Veterans Disability Info Blog

Raising Awareness: The Link Between Service and Schizophrenia

When an incident or event during your qualifying active service in the U.S. Military causes an injury or illness, VA disability healthcare coverage and tax-free VA compensation payments may be available. In the 21st century, there is an increasingly recognized link between mental health conditions and the trauma and other aspects that many veterans experience during active service. One such condition, schizophrenia, has a life-long impact on the veteran and can entitle you to coverage for the necessary medications, mental health care, and any loss of earnings ability that your service-connected schizophrenia results in.  In short, VA disability ratings for schizophrenia are available if you can service connect the condition.

Read on to learn more about what schizophrenia is and what symptoms to watch out for, how it is caused, and the link between active military service and schizophrenia. 

What is Schizophrenia? 

The condition schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that impacts the way that an individual feels, thinks, and behaves. An individual suffering from schizophrenia oftentimes seems like they have lost their link with reality. The condition can lead to significant distress not only for the individual suffering from schizophrenia but also for their family and friends. 

Persons suffering from schizophrenia experience broad changes in the way in which they are able to live their everyday lives. Schizophrenia can make it difficult to participate in normal everyday activities. However, there are a variety of treatment options available, and with effective treatment persons suffering from schizophrenia are sometimes able to work, go to school, maintain independence, and maintain positive personal relationships. 

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Recognizing when schizophrenia is being experienced is the first step towards receiving treatment and addressing any VA disability benefits potential. Schizophrenia is a condition that is often diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30, and usually begins after an initial episode of psychosis. Psychosis is a collection of symptoms that impact the mind, and result in some loss of reality so that the person experiencing an episode of psychosis is unable to tell what is real and what isn’t. 

While an initial episode of psychosis often begins with schizophrenia for individuals, research has also revealed that gradual changes in the way that the person thinks, their mood, and also social functioning are experienced before the first episode of psychosis. This is the prodrome phase of the condition.  In our experience, this is the phase when a veteran is often on active duty and the symptoms may not be severe enough to be noticed.  As a result, there may not be documentation in the service treatment records of psychiatric symptoms.

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into 3 main categories: psychotic, negative, and cognitive. 

Psychotic Symptoms

These include changes in the way in which the person thinks, acts, and experiences reality. Persons who have psychotic symptoms can experience reality in a distorted manner, or lose a shared sense of reality. Psychotic symptoms are occasional for some sufferers or become stable over time. 

Psychotic symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations – the individual may see, smell, taste, hear, or feel things that are not actually present. A common related symptom for persons with schizophrenia is hearing voices. Persons suffering from these symptoms may be doing so for some time before family or friends recognize a problem. 
  • Delusions – this is when the person has strong beliefs that are not true, and can seem irrational to most persons. Delusions can include the belief that one is being broadcast, the manufacturing of danger or the fear that others are trying to harm them. 
  • Thought disorder – this can result in unusual or illogical ways of thinking. Thought disorder can include difficulty with talk and speech, including an inability to maintain a cohesive thought or creating words without meaning. 
  • Movement disorder – abnormal body movements can also result from schizophrenia, including repeating certain movements over and over.

These symptoms can make it difficult for the person to engage in everyday life in a normal and healthy way, and can lead to threatening behavior towards self or others. 

Negative Symptoms

These include a general loss of motivation, withdrawal from social life, difficulty experiencing emotions or functioning normally, as well as a loss of interest in daily activities. This is generally due to a loss of enjoyment. Common negative symptoms include:

  • Experiencing difficulty planning and sticking with regular activities
  • Difficulty anticipating everyday life, and experiencing pleasure in it
  • Speaking in a dull voice or with limited facial expressions 
  • Low levels of energy

The negative symptoms linked to schizophrenia are often confused with depression and other mental health conditions. A thorough assessment to determine the cause of your symptoms is important, as through an accurate and complete assessment you are able to receive the complete benefits that you deserve. The symptoms that you are diagnosed with influence your VA disability rating, and determine the amount of compensation that you are entitled to. Remember, no matter what the psychiatric diagnosis, the VA will rate any mental disorder under the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.  The important consideration in rating assessment is the level of symptoms severity and impact on occupational functioning. 

Cognitive Symptoms 

Persons with schizophrenia can also suffer from cognitive symptoms as a result of the condition. These symptoms can make it hard for a person to learn new things, to remember appointments, and can make it difficult to follow a conversation. The level of cognitive functioning that an individual has is the most accurate predictor of their day-to-day functioning. 

Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia include: 

  • Difficulty processing information 
  • Experiencing trouble making decisions
  • Experiencing trouble using information after having learned it
  • Difficulty staying focused or paying attention 

Causes and Risks of Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia is a condition that is generally thought of as genetic, however, there are certain factors that contribute to the risk of a person developing schizophrenia. The environment is also a factor that impacts the development of schizophrenia. The experience of stressful or dangerous surroundings can lead to an increased risk of the onset of schizophrenia. There is no exact understanding of how it happens, only that a variety of genetic, environmental, and other factors contribute individually to the development of the condition. 

For veterans, there are often other mental health conditions that are being suffered from in addition to schizophrenia. Depression and anxiety are also common among veterans, and coupled with schizophrenia can lead to full disability compensation due to individual unemployability, or TIDU. Individual unemployability is available when you are unable to work due to a disability that resulted from your active service. This allows you to collect disability compensation or benefits at the same rate as a veteran with a 100 percent disability rating. 

In our experience, often a veteran will experience a stressful event during service and that serves as a breaking point for the onset of a psychotic condition.  We have seen cases where a psychotic break occurs in boot camp as a result of the stress.  We have been successful in these cases.

Prevalence of Schizophrenia Among Veterans 

As noted, veterans may experience their initial psychotic episode while in the service. This can lead to the need to be discharged for medical reasons. The VA presents the story of Mindy, whose enlistment was ended as a result of psychotic symptoms. Following her discharge, she began to pursue counseling at the VA. The medical team at the VA helped Mindy better understand her condition, and to identify pathways to manage her symptoms. 

The National Institute of Health notes that “little is known about individuals with schizophrenia who are also military veterans.” However, symptoms of schizophrenia can converge with other issues that are commonly suffered by veterans. For example, male veterans are 2 times as likely to complete suicide than non-veterans, and schizophrenia increases the risk of suicidality. Such interrelations between schizophrenia and the experience of veterans can serve to increase the severity of conditions experienced by the veteran. 

VA Disability Ratings for Schizophrenia

When you have a service-connected disability, the VA will assign a rating on a percentage scale of 0 to 100 percent. If you have a disability rating of 0 or greater, which means that the VA recognizes the diagnosis, then you are entitled to receive healthcare benefits from the VA. These include medical treatment in addition to mental health services. The VA disability rating that you are assigned also determines the amount of tax-free payments you are eligible to receive from the VA each month.

For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the VA assigns you one of the following disability ratings: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent. When your rating is at zero, you are entitled to medical and mental health coverage from the VA. As the percentage rating rises, that means that your ability to work is further impacted by your condition, which is the purpose of VA disability payments. 

Subject to the annual cost of living adjustment, the monthly compensation rates for a single veteran with no dependents for these percentages are as follows:

  • 10 percent disability – $142.29 each month
  • 30 percent disability – $435.69 each month
  • 50 percent disability – $893.43
  • 70 percent disability rating – $1,426.17
  • 100 percent disability – $3,106.04

Under the Code of Federal Regulations that the VA draws their mental health criteria from requires the following for a 100 percent rating, “Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly improbable behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.” 

As the percentage ratings decrease, the impact that your disability has upon your social and occupational life likewise goes down. Schizophrenia is a condition that can be managed, but may still have a lasting and substantial impact on the ability of the individual to work. If you already have a VA disability rating for a different mental health condition, your VA disability lawyer can help you determine what impact schizophrenia may have on your disability rating. Generally, VA will not rate separate psychiatric diagnoses separately.  Instead, the rating code focuses on the overall occupational and social impact.

A VA Disability Lawyer Supports Your Appeal or Supplemental Claim 

For your initial application, there are a variety of free resources available that you can turn to for assistance. There are VA-accredited representatives who are available to help you through the initial steps of your application. These steps include gathering evidence, directing the VA towards locations of evidence, and filling it out and filing. 

A VA disability lawyer can help you when your VA disability claim has been denied. We can step in on your behalf and handle the entire appeals process on your behalf. A successful appeal can take years to process, but the benefits that you receive are retroactive to the date of your initial denial. This means that if you were initially denied several years ago, and the appeal has been active without lapsing, winning your appeal would result in receiving benefits back to the date that you applied, often years earlier. Many veterans advocates wrongly believe appeals should be avoided.  Their mistaken rationale is that appeals allegedly “take too long.”  Instead, these advocates keep refiling claims, reasoning that new claims are quicker than appeals.  However, such a short-sighted approach screws veterans out of the full amount of potential back pay.  We encourage veterans not to be fearful of appeals; to push cases all the way to the Board of Veterans Appeals.  In doing so, the veteran maintains the best possible chance of the maximum amount of retractive pay.

Your VA disability lawyer can also help you file a supplemental claim in support of your disability compensation amount and related rating if it has been more than a year since the VA last denied your VA rating for schizophrenia. A supplemental claim is filed as a form of appeal so long as the denial has been within one year, or can be used to reopen a prior denial that has been denied more than a year without an appeal being filed. In both cases, you will need to submit new and relevant evidence to be successful in a supplemental claim.  The point of VA disability compensation is to replace the loss in earnings that your service-connected disability resulted in. 

When a number of conditions together result in greater disability, your combined rating may increase. The percentage disability rating that you are assigned for each condition is added together to determine your overall rating. When your VA disability rating meets or exceeds 70, with at least one condition with a rating of 40, you may be able to receive compensation at the 100 percent disability rating based on total disability individual unemployability or TDIU.

Determining what your best options are can be difficult, and working with a VA disability lawyer for your appeal or supplemental claim provides you with invaluable support through the process. 

Discuss your Case with a VA Disability Lawyer Now

To determine your options, it is helpful to discuss your situation with an experienced VA disability attorney. With our firm, your initial consultation is free, so there is no risk in reaching out to learn how we can help. We will take the time to carefully review the unique facts and circumstances of your appeal or supplemental claim, and discuss how we can help. If we take your case, we only get paid if we win, meaning you pay nothing out of pocket. Reach out online now or call 1-888-878-9350 to learn more.

We are Here to Help

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