Many veterans who return home from active duty without apparent injury may still suffer chronic pain as a result of their time in the military.

A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) states approximately 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain, and that it “disproportionally affects” soldiers who are currently serving in the military or are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that there was an “alarmingly high rate” of chronic pain in service members deployed for combat—approximately 44 percent—as compared to 26 percent in civilians.

A woman with chronic pain and resulting depressionDepression is considered a serious, ratable illness by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and veterans can file a claim seeking disability benefits for depression as a secondary condition.

If you’re suffering from service-connected chronic pain you believe is the cause of your depression, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Pain is considered “chronic” when a person suffers it for six months or more. Often occurring after an injury or illness, chronic pain can eventually cause many types of complications.

A veteran who suffers chronic pain may also develop mental and emotional problems separate from her physical pain. Medical studies show that chronic pain can directly impact the brain and interrupt the brain’s “natural balance of activity.” Chronic pain can result in mood disorders, problems with focus and concentration, and difficulty with decision making, as well as other secondary conditions and symptoms. These may include:

  • Depression
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with relationships
  • Withdrawal from social life
  • Decreased activity
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • A sense of hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Memory impairment

Connecting Depression With Your Chronic Pain

Chronic pain doesn't have a VA diagnostic code for determining a disability rating. Instead, the VA looks at the symptoms caused by the chronic pain, and one or more of them must be “ratable.” For example, if a veteran’s chronic pain causes her to feel sad or hopeless, and her doctor diagnoses her with depression, the VA will look at the rating requirements for mental health disorders.

It’s important to remember that for the symptoms of a veteran’s chronic pain to be rated by the VA, she must be able to prove the pain itself is service-connected. So, if you have a service-connected shoulder condition and suffer from chronic shoulder pain, and that pain causes you to become seriously depressed, you may be eligible for VA benefits for secondary depression because it’s occurred due to a shoulder condition that was proven to be service-connected.

Depression and Qualifying for Veterans Benefits

Veterans can submit a claim for secondary depression using the Psychological Rating System, Code 9434. This is where the VA cites depressive disorder (clinical depression). Your claim will have a greater chance of being approved if you can prove your depression is caused by your service-connected chronic pain, and you include a letter from your doctor about your condition. To qualify for benefits for secondary depression, a veteran:

  • Must be diagnosed with at least two major episodes of depression. Each one must last two weeks or more.
  • Must show that symptoms significantly interfere with her ability to function and manage a daily routine. These symptoms may include:
    • A pattern of suicidal thoughts
    • An inability to sleep or sleeping too often
    • A decrease in appetite or weight loss
    • A reduction in energy and a general feeling of fatigue
    • A loss of interest in daily activities and hobbies she once enjoyed
    • A general feeling of sadness throughout the day

Our VA Disability Lawyers Are Standing By to Help You

If you’re a veteran who is suffering from depression due to chronic pain and would like to submit a benefits application for depression as a secondary condition, call Cuddigan Law. Our accredited VA disability attorneys will examine your case, help provide evidence that your chronic pain is service-connected, and work with you to submit your claim to increase your chances of receiving disability benefits. 

To learn more or to schedule your free case evaluation with one of our experienced Omaha disavility lawyers, contact our office online or give us a call today at (402) 933-5405.


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