The 10 Most Common VA Disability Claims
Category: Veterans Disability Law
Article by Tuley Law staff
Due to the level of intensity required by military service, many veterans come home with residual problems that could be a financial strain or cause them unnecessary trouble. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for compensating disabled veterans for the conditions they developed in connection with their active-duty service time. In 2019, the VA reported that there were approximately 5.2 million disabled veterans claiming a total of over 25 million disabilities. Below are the 10 most common disabilities claimed by veterans.
Typically, tinnitus is more of a symptom of an underlying condition than its own ailment. It can be caused by problems such as ear injury, hearing loss, or a disorder in the circulatory system. As the most commonly claimed low-value VA disability, tinnitus is the easiest condition to receive compensation for. The stakes are low for the VA and the possibility that a veteran will experience prolonged exposure to loud noises that exacerbate hearing loss is very high. Although tinnitus can be a natural side effect of aging, airplanes going overhead frequently and firearms being discharged in close proximity put extra stress onto the ears to accelerate the process.
Tinnitus involves hearing noises when no external sound is present. These phantom noises could include ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming in your ears.
Service members are exposed to loud noises from gunfire, aircrafts, and other combat-related procedures consistently. Military personnel, especially older soldiers, maintain one of the highest risks of developing tinnitus due to the repetition of harsh, loud noises.
Each disability has a VA rating, or a percentage that the VA assigns to determine the amount of benefits a disabled veteran will receive. This percentage can range from 0-100% at intervals rounded to the nearest ten. A 0% rating means the condition doesn’t really negatively affect the veteran, and a 100% rating means a condition renders a veteran unable to work or properly care for themselves.
Tinnitus is considered a low-value claim because it can only be rated at 10% or nothing. 93.6% of veterans that claimed tinnitus received a VA rating of 10%. Tinnitus has been the most common VA disability claim with 157,152 compensation recipients in 2018.
Bilateral Hearing Loss
The second most commonly claimed disability according to the VA’s data was bilateral hearing loss. Due to its prevalence, the military has the Duty Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) Noise Exposure Listing. This is a compilation of information stating how intense an individual’s exposure to noise is based on their job and location. Those with a higher MOS rating are more likely to be able to prove service connection and receive compensation.
There are two factors considered by the VA when rating hearing loss: Decibel loss at five frequencies and speech discrimination. Decibel loss measures an individual’s ability to hear different volumes, and losing 26 or more decibels in at least three of the five frequencies constitutes hearing loss to the VA. Speech discrimination handles a veteran’s ability to discern normal conversations. Scoring less than 94% on speech recognition can be indicative of sufficient hearing loss for a claim.
One reason hearing loss is less common than tinnitus is because it’s more difficult to prove service connection. Hearing loss occurs naturally for a multitude of reasons, and if it’s not severe enough or clearly connected to an individual’s time in the military, they will not receive compensation for it.
Similar to tinnitus, hearing loss is another low-value claim because roughly 93.6% of veterans who claimed for service-connected hearing loss received a VA rating between 0-10%. Although it can go above 10%, it is very rare.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The third most commonly claimed VA disability is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To be granted compensation for PTSD, veterans must demonstrate service connection with the following:
- A current PTSD diagnosis
- An in-service stressor that instigated the PTSD
- An opinion linking the diagnosis to the in-service event
This evidence can be corroborated by official documents or in some cases the VA will accept buddy letters. These are official statements written by fellow service members that support claims being made by the disabled veteran.
PTSD is a mental health condition that arises after experiencing a shocking or distressing event and continues to cause strife when exposed to particular emotional stressors, or triggers. Some of the lasting effects of PTSD can include:
- Anger issues
- Suicidal thoughts
- Relationship issues, and;
- Problems at work
PTSD can be related to in-service events that exasperate it such as exposure to death, serious injury, threats, or sexual violence. It can also be related to non-combat stressors such as service-member suicide, training accidents, and car crashes. The intensity of military service can substantially harm a veteran’s mental health if not properly handled.
Veterans will only receive one combined VA rating for all their mental health conditions. If an individual has both PTSD and another mental health condition, such as major depressive disorder, they will be grouped together to decide one VA rating. This technique causes veterans with menthol health problems to receive fairly high ratings.
90.7% of veterans were rated at 30% or higher for their mental health issues. 41.1% were rated at 70% or higher. Veterans with PTSD are most commonly rated at 70% at least, making this a high value claim. Roughly 1 million veterans are service-connected for PTSD out of the 1.7 million that are service-connected for mental health conditions.
Scars and skin conditions that cause lasting cosmetic damage to an individual’s appearance or pain can be claimed for compensation. To receive the proper rating and service connection, a veteran must have a statement corroborating the incident that occurred along with a color photo of the scar. This information can be uploaded to the VA’s website to file the claim electronically.
The VA rating for scars does not depend on the location of a scar, but rather whether or not they are painful or unstable. Typically, the claimed scars are those from some form of surgery due to an injury. Surgical scars that continue to hurt the veteran or do not properly heal and cover the wound will qualify for a higher rating.
Scars are a low-value claim, with 76.2% of veterans being rated at 0% and 18.6% having a 10% rating for skin conditions. As the fourth most common claim, scars affect nearly 10% of all veterans.
Limitations of Flexion of the Knee
Knee problems are also very common among veterans. The fifth most common claim according to the VA’s data is a specific knee problem that involves the limitation of flexion of the knee. This claim is so common because it’s fairly easy to connect to time spent in the service.
Limitation of flexion of the knee refers to how far a veteran can curl their knee towards the body or move it outward. This qualifies as a musculoskeletal system condition because it includes issues with joints and muscles that have a limited range of motion and/or painful motion. This can cause arthritis, weakness, loss of power, and decreased movement control.
Musculoskeletal disabilities are sometimes filed as secondary VA disability claims because they don’t appear until after service, or they are made worse by events retroactively. Medications, mental health issues, and other injuries can all aggravate musculoskeletal injuries.
The range of motion plays a large factor in determining the VA rating. The VA will literally measure how far your knee moves and assign the rating based off range alone. They have set standards:
- If knee extension is limited to 45 degrees — 50%
- 30 degrees — 40%
- 20 degrees — 30%
- 15 degrees — 20%
- 10 degrees — 10%
- 5 degrees — 0%
According to the VA regulations, veterans who can show they have painful motion should still qualify for a 10% rating even if their range is not limited according to the specific diagnostic code criteria. The VA has received criticism for neglecting other indicators of functional loss and focusing solely on the range of motion, so having ample evidence is important when filing a claim.
Although limitation of flexion of the knee can qualify for a 50% VA rating, 92.2 percent of veterans were rated between 0-20%. Though this might speak more to the evaluation than the actual condition, it’s still typically viewed as a low-value claim.
Lumbosacral or Cervical Strain
A cervical strain is a damaged, torn, or stretched tendon or muscle in your neck, and a lumbosacral strain is an injury to your lower back. These two types of back pain make up the sixth most common VA claim. Veterans must attend a compensation & pension (C&P) exam at which their injury will be assessed.
Typically, this condition is measured by functional loss, fatigue, and limited range of motion. Due to carrying heavy packs, extensive physical exertion, and sometimes improper footwear, military personnel are likely to struggle with back issues.
When it comes to back pain there’s also another aspect that need be taken into consideration — flare-ups. During a C&P exam, the examiner is required to address how much worse a veteran’s back pain and range of motion may be when experiencing a flare-up. Whether or not these increases in pain are being felt by the veteran at the time, it is the VA’s responsibility to take flare-ups into account when determining a VA rating.
92.2% of veterans with lumbosacral or cervical strain were rated between 0-20%. Back pains are very similar to knee pains in the sense that they are intended to be rated for both range of motion and functional loss, which is why many of the veterans who file for back pains can receive a rating.
Sciatic Nerve Paralysis
The sciatic nerve is a string of receptors that runs down the lower back through the legs. When that nerve is damaged, aggravated, or completely numb, the body is experiencing a condition called sciatica.
Sciatica can take many different forms and is difficult to evaluate accurately. The condition has three categories that each have three subcategories within them based on severity. Sometimes providing the correct evidence can demonstrate that a sciatic condition is more severe than it was evaluated to be. It’s important to know the difference to ensure proper compensation.
From least to most severe, the three categories of sciatic nerve damage are as follows:
- Neuralgia — Sharp pain in the lower back and legs caused by damage to the sciatic nerve. This is the most common category that veterans fall under.
- Neuritis — A more intense pain and numbness typically caused by degeneration in the spine.
- Paralysis — The partial or complete inability to control or move your body from the waist down.
It should be noted that the VA has a schedule of ratings for sciatica under neurological conditions and convulsive disorders. The criteria are as follows:
- Complete paralysis in all muscles below the knee, rendering it unable to move — 80%
- Severe but incomplete paralysis that causes functional loss, poor circulation, and atrophy in the affected body part — 60%
- Incomplete paralysis that’s moderately severe — 40%
- Incomplete, moderate paralysis — 20%
- Incomplete, mild paralysis — 10%
These terms have no complete definitions which can make it difficult for veterans to understand what determines the rating.
Even though sciatic nerve paralysis has the potential to be extremely debilitating, claims are typically made in the mild paralysis category. 92.2% of veterans rate between 0-20%, with the most common being 10%, making this another low-value claim.
Vietnam veterans have been affected the most by sciatic nerve issues, which is believed to be related to Agent Orange exposure and other neuropathy issues. In these cases, the sciatica is less of a primary condition and more of a residual after-effect.
Limitation of Range of Motion of the Ankle
Yet another of the most common VA disability claims has to deal with the limited range of motion of a different body part. The ankle is essential to movement and therefore daily life, making a problem with it something that can be claimed if service connection can be proved.
This is another musculoskeletal condition that involves damage to the ankle joint resulting in arthritis, weakness, pain, loss of power, and decreased movement.
Veterans suffer from ankle issues due to the physical demands of active duty and training. Traumatic injuries or accidents can also cause unnoticed damage to the ankle, such as veterans involved in parachuting accidents. An improperly handled ankle sprain increases the risk of another in the future. Repeated sprains can cause problems such as instability and limited range of motion.
The VA rates this claim based on limits to the range of motion similar to the other musculoskeletal conditions. 92.2% of veterans fall between 0-20%, with most receiving a 10% rating. 10% usually implies moderate symptomology and moderately limited range of motion. However, it is once again worth noting that there are no concrete definitions for these rating criteria. This allows veterans to argue for an increased rating if they can supply the proper evidence.
Coming in at the ninth most common VA disability are migraine headaches. Migraines are not the kind of headaches you can just live with — they are intense, frequent, and debilitating. They make work and daily duties incredibly difficult, with the individual sometimes having to isolate themselves in a completely dark and quiet environment for the pain to cease.
Migraines are identified by a pulsation on the side of the head that can last hours or days depending on the severity. Some of the symptoms of migraine headaches include:
- High sensitivity to sound and light
- Throbbing head pain
Migraines can result from overexposure of the senses, traumatic injuries of the brain or head, or prolonged bouts of extreme stress. This disability can also be a secondary claim if it is further aggravated by another service-connected injury, such as neck pain or a traumatic brain injury.
If the veteran’s migraine becomes so severe that they are required to lay down for extended periods of time, their migraine is considered prostrating. Prostrating migraines typically require veterans to seek medical attention and stop all activities due to complete physical weakness or exhaustion. Whether or not an individual has a prostrating migraine factors into their VA rating.
Migraine headaches are rated between 0-50%, with a high likelihood of falling at or above 30%. The VA rating system for migraines is as follows:
- Frequent complete prostrating and prolonged periods of severe inadaptability — 50%
- Prostrating attacks that occur on average once a month — 30%
- Prostrating attacks that occur on average once every two months — 10%
- Less frequent or debilitating attacks — 0%
Migraines are rated as accurately as possible in regards to their effects on a veteran’s daily life.
Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine
The tenth most commonly compensated VA claim for veterans was degenerative arthritis of the spine. This is a condition in which the cartilage between discs of the spine begins to break down or tear, placing pressure on the spinal nerves.
An individual affected by degenerative arthritis of the spine will experience pain, weakness, and tingling in the arms or legs. Oftentimes the individual will also develop limitations to their range of motion.
This condition can be caused by a multitude of injuries or physical stressors, such as constantly toting heavy gear on one’s back. Large military backpacks and equipment can result in long-term damage to the spine.
Over 395,000 veterans are currently receiving compensation for degenerative arthritis of the spine. The range of VA ratings for this condition is 0-50%. However, this is another low value claim, with 92.2% of veterans rated between 0-20%.
Filing a VA Disability Claim
If you have been subjected to a service-related injury or condition, you may be eligible for compensation. There are three criteria required for approval of a VA disability claim:
- A medical diagnosis
- Proof of service connection
- Evidence that symptoms are recurring or persistent
A fully developed claim can be pushed through the VA process much quicker than a partial claim. Fully developed claims typically include VA medical records, private medical records, and supporting statements.
If you believe you are eligible, review the US Department of Veterans Affairs claim filing process.
Working with a Disability Lawyer
Our legal team has the experience necessary to guide you through the process of VA disability. Call the attorneys of Tuley Law Office at (812) 434-1936 today.
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