Degenerative disc disease is a common VA disability claim. Wear and tear from carrying 100 pounds of the world’s lightest kit, falling off of vehicles or down hills and other impacts can all contribute to DDD. This form of back pain can show up first in your hands and feet as radiculopathy, but as time goes on, the pain intensifies in your back.
Getting these benefits is challenging. Therefore, it is important to find out about the condition along with the process of applying for benefits.
In this article about the VA rating for degenerative disc disease:
- Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease
- Why Do Military Personnel Experience Degenerative Disc Disease?
- Why Getting Degenerative Disc Disease Benefits is so Challenging?
- What You Need to Know about Military Related DDD
- Conditions Related to Degenerative Disc Disease
- Possible Treatment Options for DDD
- How Degenerative Disc Disease is Rated for Military Disability Benefits
- The Secondary Service Connection and Degenerative Disc Disease
- Extraschedular Disability Ratings
- Requirements for a 100% Disability Rating
- Are You Eligible for Degenerative Disc Disease Disability Benefits?
Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that occurs naturally and affects the discs in your spine. Usually, it’s experienced in the back or neck. It may cause back and neck pain and sometimes impact nerve function.
This condition causes the discs between the vertebrae to lose their proper cushioning, fragment, and herniate. Sometimes degenerative disc disease is accompanied by varying levels of pain. It can also cause tingling and numbness in the upper and lower extremities.
Why Do Military Personnel Experience Degenerative Disc Disease?
Military service puts a lot of stress on your body. Some veterans and active duty military members suffer from spinal or back pain after being discharged or while still serving. Others develop a more serious condition DDD (degenerative disc disease), which is a lifelong condition that has the potential to cause significant disability.
Qualifying military members with degenerative disc disease can receive benefits. However, the path to getting these benefits is often filled with obstacles.
Why Getting Degenerative Disc Disease Benefits is so Challenging?
It’s possible for military members to receive benefits for their condition if there is a service-connection between the impairment and their time in the service. DDD is a condition that will develop and progress as time passes.
Most times, claims are denied or given a lower disability rating because the examiner dismisses the disease because of normal wear and tear that occurs with aging. That may leave you grappling with various limitations that impact their ability to enjoy life and work.
Some veterans may not even realize that their DDD has been service rated. However, consider your time in service. Did you ever carry heavy packs or weapons? Did you ever fall off any machinery? Slip on uneven ground? Did you suffer excessive strain during your time in basic training?
There are countless ways that may have caused your spinal injuries that led to degenerative disc disease, regardless of how old you are.
What You Need to Know about Military Related DDD
As mentioned above, degenerative disc disease is caused by disc deterioration in the spine. The discs in the spine play an important role – they serve as shock absorbers.
The discs separate and cushion the vertebrae while providing stability for your entire spinal column. While DDD may occur anywhere in the spine, it is most commonly found in the lumbar region (the lower back) and the cervical region (the neck). These are the parts of the spine that experience the most strain and motion over a person’s lifetime.
As discs deteriorate, unpredictable episodes of severe pain and chronic pain are common. Flare-ups of this pain can last from a few days to a few weeks before subsiding to a reduced amount of pain.
As the spinal discs get thinner, there will be more pressure on the nerves that go out to your extremities. This causes radiculopathy, which is tingling, numbness, or shooting pains in your arms and legs. Degenerating discs may also result in spinal instability in the area that has been affected.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
Conditions Related to Degenerative Disc Disease
There are several conditions that are related to degenerative disc disease you should know about. These include the following:
These happen if a disc ruptures. When a disc ruptures, part of the soft center leaks out. It often causes severe nerve pain through the limbs.
Spinal stenosis occurs if your spinal canal narrows and puts more pressure on the nerves in your spinal cord. Sometimes, surgery will be needed to stabilize your spine.
As time passes, discs can dry out and lose their normal shape. Bulging discs may protrude into your spinal column, resulting in a narrowing that causes significant pain. Most bulging discs are found in the lower spine.
Possible Treatment Options for DDD
Some veterans can find relief from DDD caused pain with lifestyle modifications, medications, physical therapy, and rest. However, there is no cure.
Frequent bouts of pain and limited mobility can interfere with a person’s ability to hold a steady job or complete basic, day-to-day tasks. Medications provided by doctors may also cause severe drowsiness that impact productivity, as well. If you are unable to work because of Degenerative Disc Disease, you should talk to our case-workers about TDIU benefits.
How Degenerative Disc Disease is Rated for Military Disability Benefits
The VA will classify degenerative disc disease as a musculoskeletal disorder of your spine. Back injuries are common after service in the military. The bad news is, spinal injuries often receive lower disability ratings even though they are debilitating. This means it’s essential for you to provide solid evidence to support the claim you make for disability benefits.
To receive disability benefits for DDD, it’s necessary to prove that it’s a condition connected to your time in service or one that was aggravated by your time in the military. Sometimes, DDD qualifies as a secondary service-connected disability or one that has developed because of a service-connected injury.
Secondary conditions are rated separately. VA ratings for various spine conditions are based on a person’s range of motion. Physicians must test the ability you have to move with a goniometer. Results from other methods are not acceptable.
The rating criteria can also evaluate if the neck or lower back regions are frozen in an unfavorable or favorable position. Favorable positions mean the spine is frozen at zero degrees. Any other condition is considered to be unfavorable.
At this point, the examiner is going to assign a rating based on the assessment from the doctor along with other evidence that supports the application. The rating typically ranges from 10% to 50% or 100%. Each of these ratings comes with a different monthly benefit.
How to Get a 10% Disability Rating
You can receive a 10% disability rating with X-ray evidence that two or more major joints are involved or two or more minor joint groups. There must also be occasional incapacitating exacerbations of the condition.
How to Get a 20% Disability Rating
You can receive a 20% disability rating with X-ray evidence that involves two or more of the main joints or two or more of the minor joint groups.
With determining a disability rating based on the severity of your symptoms, the VA has to consider the functional loss and the anatomical damage present. Most importantly, the limitation of motion has to be objectively confirmed with findings including painful motion, muscle spasms, or swelling.
The Secondary Service Connection and Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease may also occur because of a different injury that is connected to your time in service. For example, if you blew out your knee and that causes you to favor one side when you are walking, you may have an altered gait.
This type of uneven shift in weight from the altered gait may contribute to complications in your lower back. In this situation, your DDD results from your service-connected knee condition and earns the secondary service connection.
Extraschedular Disability Ratings
There are some situations when the VA rates veterans beyond what’s included in the standard rating schedule. An extraschedular rating is assigned when the rating criteria for your disability doesn’t provide an accurate reflection of your disability level.
This usually occurs if you experience limitations or symptoms that aren’t considered by the established rating schedule. As a result, it’s necessary to determine if you are eligible to receive a higher rating than the schedule allows. For degenerative disc disease, this may be the case, because the highest schedule rating is just 20%.
To receive the extraschedular disability rating, there are certain requirements that must be met. These include:
Exceptional or Unusual Disability
It’s necessary for the individual to show or for the VA to find that the case presents an unusual or exceptional disability picture. It should include related factors that interfere with regular employment and frequent time spent in the hospital. These make it impractical for a regular schedular rating to be assigned.
Undersecretary for Benefits
The final determining factor on if the extraschedular rating is necessary is determined by the Director of Compensation Service or the VA Undersecretary for Benefits.
It’s important to note that extraschedular disability ratings are provided on a case-by-case basis. They are very specific to each person and their disability situation.
Requirements for a 100% Disability Rating
If your degenerative disc disease is severe enough, the ultimate goal is to receive a 100% disability rating. There are two methods to use. The first one is to have one or more disabilities that reach the 100% disability rating. The other way is to receive the rating through TDIU.
is if you cannot work, which means you should be eligible to receive a 100% disability rating. If you cannot work at all, you may be eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). It gives the same amount as a 100% rating, but does not require the full 100%.
The specific requirements for this include:
- Have veteran status
- Have a minimum of one service-connected disability with a 60% rating
- Have two or more service-connected disabilities with one having an individual rating of 40% and a combined rating of 70% or more
- The inability to keep gainful employment
To prove that you have met the requirements for TDIU, you have to gather certain types of evidence. Start with proof of at least one service-connected disability. You’ll also need to show that your disabilities prevent you from getting or keeping a job. Your disabling condition can affect your physical or mental ability to do a job, so list both on your application.
It’s also necessary to have at least one disability that’s rated at 60% or if you have more than one disability, at least one that is rated at 40%, with a combined amount of 70% or higher.
Are You Eligible for Degenerative Disc Disease Disability Benefits?
Have you been in the military and now suffer a severe spine or back-related injury? Have you been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease?
The process to receive approval for these benefits is often tedious and frustrating. If so, you may need help acquiring the benefits you need.
If this is the case, contact us. Our legal team can provide you with quality and experienced representation that is going to help you receive the benefits you deserve. We are proud to help you who have served to get the disability benefits you deserve.
It all depends on how far along your DDD is and if the spinal fusion was done as surgery to fix it. Review your medical records with a doctor familiar with VA law to get the best rating.
You may because back disorders are tricky. Your arthritis rating may turn into a spinal fusion claim or a secondary service-connected radiculopathy rating. They all go together, so make sure you work with an experienced lawyer to get ratings for all of them.