Heart disease is common in the U.S. among all populations, but certain circumstances of military life may make veterans even more prone to developing heart problems. Veterans with service-connected heart conditions like coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmia, heart murmur, and other heart diseases are potentially eligible for VA disability payments. Read on to learn more about the VA rating for heart disease, common secondary issues, presumptive heart conditions, and what veterans can do if they can’t work because of their heart condition.
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In this article about the VA rating for heart disease:
- Heart disease in veterans
- VA rating for heart disease
- DBQ for heart disease
- VA presumptive heart conditions
- TDIU for different types of heart disease
- Woods and Woods can help
Heart disease in veterans
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, causing 1 in every 5 deaths in 2021.
However, veterans experience circumstances and exposures that may make them even more likely to develop heart disease than the civilian population. One 20-year study suggested veterans may be at a higher risk of heart disease in part because they also have higher rates of other chronic health conditions and depressive symptoms, as well as more exposure to trauma.
“Heart disease” is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of conditions. A heart disease VA rating may apply to many different conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Peripheral artery disease
- Heart valve disease and heart valve complications
These and other heart conditions can lead to angina (chest pain), dizziness or fainting, and shortness of breath. They may also lead to heart attack or the need for heart surgery.
VA rating for heart disease
The VA rates heart diseases with the diagnostic code and criteria in the cardiovascular section of the Schedule of Ratings that most closely match the veteran’s heart condition.
If your condition has its own diagnostic code, this will typically be used to assign your rating. If there is no diagnostic code for your heart condition, this does not mean your condition isn’t eligible for VA disability compensation. Instead, the VA will “analogously” rate your condition using the most similar rating criteria available under another diagnostic code.
While there are exceptions, most heart diseases are rated using the General Rating Formula for Diseases of the Heart as follows:
|Monthly payment (vet only)
|Workload of 3.0 METs or less results in heart failure symptoms
|Workload of 3.1–5.0 METs results in heart failure symptoms
|Workload of 5.1–7.0 METs results in heart failure symptoms; or evidence of cardiac hypertrophy or dilatation confirmed by echocardiogram or equivalent (e.g., multigated acquisition scan or magnetic resonance imaging)
|Workload of 7.1–10.0 METs results in heart failure symptoms; or continuous medication required for control
The “METs” mentioned in the rating criteria refer to the amount of energy you have to exert to do an activity. For example, it takes one MET to stand at rest.
The more simple and low-energy your activities that cause heart failure symptoms, the higher your rating. Heart failure symptoms in this case include angina (chest pain), dizziness, fatigue, and heart palpitations, among others.
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DBQ for heart disease
DBQs are questionnaires provided by the VA that allow a veteran’s medical provider to document evidence about their health condition. Questions and selections on the DBQ are designed to make sure the information provided about your health condition will be helpful when the VA adjudicates your claim.
The VA heart DBQ is an eight-page document that includes sections such as:
- Your heart diagnosis
- Your medical history
- Any heart surgeries, procedures, or hospitalizations you’ve had
- Results of diagnostic testings like x-rays and echocardiograms
- Results of METs testing (the primary measurement used in the General Rating Formula for Diseases of the Heart), including any reasoning you might not take a METs test
- How your condition limits your ability to lift, stand, walk, etc.
- Any additional notes from the examiner about your condition
VA presumptive heart conditions
To receive a service connection for VA disability, veterans typically need a medical professional to help them establish a “medical nexus.” A medical nexus shows the link between something you experienced or were exposed to during service and your current health condition.
However, due to overwhelming scientific evidence, in some cases the VA acknowledges there is such a strong connection between circumstances of certain veterans’ service and specific medical conditions that no medical nexus is required. In these cases, the VA assumes a connection exists. It is only up to the veteran to prove they meet the eligibility criteria for the presumptive service connection, and to gather evidence that shows their condition is disabling enough to receive VA compensation.
Below we share some presumptive heart conditions. Our lists focus specifically on heart diseases, not all cardiovascular diseases.
Presumptive heart conditions within one year of your separation from service
These heart conditions are considered presumptively service connected if they develop within the first year you are separated from military service.
- Arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is an umbrella term for conditions that cause thickening and hardening of the heart’s arteries. It can manifest as coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, aortic aneurysm, or carotid artery disease.
- Cardiovascular renal disease. This term refers to any heart condition that could negatively impact your kidney, or any kidney condition that could negatively impact your heart.
- Endocarditis. Endocarditis here covers any disease of the heart valves. These conditions typically cause inflammation and can be life-threatening.
- Myocarditis. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. It can lead to other acute and chronic heart complications.
Presumptive heart conditions for former prisoners of war
Veterans who were held captive as prisoners of war (POWs) have two presumptive heart diseases. These are:
- Beriberi heart disease. Beriberi heart disease, also called wet beriberi or cardiac beriberi, is presumptive for POWs who were held captive for 30 days or more. The condition affects the heart’s output and can sometimes result in heart failure.
- Hypertensive heart disease. Hypertensive heart disease refers to various changes in the heart and heart complications that can develop due to untreated high blood pressure. Unlike beriberi, this condition is presumptive regardless of the length of time the veteran was held captive.
Presumptive heart conditions from Agent Orange exposure
Veterans who meet the VA’s eligibility criteria for Agent Orange exposure can receive a presumptive service connection for their ischemic heart disease. Ischemic heart disease is more commonly known as coronary artery disease. The condition occurs when not enough oxygenated blood enters the heart, damaging and weakening the organ.
TDIU for different types of heart disease
In some cases, a veteran may be awarded total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) for their heart condition. TDIU is also known as individual unemployability or simply IU. Veterans are eligible for these benefits if they can’t hold down “substantially gainful” employment due to their service-connected conditions.
Veterans with heart disease may struggle to work, especially if they experience fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, or other signs of heart failure while doing low-energy activities. They may struggle to stay on their feet and move around at work, or to lift heavy objects. Heart disease can also lead to mood disorders like anxiety or even PTSD. The combined mental and physical effects of a mood disorder and heart disease could potentially rule out all types of work for some veterans.
Veterans who receive TDIU benefits are compensated at the same level as those with a 100% disability rating, even though their combined rating is below 100%.
Veterans will typically be eligible for TDIU if they have:
- At least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling OR
- Two or more service-connected disabilities with at least one rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A veteran’s VA rating for heart disease will depend on the severity of their service-connected condition. VA ratings for most heart conditions range from 10% all the way up to 100%.
Most heart diseases are rated based on how many METs result in a veteran experiencing heart failure symptoms like chest pain and dizziness. METs refers to a system that measures how much effort you expend doing an activity.
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