Different Types of Arthritis Qualify for Disability
Arthritis can be caused by a lot of different factors. The fact that there are various kinds of joint and muscle ailments that all fall under the umbrella of “arthritis” is only the beginning. There are types that show up in X-rays, types that have no visible symptoms, and even some forms of arthritis that can be diagnosed with a blood test. Each one of these can qualify for VA disability. Some of them are harder to diagnose and prove as a service-connected injury, though. Depending on your service area and timing, you might even be considered for a presumptive rating.
Orthopaedic injuries, under which arthritis and joint pain is classified, are the major cause of long-term disabilities among veterans. You also have to be smart when you file for VA disability for arthritis because you might get a higher rating if you are rated as overall instead of specific instances in your hands, knees, shoulder, and back. The VA isn’t going to let you double-down on anything, so you want to make sure you get the best ratings possible for your combination of symptoms.
- Different Types of Arthritis Qualify for Disability
- Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a Disability?
- Can I get VA Disability for Osteoarthritis?
- Arthritis Risk for Paratroopers
- My Torn ACL Wasn’t Diagnosed Until After I Served!
- If Your Torn ACL was Fixed During Your Service
- The Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Disability Claims
- How the VA Gives You Disability for Arthritis
- Frequently Asked Arthritis Questions
Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a Disability?
Yes, it is. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that can affect many parts of your body. You can have inflammation in your joints as well as your skin, lungs, eyes, and blood vessels due to rheumatoid arthritis. The effects can be seen on an X-Ray or MRI as swollen joints, built up of fluid or muscular and bone atrophy. Because of those effects, it is listed in 38 CFR § 4.71a as a disease of the musculoskeletal system.
The rating is based on the effects of the disease, which may worsen with age or may stay pretty stable throughout your life. That means that a rheumatoid arthritis disability rating won’t be permanent. Since flare-ups come and go, the minimum rating is 20% if you have 2 bad times a year. That is assuming you’ve already been diagnosed as having RA.
The VA Ratings Schedule for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- One or two painful flare-ups a year: 20% Rating
- Clear impairments to daily living and health diagnosed by a doctor or 3 or more incapacitating episodes a year: 40% Rating
- Worse than 40% but not quite 100% incapacitated, with weight loss and anemia due to the long term affects and incapacitated 4 times a year or more: 60% Rating
- Multiple systems of your body like lungs, veins, and eyes in addition to your joints affected, totally incapacitating RA: 100% Rating
Make sure the VA sees the whole picture of your arthritis claim. Notice that none of the above list joint movement, range of motion, or flexibility. If you can get additional ratings for leg flexion or joint injuries, you want them to be rated separately. Make sure you have a professional help you organize your claim before you submit it to the VA. It will be worth the extra effort.
Can I get VA Disability for Osteoarthritis?
Yes, and many veterans do. Osteoarthritis is more common in veterans than rheumatoid arthritis. The difference between RA and OA is that OA is caused by wear and tear on your body while RA is an autoimmune disease. Many soldiers are currently being diagnosed with osteoarthritis while they are still in service, which makes a service-connection obvious. If you weren’t lucky enough to get diagnosed during active-duty, there are still plenty of approaches to take to get a good VA rating for Osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is going to come into play whenever you have joint pain, knee pain, some back injuries, or other functional loss due to pain. It doesn’t often show up on an X-ray or an MRI, but during your C&P exam the doctor will be watching your face when you bend your elbow. If you wince or grunt from the pain, the doctor is required to make a note of it. That is how a lot of the VA percentage for arthritis works. Whatever pain they see in you when you bend your knee or elbow is defined as your “range of motion.” That is important because that is exactly how to assign your veterans disability rating.
Arthritis Risk for Paratroopers
If you ever jumped out of an airplane with a parachute, you have increased your chance of arthritis. (If you ever jumped out of an airplane without a parachute, I’m not sure you should call us.) A study from 1977 found that by age 60, 75% of men that had been parachute jumpers had back, knee, or ankle pain that affected their daily lives. Even though this is an older study, the stats haven’t changed a lot in 40 years. The impact of landing normally and safely during a parachute jump puts a strain on your joints. Add a 50-pound pack and an occasional mishap and wind and your impact force increases. We’ve had some clients that did hundreds of jumps, so over time, your joints are going to feel it. This is an easy way to get arthritis in your knees listed as a service-connected disability.
If you remember any hard landings or hard jumps that sent you to the doctor, get your C-file and contact a VA Disability Lawyer. While it can take 10-20 years for arthritis to settle in, showing a service connection can be easy if you have the right documentation. We’ll talk to you and write up your case for the VA. We’ll also talk to anyone else that was also there or remembers when it happened. Buddy statements and lay statements can all help seal your case.
My Torn ACL Wasn’t Diagnosed Until After I Served!
Injuries like a torn ACL sometimes don’t get diagnosed until long after you are discharged. Knee pain falls into one of those classic “walk it off” injuries that a lot of guys don’t go and talk to the medic about. Men and women that have been on active duty are 4-5 times more likely to have ACL injuries, though! If you have any documents about knee pain while you were in the service, there might be a way to prove your torn ACL is service-related.
While knee pain can carry its own VA rating, you want to make sure if it is classified as arthritis or not. We’ve heard of service-members being discharged, having amplified knee pain, and then finding from an MRI that they actually tore their ACL during active duty. They toughed it out for years until it was unbearable, but the damage was done in the service. It might be hard to get it service-connected, but once we look through your file it might be easier than you think. A letter from your brother saying you quit playing basketball on leave might be enough to align your injury with your active duty.
If Your Torn ACL was Fixed During Your Service
If you had ACLR (anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction) while you were in the service, you can get your paperwork started today. Unfortunately, you’ll probably need some kind of disability compensation during your lifetime. One third of patients will develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis within a decade of that surgery. Half of patients develop it within 20 years. Osteoarthritis is so common after an ACL surgery that in the private sector it is a standard part of the patient’s post-surgery education.
As PTOA (posttraumatic osteoarthritis) worsens, the good news is that it doesn’t spread. It is purely caused by wear and recovery to the joint, so it won’t be contagious to other parts of your body like rheumatoid arthritis. It is typically not going to improve with age, either, which means that you have a better chance of eventually getting a permanent rating for degenerative arthritis in your knee. If your other knee or hip are experiencing pain from compensating for your knee that had surgery, you might be able to get a VA rating for that. You might also get an extra 10% rating if the bilateral factor comes into play.
The Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Disability Claims
Since rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed with a blood test, it is easier to diagnose. It might be harder to show a service-connection for rheumatoid arthritis, though. If symptoms show up within one year of your discharge, you can have it rated as a presumptive service connection. That’s why you want to get your ducks in a row if you are about to have your one year anniversary of being discharged.
The VA tells the C&P doctor to look for a few main things when giving you a VA rating for arthritis:
- Joint pain, tenderness, and swelling (ie. water on the knee)
- A terrible change in your posture, being bent over, and inability to straighten and/or bend your knees
- Fusion of your bones so that you can’t bend your joints or destruction of cartilage between your joints
How the VA Gives You Disability for Arthritis
There are two different approaches you can take when you are applying for VA disability. You want to make sure you pick the right one, or it could affect your other claims.
Arthritis as an Overall Condition for Disability
If you have arthritis all over, like with rheumatoid arthritis, you want to get rated on it all over your body. You’ll want to have X-rays or MRIs of any swollen joints or other areas and results from your blood tests. Also, accentuate how this medical condition affects your quality of life. If you can’t work a job, you want to aim for TDIU. If you can’t take care of your own living and hygiene needs, you want to apply for SMC. At the same time, only try for a full-body condition rating if you’ll get one that is higher than the next way.
Arthritis Joint by Joint as a VA Disability
With a stress-caused arthritis like osteoarthritis, you want to get a VA rating for joint pain on each individual joint. Vets have been misdiagnosed between arthritis and a torn ACL. Listing those as separate disabilities meant that the veteran went from 10% to 30% on one knee. Separating ratings into separate joints can also help you get closer to the bilateral factor which will add on another 10% rating.
A knee instability VA rating can be related to arthritis but doesn’t have to be. If you can show evidence of any kind of strenuous work put on your knee, you can get closer to service-connected arthritis. Knee instability or crepitation (creeking and clicking sounds coming from your joints) can help you get a higher rating too. VA joint pain ratings are funny because you have to treat every disabled joint like a different disability rating. The VA math can get tricky adding up a bunch of 10% ratings, but if it’s better than a lower rating for your entire body, it’s worth it.
Frequently Asked Arthritis Questions
Yes, especially if it is diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis with blood tests and X-rays. You might not get 100% alone the first time you apply, but establishing a service-connection will help you increase your ratings years later as the symptoms increase.
Yes, because they are both different types of diseases/conditions. OA is typically caused by stress or surgery. RA is caused by an auto-immune condition. Talk to your VA Disability Lawyer about the differences.
Crepitation is the technical term for all of the clicks cracks and squeaks your joints make when you move. Sometimes these sounds reveal pain and aches which you would want to be recorded at your CMP exam.
If you are diagnosed with any type of arthritis within one year of discharge, it is service-connected as a presumptive rating. If you are past that point, you can still talk to your team at Woods and Woods to see if any symptoms are in your file from that time period.
Almost. 75% of them do within 20 years of being discharged. If you served more than one tour or have a higher-than-average number of jumps under your belt, your chances increase.
Flexion is the word doctors use to describe how much you can bend your knees hands elbows or other joints. Good flexion means you can move it a lot and bad flexion means it stays in place. It may not be straight, but it just can’t move very much.
The ACL rating will be based on pain and your range of movement. Your arthritis rating will be based on blood tests, X-Rays, and pain levels. Since those can be very different, be sure you read up on knee injuries before you file for the wrong level of disability benefits.