Female Disabled Veterans

Updated statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) show that there are more than 2 million female veterans living in the U.S. as of 2020, the largest portion having served in the army. Male veterans account for 14% of the total male population, while female veterans represent only 1.5% of the total female population. The median age for women veterans is 51, 14 years younger than the male median veteran age of 65. 

As you can see, there are a number of differences between female and male veterans from enlistment to discharge. Navigating the military as a member of a minority group can be challenging. Understanding some of the hurdles that women face can help explain why female disabled veterans are often overlooked.

What VA Disabilities Affect Women?

Female veterans face an increased risk of experiencing some conditions compared to men in the military. In combination with the complexity of their reproductive system, women also experience different forms of trauma and harassment more commonly than men. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also referred to as PTSD, is a mental condition that typically stems from experiencing a shocking or dangerous event. Trauma can invoke many different kinds of reactions, but it will not be considered PTSD unless those reactions do not fade away over time. 

Examples of symptoms that people with PTSD may experience include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Flashbacks
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Irrational fear of certain triggers
  • Diminished social skills

Women suffer disproportionately from PTSD as a result of the challenges they face.

PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

Many female veterans who develop PTSD do so as a response to military sexual trauma (MST). Military sexual trauma is the term Veterans Affairs (VA) uses to describe any form of sexual assault or harassment experienced during service. 

Proving claims for PTSD can be very difficult because women must have more evidence than their own statements. Reporting an incident of MST doesn’t always feel like an option in the military, but if it happens to you, you should report it. Not only will this help you recover damages for any future conditions, it can also help prevent further MST from taking place in the military. 

To prove your PTSD claim is legitimate, you may need lay statements from individuals around you who noticed a change in your behavior after the traumatic event occurred. If you were performing very well up until a certain point, then there was a noticeable change in your ability to function, VA may be able to approve your stressor. Especially in situations that are otherwise difficult to prove, these behavioral markers are an integral part of your MST PTSD claim. 

VA Adjudication History on MST PTSD Claims

In the past, VA has not been efficient at reviewing PTSD claims based on MST. Between 2008 and 2012, a study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that MST PTSD claims were being approved at lower and lower rates each year. Women were also being denied 10% more than men, even though an estimated one in four female veterans reported experiencing MST compared to 1 in 100 male veterans. 

VA made changes to help this issue, but appeared to fall back to old habits in 2018. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at VA found that adjudicators were not properly processing half of the MST claims that were submitted. They were simply marking claims as contradictory without following up on them. 

Even with the training programs required after the ACLU and SWAN report, it is still difficult to earn compensation for PTSD based on MST as a woman in the military.

Back Conditions or Issues

Women suffer more from musculoskeletal conditions of the back than men. Here are the three types of back and spinal conditions female disabled veterans tend to experience disproportionately.

Issues With Cervical or Lumbosacral Strain

These strains are small muscle tears in the tendons of the back. They can be caused by overuse or improper ergonomic activities (i.e., lifting heavy objects with the back and not the legs). VA rates cervical and lumbosacral strain by testing the individual’s range of motion in each direction. 

Degenerative Spine Arthritis

Another common cause of pain is degenerative arthritis of the spine. When cartilage between discs and joints in the neck and back begin to degrade, the bones in the back will grind and clash in harmful ways. Degenerative arthritis of the spine is caused by continuous stress on the back and overuse. 

Intervertebral Disc Syndrome

The third back condition common for female disabled veterans is intervertebral disc syndrome, which occurs specifically when the discs between spinal vertebrae break down. Unlike cervical strain or degenerative arthritis, intervertebral disc syndrome is rated based on the frequency, intensity, and duration of incapacitating episodes. 

VA C&P Exams for Back Pain

To assess the severity of your disability and therefore the value of your claim, you will likely be expected to attend a compensation and pension (C&P) examination. A VA C&P examination is run by a VA practitioner and is meant to clarify any uncertainty surrounding your condition. 

For back conditions, VA will primarily test your range of motion. VA has specific criteria that outlines your disability rating based on the amount which you can bend in any direction. 

Beyond range of motion, the VA examiner should also take into consideration your range of motion during flare-ups. How bad does it hurt after repetitive use? How much does it affect your daily life? These additional factors can increase the monthly compensation you receive from VA. 

You must be honest about all your symptoms to receive the most accurate care. Do not over- or under exaggerate your struggle. The C&P exam plays a vital role in determining the benefits you will receive, so it must be taken seriously. 

Major Depressive Disorder

There are multiple types of back issues that combine to make back pain such a common disability claim. However, as far as individual conditions go, major depressive disorder is the second most common service-connected condition affecting women veterans. 

There are more than 26,500 cases of depression among female veterans. Women who serve in the military experience major depression more than men who serve—15% vs. 7%. One potential reason for this involves the increased stress from harassment. All veterans deal with the isolation of deployment. Many will not see their families for long periods, be required to serve many assignments, and feel lonely in their service. Women, however, also experience problems with superiors and peers at a disproportionate rate.

Unlike PTSD claims, you do not need a stressor to prove service connection. Depression often sets in over time after a series of incidents and it can be difficult to trace it to one moment in particular. It is still helpful in a disability claim to include documentation that shows when the depression began. Treatment or service records that indicate a noticeable change in behavior can show VA that military service contributed to the condition developing or worsening. 

In many cases, those with depression do not seek out treatment until they have been out of the service for quite some time. If you are one of these individuals, buddy statements and lay statements from those who saw firsthand the changes in your behavior will work as evidence of your condition. 


Migraines are intense headaches that can lead to a variety of other debilitating symptoms. Individuals with migraines experience sensitivities to light and noise, vomiting, lightheadedness, nausea, and many more symptoms. 

More than 24,000 women veterans are being paid disability benefits for their migraines. Most of these migraines are a secondary condition to another primary service-connected condition. Individuals with neck injuries, back injuries, and/or PTSD sometimes also experience severe headaches as a result of their military service. 

How Are Migraines Rated by VA?

VA rates migraines based on a characteristic called “prostrating.” Prostrating refers to the level of debilitation caused by a migraine. Prostrating migraines or headaches are those that become so severe that an individual cannot function during an episode. The frequency of prostrating migraines is also a factor. How often is the individual unable to perform their daily activities? 

The best way to support a migraine claim is with lay statements from those around you. Any testimony about how severe your headaches get and how often they prevent you from completing your daily tasks should serve as good evidence. 

VA Disability Gynecological Conditions

There are certain VA-approved disabilities which only affect female veterans because of the physiological organs they have. The VA Schedule of Ratings outlines criteria for a variety of gynecological conditions. These conditions do not need to be related to any specific in-service injury or event to be service connected. If the gynecological condition began during service, service connection will be assumed.

Unfortunately, most of these conditions cannot warrant a disability rating higher than 30%. As of right now, all injuries, diseases, or adhesions of the reproductive system are rated with the following criteria:

  • 0% – The symptoms do not require constant treatment.
  • 10% – The symptoms are successfully controlled with constant treatment.
  • 30% – The symptoms are not successfully controlled even with constant treatment.

With a few exceptions, these ratings can be applied to any disease or injury of the vagina, cervix, vulva, clitoris, uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. 

Whether this is because women have not been in the VA benefits system for that long, or because VA doesn’t have much experience with these issues, we assume regulations will continue to change over time. That way VA will be able to cover a wider range of severity and be more accommodating to a diverse demographic of veterans. 

Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that can show up in the uterus during reproductive and childbearing years. While they rarely develop into cancer, fibroids can cause internal bleeding if left untreated. This may ultimately lead to infertility and constant pain in the pelvic region. 

Depending on the resulting consequences, the service-connected VA disability rating for uterine fibroids maxes out at 30%. It can also be given a 10% rating if not coupled with other conditions, such as infertility. 


Infertility refers to the inability to establish pregnancy after a full year of frequent intercourse for those under 35, and six months for women over 35. Based on a SWAN survey, female veterans are nearly three times more likely than civilian women to show signs of infertility. Over 30% of those who currently serve or served in the past reported infertility. 

You may be able to receive a VA disability rating for female infertility if you are infertile as the result of a service-connected condition. Infertility is often viewed as a secondary condition to other primary issues. 

You can also receive compensation if you are unable to deliver a baby via natural birth. The VA disability for C sections is actually rated under diagnostic code 7804, which covers VA disability for scars. The cesarean section scar warrants a 10% disability rating. 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, also referred to as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that can occur in women in reproductive age. While its exact cause is unknown, it has been noticed to develop later in life as a response to substantial weight gain. PCOS leads to irregular or prolonged menstrual cycles, increased levels of male hormones, and enlarged ovaries that have a difficult time releasing eggs. 

The PCOS VA disability is addressed in the General Rating Formula for Gynecological Conditions and Disorders of the Breast and is rated as 30% disabling. It can often lead to other issues, such as infertility, depression, type 2 diabetes, miscarriages, etc. 


Endometriosis is when uterine tissue grows elsewhere, causing scars and blockages. When this tissue is in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue lining your pelvis, it can cause serious pain and prevent a sperm and egg from joining. This can lead to infertility and other gynecological issues. 

The endometriosis VA disability rating has three different levels as outlined by VA’s Schedule of Ratings:

  • 10% – If pain and bleeding caused by endometriosis can be controlled with ongoing treatment.
  • 30% – If pelvic pain and irregular bleeding cannot be controlled with ongoing treatment.
  • 50% – If the endometriosis has any effects on the bladder or bowel which causes an issue with going to the bathroom, and also leads to uncontrollable pelvic pain or bleeding.

Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

Female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD) is an all-encompassing term used to describe female sexual dysfunction. This can include symptoms such as a low sex drive, issues with sexual arousal, issues achieving an orgasm, and even pain during sexual stimulation. FSAD can be caused by a variety of physiological conditions and is not considered a mental disorder. 

While you can receive service connection for VA disability female arousal disorder, you can only be assigned a 0% rating. The only time you can receive a VA disability rating for FSAD is if you prove it was caused by in-service physical damage to your vagina, clitoris, or other sexual organs. 

Loss of Reproductive Organs

If you lose the use of your reproductive organs or need to have them removed completely, you may be eligible for VA compensation. The following are criteria for rating the loss of use of women’s reproductive organs:

  • If both ovaries are completely non-functional as a result of military service – 20%.
  • When one or both ovaries are removed – 100% for three months after the surgery. After those three months, if both ovaries were removed or one was removed and the other doesn’t work – 30%. If one ovary is still intact and functioning after three months – 0%.
  • When the entire uterus is removed – 100% for the first three months; after those three months – 30%.
  • When the entire uterus and both ovaries are removed – 100% for the first three months; after those three months – 50%.

The inability to have a child is a large factor in determining compensation for disabled female veterans. 

While there is no specific VA disability rating for miscarriages, they often contribute to other conditions, such as depression or PTSD. Miscarriages can also be a sypmtom of other gynecological conditions, making them more severe. 

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

For women who suffer from infertility as a result of their gynecological condition(s), VA offers payment for in vitro fertilization. IVF allows an externally fertilized egg to be implanted into a woman’s uterus. In the past, VA never helped infertile women veterans start a family, so this new change is considered a breakthrough. 

For a woman to be eligible for VA assisted reproductive technology/in vitro fertilization (ART/IVF) benefits, she must meet the following criteria:

  • Be legally married
  • Have at least one functioning ovary or cryopreserved eggs, and an intact uterus
  • Have a service-connected condition causing infertility
  • Have a spouse who has cryopreserved sperm or can produce sperm

It may even be necessary to identify the specific cause of your infertility before you can be viewed as eligible for ART/IVF benefits. 

Other Common Women’s Veterans Disabilities

Female disabled veterans are also commonly afflicted with conditions like bronchial asthma and tinnitus. Many of these conditions have a presumed service connection. It’s important to note that women experience many of the same disabilities as men, just at different rates. 

As VA begins to better understand the unique challenges that women in the military face, benefits will hopefully become more adequate for those with painful or debilitating conditions. 

Make a Claim With Tuley Law Office

Our experienced VA disability lawyers have the knowledge to help both men and women through the process of filing a claim for VA disability benefits. If you served in the military and now suffer from one of these conditions, do not hesitate to reach out to our team

Especially if you have a condition that traditional VA adjudicators may not be familiar with, hiring an attorney who understands how to interpret the VA Schedule of Ratings can make a huge difference to your case.