If you or a loved one is a veteran who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you may need significant assistance as well as lifelong treatment for this serious condition. Some veterans may be entitled to disability benefits from the VA due to schizophrenia.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that causes an individual to interpret reality abnormally. People with schizophrenia may have periods when they are unable to function independently. Schizophrenia typically develops gradually over a period of years, with thinking and behaviors becoming more affected over time.
Symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Disorganized thinking and speech
- Inability to manage basic tasks such as personal hygiene
- Lack of emotion
- Extremely disorganized motor behavior
- Engaging in childlike behavior or experiencing unpredictable agitation
Our VA Disability Lawyer Discusses the Benefits for Schizophrenia
The VA recognizes schizophrenia as a disability under section § 4.130. Benefits are awarded based on how significantly schizophrenia symptoms affect a veteran’s daily life. The ratings are as follows:
10: Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by continuous medication.
30: Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due to such symptoms as: depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events).
50: Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.
70: Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.
100: Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate 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.
To receive VA disability benefits for any health condition, including schizophrenia, you must be able to prove service connection. That means you need to be able to demonstrate that your service in the military caused or worsened the condition. In reality, from our vast experience in working with schizophrenic veterans, the more appropriate analysis is being able to prove that schizophrenia had its onset during active duty. There are many situations where the development of schizophrenia has nothing to do with the events of service. In those cases, the focus of the evidence development and strategy should be in proving that the condition had its onset or early phases, or prodrome, during active duty.
This can be a challenge with schizophrenia due to the nature of the condition. Experts do not know the exact cause of the condition, and there is generally no single precipitating event that brings on symptoms of schizophrenia. However, certain stressors, such as the rigors of military training and combat, can contribute to schizophrenia and may aggravate the condition. However, in our experience, we have certainly seen cases where the symptoms of schizophrenia manifest shortly after a traumatic in-service event.
Onset During Active Duty
One way to build a winning claim for service connection is to identify the onset of the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. Mental health experts note that as many as 75% of individuals with schizophrenia experience a prodromal stage, which is a time when mood and personality changes may begin to manifest. This phase often begins during the late teens or early twenties, coinciding with the time of active duty for most veterans.
You may be able to identify evidence of prodromal schizophrenia symptoms that started during service by reviewing military records and conducting interviews with family members, medical care providers, and fellow service members. This can reveal incidents of behavior or thinking that are consistent with schizophrenia symptoms. If these behaviors started or accelerated during active duty, that can be framed as an in-service manifestation of the early stages of the condition.
In addition, identifying the prodrome of schizophrenia can only be determined in retrospect. Meaning, only by looking at the historical evidence in the past can a forensic psychiatric identify when the condition began its early manifestations. This is one of the reason why a veteran seeking a VA rating for schizophrenia, and who has been denied, should consider hiring a veterans disability lawyer, and a forensic psychiatrist.
Military Service Aggravating Schizophrenia
The VA accepts that military service can make certain disabilities more severe than they would have been otherwise. Schizophrenia may be aggravated by military service.
Some research suggests that schizophrenia can be triggered by stress or trauma, noting that “precipitating factors in the form of stressors act upon a person’s inherent predisposition to psychosis in such a way that the person experiences schizophrenia symptoms.”
Many aspects of military service, including combat, traumatic injuries, military sexual trauma, difficult living situations, and the overall psychological rigor of military service, constitute significant stressors. Military and medical records, as well as recollections from family, friends, and colleagues, can identify potential stressors that aggravate schizophrenia.
“As Likely As Not”
It’s not necessary to prove that military service was a definite cause of schizophrenia. It’s only necessary to demonstrate that it is as likely as not that military service caused or aggravated schizophrenia. Thorough documentation of early symptoms or an increase in symptoms after stressors during service can prove that service cannot be ruled out as a cause. This can lead to a favorable claim rating.
Get Experienced Legal Help From a VA Disability Lawyer
Ensuring that your schizophrenia case is accurately assessed and documented will determine what benefits and in what amount you could obtain from the VA. To learn how a VA disability lawyer from our law firm can help with your schizophrenia disability benefits appeal, give us a call at 888-495-5774, or visit our site to schedule a free case evaluation.