If you have one or more of the most common VA service-connected disabilities, you know the adjustments you’ve made in your life. What you may not know is that these disabilities are commonly service-connected for a reason.
Here’s a rundown of the most common VA claims:
Many people call tinnitus ‘ringing in the ears’ when they don’t know the scientific name (or can’t pronounce it). However, the American Tinnitus Association says the condition isn’t always ‘ringing.’ Tinnitus can present as a roar or hissing, buzzing, screeching, or static.
Regardless of the sound of your tinnitus, the usual cause is noise-induced hearing loss. But there are other causes, including acoustic trauma from loud noises such as firecrackers or firearms, head injury, TMJ, or stress.
One reason tinnitus shows up so often as a VA claim is because the disability is hard to disprove. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 50 million Americans or almost 15% of the population experience the symptoms of tinnitus. The number is hard to quantify among Veterans. However, service members are quite susceptible to the damage to the micro sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus may not be crippling for everyone, but many Veterans with chronic tinnitus find that it affects their sleep or concentration, and even causes depression and insomnia.
#2. Hearing loss
Many military jobs and roles put you in the line of fire to experience hearing loss. But it isn’t just activity on the flight line or firing range that needs hearing protection. Audiologists say that prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 decibels, about the loudness of a vacuum cleaner, is enough to cause hearing loss.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued results a few years ago that said one in four adults may have Noised-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). A person with NIHL may have a challenging time understanding speech in noisy environments or lose the ability to perceive sound at specific frequencies.
#3. Lumbar or Lower Back
When your lower back hurts, it affects your entire body and psyche too. Back pain can originate from multiple causes. You might have damage to your discs between your vertebrae or to the ligaments around the spine, spinal cord, and nerves themselves or to the muscles of the low back.
Damage to your lumbar area can come from picking something up ‘wrong’ or repetitive heavy lifting. Sometimes your back is more vulnerable to damage because you have weakened core muscles, possibly due to other injuries or conditions. Or you have back problems because your gait or posture has changed due to those injuries.
Pain that runs from your spine branching out through your hips and buttocks and down one leg is known as sciatica because it radiates down the sciatic nerve. It is caused by a pressing on the nerve by a herniated disk, bone spur, or something else. Pain comes in varying degrees along with inflammation, and perhaps numbness or tingling in the leg.
Whatever the underlying cause, sciatica is made worse by prolonged sitting and/or weight gain. This means that your other service-connected injuries and disabilities — if they prevent you from being active — may be setting you up for sciatica.
#5. Knee Issues
Repetitive deep knee bends, marching, and kneeling over time can wear away at the cartilage of the knee, creating inflammation, pain, degenerative arthritis, and reduced mobility. Naturally, slips and falls or other trauma can introduce knee injury and post-traumatic arthritis, as well.
But the one thing many people don’t think about is that one’s gait often changes when there’s a knee injury or problem. The other knee, hips, and back tend to compensate for the injured knee and become damaged as well.
#6. Migraines, tension headaches
Tension headaches are what they sound like. You can have muscle tension from injuries, poor posture, sedentary lifestyle, stress…you name it.
Migraines are different. They tend to start gradually and worsen into a throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of your head. You experience increased sensitivities to odors, sounds, and light. Maybe you have nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, you can even have a ‘migraine’ without the throbbing headache!
Headaches and migraines can often be tied to military service or to medications you take because of service-connected disabilities. If you experience headaches or migraines as a result of a service-connected condition, then you may be able to get a secondary service-connection rating for headaches/migraines.
#7. Mental health
It’s no secret that military members can struggle to return to civilian life where there seems to be less order, direction, and mission. This is not restricted to only those who have been exposed to wartime trauma. Any military member can have mental health issues before or after separation. Some of the more common mental health claims are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.
The risk of PTSD has always existed in military service, but the disorder hasn’t always been understood. To get a service-connected rating for PTSD, you have to be able to trace PTSD to a traumatic event in your military life. This event can be one that you experienced or one that you witnessed.
PTSD hides in many forms and can take months to reveal symptoms. There is no one clear-cut symptom, but if you feel it’s hard to cope (or your loved ones tell you that you’ve changed), perhaps it’s time to talk with someone who can help.
Occasional anxiety is part of living. An anxiety disorder, by definition, lasts six months or more and can interfere with your ability to keep a job, be in school or be in a relationship. There several different types, too, with ‘generalized anxiety disorder’ or ‘panic disorder’ being the most common for former military members to suffer.
Anxiety doesn’t need a specific triggering event as PTSD does. You can have a pre-existing anxiety disorder made worse by military service or one that appeared during or after service, without apparent cause.
More Tips on Mental Health Claims
You can have multiple mental health diagnoses, but you will only have one rating due to the ‘umbrella’ concept. Since practitioners can’t really separate out symptoms from one mental health disorder to another, the VA lumps them all together for one mental health rating. It doesn’t matter how many different diagnoses you might have…it matters how much those conditions affect your life.
Remember, anxiety, PTSD, depression, — all would be listed under one mental health rating. So don’t allow yourself to get hung up on the name the VA assigns.
You should also be aware that any mental health claim is likely to be re-evaluated regularly, perhaps more so than other claims. Unlike other injuries or diseases that may get steadily worse, the government expects mental health claims to improve given enough time and appropriate treatment.
Of course, mental health conditions don’t always improve. Still, the VA is going to make you check in from time to time to see if your current rating is still the right rating for your condition.
Reevaluating Service-Connected Ratings
The VA will more than likely reevaluate a Veteran’s current VA ratings from time to time. They reserve the right to assess any service-connected disability at any time, as well as any new issues for which you file.
What Triggers a Reevaluation?
Three primary triggers for a reevaluation of your VA ratings are:
- High mental health ratings
- Increasing ratings from 90% to 100%
- Filing secondary claims
Let’s look at each briefly to see why they might trigger a Compensation and Pension Exam, or C&P exam, the precursor to a rating adjustment.
High Mental Health Ratings
Mental health conditions at 70% or higher, tend to be on the VA’s radar to evaluate every few years. The VA wants to see if the situation has improved through medication or therapy. If the VA deems that the condition has improved, they will attempt to lower the rating to accurately reflect the impact the disability currently has on the Veteran’s life
Increasing From 90% to 100%
A veteran going from 90% to 100% likely causes the VA to reopen all the Veteran’s service-connected claims. The financial aspect of this jump is over $1200. So, the VA wants to make sure its ratings are current and correct before granting this money.
Filing Secondary Service Connected Claims
Let’s say, among other things, the VA rated a Veteran for PTSD at 30%. The Veteran later decides to file a claim for his headaches and irritable bowel syndrome secondary to his PTSD.
In the example above regarding secondary claims, the VA will send the Veteran for a C & P exam for the headaches and another for the irritable bowel syndrome. They will also likely schedule the Veteran for another mental health examination. Mental health is an area the VA expects can improve with time.
But even if the service-connected disability isn’t mental health like it is in our example, the VA would likely want to reevaluate the underlying condition. They want to see if the underlying condition is the likely cause of your other health complaints.
Let’s say our Veteran in the example above also has a 40% rating for his lumbar spine. Even though the Veteran did not file anything secondary to his back, the VA can still reevaluate his back and potentially lower his rating.
Opening any new claim can cause the VA to reevaluate the Veteran’s entire file. That’s why many Veterans won’t file. They fear the loss of their current rating.
Do I Have to Attend the C&P Exam?
It is essential to attend every scheduled exam. Your C&P exam is your opportunity to explain all your symptoms to the VA in a meaningful way. If your condition has become worse over time, your C&P exam is critically valuable in proving it.
You do not want to miss an exam and have the VA make a decision on your claim without evaluating you first.
Are My Ratings Ever Safe?
If a veteran has been granted a Total and Permanent disability rating, the VA cannot reevaluate or lower that rating. Also, if a veteran has had the same score for a specific condition for 20 consecutive years, the VA considers that rating “locked in place.”
For example, a veteran was service-connected in 1993 for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Lumbar Spine at 20%. His rating has never changed since that time. This Veteran can file secondary claims to his back and be assured that his back rating will not decrease.
There are only a few secure conditions. Although the VA may consider a veteran’s age when scheduling exams, this is not always the case. Veterans in their 70s have been scheduled for exams. So the thought that ‘the older you get, the less likely you will be called in for an exam’ is a false assumption.
There are dozens of conditions that a Veteran can receive VA compensation for, but in this article we’ve covered the most common VA disability claims.
If you are a Veteran looking to file a VA claim for a condition, feel free to give us a call at Strategic Veteran. As experienced Veterans with the VA system, we can help answer any questions you may have.
We provide free resources to educate Veterans. We even help identify potential claim areas that Veterans may qualify for but don’t know about. Our goal is to help Veterans get the benefits they need to relieve the stress on them and their families. Call us today at 800-761-9004 to see if we can help you.