial aspect of filing a VA claim for depression is obtaining a medical nexus letter. It is essential in establishing a service connection, and its absence can weaken your claim. To get a medical nexus letter, you should consult with a qualified disabled veteran lawyer that can provide you with a doctor who is experienced in providing medical nexus opinions for VA disability claims. They can assess your condition, review your military and medical records, and provide an expert opinion regarding the relationship between your service and mental health.

If you need help with the filing process, it can be helpful to speak with a qualified VA disability lawyer. These professionals are trained to guide veterans in navigating the VA claims process. They can assist you in gathering the necessary documentation, completing the required forms, and building a solid case for your claim.

Filing VA claims for PTSD and depression requires high attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the process. You can maximize your chances of a successful claim by seeking assistance, identifying in-service stressors, establishing a medical nexus, and obtaining supporting documentation.

We are Here to Help

If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.