A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is generally defined as a change in the way the brain functions due to some type of external force. For civilians, this external force can come from a fall, a car accident, an assault or attack, or some other event when the head strikes an object or an object strikes the head.

For those who serve in the military, TBIs are most often the result of an improvised explosive device (IED), grenade, mortar, mine, or bullet.

What Happens After a TBI?

depressed_manAfter a person suffers a TBI, amnesia is common for some period of time—for a few minutes up to weeks. The patient may have difficulty remembering what happened just before and after the brain injury.

For veterans, they may have no memory of the circumstances prior to or following an IED explosion.

TBIs became known as the “signature wound” of Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) because there were
so many explosion-related concussions during combat in these two wars.

After experiencing a TBI, veterans commonly experience depression. Research shows that following a brain injury, depression is the most common psychiatric diagnosis—the rate nearly 50 percent. Individuals with severe brain injuries suffer from higher rates of depression, and those who suffer even mild TBIs present higher rates of depression than people without a brain injury. 

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes depression as a serious medical condition and provides disability benefits for eligible veterans. If you suffer from depression after experiencing a service-connected TBI, it’s possible that you qualify for disability benefits for depression as a secondary condition. Hiring an experienced VA disability attorney can help determine if you qualify for these benefits.

How the VA Rates Secondary Condition Depression

Depression is a common mental health condition and one that frequently affects military service members. A recent study found that the risk for suicide is most prevalent in younger veterans, and approximately 10 percent of those treated by the VA between 2009 and 2013 suffered from major depressive disorder.

The VA changed its regulations on secondary service connections in 2013 to add a connection between a TBI and certain conditions, including depression. The new regulation states that the veteran’s depression is presumed to be a secondary condition of a TBI if:

  • A veteran’s depression occurs within three years of a moderate or severe TBI
  • A veteran’s depression occurs within 12 months of a mild TBI

It’s very common for veterans to develop depression after some type of service-related physical illness or injury. If there's evidence of a physical disability connected to military duty, it’s possible for a veteran to apply for increased compensation for depression as a secondary service connection. In order to establish this secondary connection, you must have:

  • A diagnosis of depression from a physician
  • A service-connected disability, illness, or condition
  • Medical evidence that proves there's a link between your condition and your depression

Rating Depression

The VA rates a veteran’s depression using the following six percentage levels to determine if he’s eligible for benefits:

  • 0 percent rating: A veteran will like receive a 0 percent rating if the symptoms of his depression don’t interfere with his occupational or social functioning. Additionally, a veteran will receive this rating if he’s not been prescribed medication for his condition. 
  • 10 percent rating: To receive this rating, a veteran’s symptoms must be controlled through medication, and he must present impairment “from mild to inconsistent” with symptoms that limit or decrease his work performance when under stress.
  • 30 percent rating: There must be signs of social and occupational impairment due to weekly panic attacks, anxiety, memory loss, and sleep problems. 
  • 50 percent rating: There must be signs of occupational and social impairment with “reduced reliability and productivity” that includes problems with social and work relationships, impaired judgment, and panic attacks.
  • 70 percent rating: The veterans must show signs of problems with family relationships, independent functioning, and judgment.
  • 100 percent rating: A veteran must show complete social and occupational impairment caused by disorientation of time and place, hallucinations, or possible self-harm. 

Contact Cuddigan Law

If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to a TBI, theVA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help you better understand if your condition meets the requirements under which depression claims are evaluated and approved. We’ll work with you to help ensure the best possible chance for getting an approved claim for depression as a secondary condition. Call us today at (402) 933-5405 or send us an email for a free evaluation of your situation.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska