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GAF Score: Why it is Important For a Psychiatric Workers’ Comp Claim

Psychologist making notes during therapy session with sad male s

California workers’ compensation laws guarantee that workers must be protected in the event of a workplace injury. Some injuries are easier to prove than others, however. It’s easy to point to a work-related car accident and a resulting disability such as paralysis. It’s more difficult to explain a mental health condition that arose as a result of workplace conditions, even if such a condition can be just as debilitating and disabling as a physical condition. One of the most important measures of a worker’s potential disability for psychiatric injuries is known as the GAF score. See below to learn about the GAF score and how it factors into workers’ comp and disability benefits. Call a dedicated Riverside workers’ comp benefits attorney for help with a workers’ comp claim in Southern California.

Mental Health Conditions are Covered by Workers’ Compensation

In California, workers are guaranteed workers’ compensation for any job-related illness or injury. That includes mental health conditions sustained in connection with the job. Workers’ comp includes disability benefits if the condition is deemed sufficiently disabling. Proving that a mental health condition is disabling, however, requires extra steps.

The worker must obtain a permanent disability rating, determined by a mental health practitioner (psychiatrist or psychologist). The mental health professional will evaluate the worker to determine if they have a permanent disability and, if so, how disabling the condition actually is. The State of California has published specific guidelines concerning how disabilities are to be rated. With regard to mental health conditions (“Psychiatric Impairments”), the Schedule for Rating Permanent Disability states that “[r]ating Psychiatric Impairment . . . shall be evaluated by the physician using the Global Assessment of Function (GAF) scale . . . .”

Disability Benefits and the GAF Score

GAF stands for Global Assessment of Function. A GAF score is a numeric scale used by mental health practitioners to evaluate patients and their level of functionality. The GAF score is based on a subjective assessment by the psychiatrist or psychologist conducting the evaluation, based on the social, occupational, and psychological functioning of the injured worker. The scores range from 100 to 1, with 100 being an entirely functional adult and 1 meaning someone who is not healthy and is seriously impaired. The GAF score consists of two separate scores, one for the severity of symptoms and one for the severity of functional limitations.

There are several factors that mental health evaluators use in generating the GAF score. Factors relating to functionality include, but are not limited to:

  • The patient’s level of participation or interest in daily activities, including socializing, work, and basic hygiene
  • The patient’s level of social interaction and capabilities
  • The patient’s performance at school and/or work, including the ability to interact with customers, coworkers, or teachers
  • The patient’s relationships with family members and friends

Factors relating to symptom severity include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Speech impairments
  • Obsessive activity
  • Capacity to focus and concentrate

The worker’s GAF score will then be converted to a “whole person impairment rating” using the state’s “GAF conversion table.” The impairment rating will then be placed into a formula to generate the worker’s permanent disability percentage. Typically, a GAF score of 70 or higher will result in a 0 percent whole person impairment, meaning no disability benefits will be awarded.

If you or someone you love has been seriously hurt on the job in California, get help seeking the workers’ compensation benefits you’re owed by contacting the Riverside offices of Ochoa & Calderón for a consultation on your case.

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