While laryngitis is a fairly common sickness that affects the larynx or voice box, chronic laryngitis is a more serious condition that can lead to even more serious complications such as laryngeal cancer (or voice box cancer), throat cancer, or even a laryngectomy. When it is caused by your military service through toxins, physical injury, or complications from other injuries, you may qualify for VA disability for chronic laryngitis.
Many veterans worry that because they smoke, this will disqualify them for VA benefits for their larynx issues, but there are many different service-related causes of chronic laryngitis that can lead to larynx cancer. Some veterans require a complete laryngectomy.
Let’s cover, in detail, how you can go about proving a service connection to ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefits that you deserve.
In this article about laryngitis VA disability benefits:
- What are the symptoms of chronic laryngitis?
- Causes of chronic laryngitis
- Complications of chronic laryngitis
- What is a laryngectomy?
- Qualifying for larynx VA disability
- Special Monthly Compensation
- How Do I Get These Extra Benefits?
What are the symptoms of chronic laryngitis?
For both acute and chronic laryngitis, the symptoms are largely the same.
- Hoarse voice
- Loss of voice (temporarily)
- Tickling or raw sensation in the throat
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Dryness in the throat
The difference between acute and chronic laryngitis is that acute laryngitis typically doesn’t last more than a couple of weeks. If your symptoms persist beyond that time, you may have chronic laryngitis.
Causes of chronic laryngitis
Chronic laryngitis is a more serious condition mainly because the causes differ from acute laryngitis. While acute laryngitis is typically caused by either a viral or bacterial infection that your body can fight off, chronic laryngitis is caused by long-term exposure to irritants that lead to vocal strain and can cause polyps or nodes to grow on the vocal cords. A few examples are:
- Inhaling toxic irritants such as smoke, chemical fumes, asbestos, or allergens (We’re looking at you, burn pits.)
- Acid reflux or GERD
- Overuse of the vocal cords (common among singers)
- Chronic sinusitis
- Excessive use of alcohol
For veterans who were exposed to asbestos at any point during their term of service, there are many known complications, and this absolutely qualifies as a service-related connection. While mesothelioma is one of the more common outcomes of extended exposure to asbestos, chronic laryngitis that leads to additional complications is not uncommon and is recognized by the VA medical board.
Complications of chronic laryngitis
Chronic laryngitis can have a number of very serious complications. One of the most challenging aspects of this disease is that the early symptoms for chronic laryngitis and larynx cancer are very similar, which is why it is very important to see your doctor if you have laryngitis symptoms that persist for longer than two weeks.
Laryngeal cancer also has a few additional, more severe symptoms that might indicate a larger problem, such as:
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Dysphonia – difficulty speaking
- Aphonia – complete loss of voice
- A lump in the throat
- Ear pain
While viral laryngitis does not lead to larynx cancer, chronic laryngitis and laryngeal cancer have many of the same underlying causes.
For those diagnosed with larynx cancer, there are a number of treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and a laryngectomy.
What is a laryngectomy?
A laryngectomy is the complete removal of the larynx or voice box. This is a major surgery that changes the way you live in a variety of ways. After a laryngectomy, you will have to learn new ways to communicate, breathe, and swallow.
The main reason that you would undergo a laryngectomy is larynx cancer, but victims of gunshot wounds or those who develop radiation necrosis may also have to undergo this procedure. It is a major surgery that completely removes the voice box, after which you will have a hole in your throat called a stoma that will allow you to breathe. This is necessary because the larynx connects your mouth to your lungs. With the larynx gone, you will need a new way to breathe.
As with any major surgery, there are a number of concerns you may have going into the procedure.
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Can you eat after a laryngectomy?
Immediately after the procedure, you will be on a feeding tube. This is to give your throat time to recover from the surgery. However, the tube that leads your stomach — the esophagus — will remain functional after the laryngectomy, so eventually, you will be able to eat normally.
The recovery process can be slow because of the extent of the procedure, but usually, at the 8 to 10-day mark, you will be able to swallow liquids on your own. After you reach this capability, you will gradually be moved from liquids to semi-soft foods and then solid foods.
Can you smell after a laryngectomy?
Yes, though your sense of smell may be diminished. Because you will no longer be using your nose or your mouth to breathe, you won’t automatically take in the same amount of scents that you used to. This is something that you can work on improving, however, by retraining the nose to take in air.
This will also help improve your sense of taste. Because your tastebuds are linked to scent, you may notice that things don’t taste as strongly as they used to immediately following the surgery. But working on improving your sense of smell will also help to improve your tastebuds.
Can you speak after a laryngectomy?
Without a larynx, which contains your vocal cords, you will not be able to speak or make sounds in the same way as before. There are ways, however, to learn how to communicate. Some laryngectomy patients learn esophageal speech, which involves trapping air in the throat and upper esophagus to create vibrations similar to the vocal cords to create sound. This can be challenging, but it is possible.
There are also machines that can help you communicate, such as an electrolarynx device, which is placed against the neck to enhance your speech when you talk. You can also get a voice prosthesis that attaches to a device called a tracheoesophageal puncture. It is a one-way valve that allows for airflow but doesn’t allow food or liquid to enter the lungs.
There are also a number of nonverbal communication options such as writing, typing, or sign language.
Qualifying for larynx VA disability
There is a significant range of larynx VA disability ratings between chronic laryngitis, laryngeal cancer, and a laryngectomy. The VA rates and treats these conditions based on severity.
Chronic laryngitis is usually caused by environmental factors, personal habits, or other illnesses. Because of the variety of causes, veterans with chronic laryngitis may qualify for larynx VA disability. If the condition progresses and you lose your voice completely, there are additional laryngectomy VA disability benefits that you may qualify for.
Depending on the severity of chronic laryngitis, you will probably be looking at a disability rating of 10%-30%. While the illness is uncomfortable, the VA doesn’t usually deem it serious enough to prevent you from working at all. However, if it progresses to the point where you lose your voice, or to partial functioning of your voice, for an extended period of time, you may be able to get a higher rating. There are also medications that can alleviate symptoms and help you live more comfortably.
As with most VA disability claims, you will need to have a diagnosis from a VA-approved doctor and prove that the condition is related to your time in the service. There are many service-related reasons that a veteran would have larynx conditions that would qualify you for VA disability.
Larynx cancer and laryngectomies
Cancer of the larynx, or certainly a laryngectomy, will qualify you for a much higher disability rating. A laryngectomy that was caused by service-related trauma, either a gunshot wound or breathing in harmful chemicals that lead to larynx cancer, will qualify you for a 100% rating with the VA med board.
As with all VA disability claims, you will need to have a diagnosis from a VA-approved doctor and prove that the condition is related to your time in the service. There are many service-related reasons that a veteran would have larynx conditions that would qualify you for VA disability.
However, cancers of the neck are listed as a presumptive conditions for certain Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxins. In these qualifying cases, you would not need to prove the connection between your service and condition.
Special Monthly Compensation
If you’re a veteran suffering from severe conditions that permanently alter your quality of life, such as the loss of a limb or one of your senses (speech, sight, hearing), you may also qualify for additional money called special monthly compensation (SMC). This means that if you have to undergo a laryngectomy, you would qualify for these benefits.
In order to get SMC, you do not have to have a direct service connection for the life-altering condition but can qualify with a secondary-connected disability. This means that even if you had full use of all bodily functions during your time of service and didn’t suffer a direct injury, but you go on to develop larynx cancer and have to have a laryngectomy as a result, you can qualify for SMC.
There are a variety of different designations within SMC, and we are happy to help you navigate all of them. SMC is designed specifically to help cover the enormous costs that come from needing help around the house to live normally. This often means hiring in-home help, but it can also be used to pay family members to cook, clean, and do laundry and a variety of other everyday tasks that may be difficult or impossible given your condition.
How Do I Get These Extra Benefits?
As with any process within the VA, the system can be complicated and confusing, especially while you are trying to manage your health. In order to qualify for the regular VA disability, you will have to undergo a medical examination and also submit documentation proving a service connection.
For SMC, there are additional forms to fill out that should be completed in the context of the larger application. The entire process can take a significant amount of time, and veterans are often denied initially or not given a rating that appropriately matches their disability.
This is why it can be helpful to work with a lawyer well-versed in how the VA works to help you navigate the system and ensure that you provide all of the necessary information to plead your case. Here at Woods & Woods, the Veterans Firm, we are experts in how the VA works and what information they need to make an informed decision. We are happy to speak with you or a family member about your case and give you our free, no-obligation evaluation. Our main goal is to ensure that all of our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for the country, get the full benefits they deserve.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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FAQs about VA Disability Benefits for Larynx Conditions
No, you can apply anytime. There is a cut-off date of one year to appeal your decision, but you can apply anytime in your life. Many service-connected conditions, like chronic laryngitis, don’t show up for decades. Give us a call and we’ll answer your application questions for free.
It depends on where you have been and what kinds of toxins you were exposed to. All of that information can help. If you’ve had any records of infections or physical injuries, we’ll want to highlight those too. Some cancers count as presumptive conditions because of Agent Orange or burn pits. Make sure your doctor and whoever is helping you apply knows all about how the VA rates these conditions.