Depression is not as visible as a physical wound, but the impact it causes on our veterans may be just as damaging. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ research, about one in three veterans visiting primary care clinics have some symptoms of depression, while one in five has serious symptoms and one in eight to ten has major depression. Only about half of the primary care patients with depression are being treated for mental health issues within the VA healthcare system.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and Depression
Many veterans that served in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed depression, anxiety and other mental conditions as a result of their combat experiences. According to a report released by the Pentagon in 2014, anxiety disorders among veterans increased 327 percent from 2002 to 2012.
The report indicated that military doctors diagnosed thousands of soldiers with phobias, generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. However, three out of four soldiers were diagnosed with “non-specific anxiety disorders.” These disorders were most likely caused by depression or stress that caused distress in the individual.
As a positive side effect, resources to identify and treat mental disorders also increased. The stigma of seeking treatment has also decreased, leading to greater success in helping those affected by anxiety disorders.
Ongoing Research Concerning Veteran Depression and Anxiety
In 2006, the Department of Veteran Affair’s Translating Initiatives for Depression into Effective Solutions (TIDES) Project developed an evidence-based collaborative approach to managing veteran depression that has been integrated into the VA system. Since then, the VA has conducted several studies to advance care, treatment and resources for those facing depression after military service.
Efforts to Stem Veteran Suicide
Most recently, the VA has made efforts to combat the rising high number of suicides by veterans. In 2019, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to address how the VA will decrease the number of veterans who commit suicide. Many legislators have looked at the possibility of removing guns from veterans who pose a threat to themselves.
The Trump Administration’s plan to stem veteran suicides focuses on public awareness. Trump’s long-awaited $53 million plan to address suicide among veterans includes a public messaging campaign intended to raise awareness about suicide, grants to community programs outside of the VA, firearm safety education, and suicide prevention research across government agencies.
Depression as a Result of Chronic Pain
Major depression is a leading cause of disability in the United States, and the second most prevalent chronic, disabling and costly illness in VA healthcare settings. Military personnel may suffer from depression due to traumatic or stressful events experienced while on active duty. Depression also resides in many veterans with other chronic mental and physical illnesses.
Research tells us that up to 85 percent of people that have serious chronic pain have depression. If a veteran has depression as a result of a service-related chronic pain or illness, then that depression case should also be connected to military service and treated as such. Sometimes the VA rating for depression can be higher than the rating for the original physical injury.
Many veterans have lived with chronic pain for so long, they don’t even realize it is causing depression. Veterans that have serious chronic pain should be examined by a psychologist or psychiatrist. This will not only help the veteran obtain benefits they deserve but more importantly will give the veteran mental tools they need to deal with their depression. The psychologist can also help the family understand the veteran and their situation.
VA Benefits for Depression
If your depression or anxiety is the result of a service-related injury or an incident that occurred while on active duty, you may be eligible for benefits through the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA classifies depression in the category of “mood disorders.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, major depression goes beyond feeling sad or “blue” for a short time. Although treatable, major depression can have a large impact on the lives of veterans. Some signs and symptoms of major depression may include:
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy
- Lack of interest in activities
- Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
- Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)
- Physical aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts
To qualify for VA disability as a result of depression or anxiety, the veteran must prove that their depression is related to his or her military service. In order to be considered, a diagnosis of depression must be provided by a medical professional. In addition, the veteran must provide evidence of an incident that occurred while on active duty that caused depression.
If the depression existed before the veteran’s military service began and was made worse by a service-related incident, they may qualify for benefits. This is referred to as an “aggravated service connection.” In this case, the veteran will be required to provide medical evidence that the pre-existing depression was made worse while on active duty.
VA Rating for Depression
The VA rates depression based on a “General Formula for Mental Disorders.” The VA will take into account how much the depression affects the veteran’s ability to work and function in his or her daily life. The level of disability due to depression may be rated anywhere from 0 to 100%, which will determine the level of benefits. The greater the percentage of disability, the higher the monthly amount the veteran will receive.
If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of major depression, contact a qualified mental health professional to find out what help may be available for your condition.