When you apply for VA disability for Cervical or Lumbar Radiculopathy, the key is how much paralysis you experience and how often.
Back pain can be established as a service-connected disability, but did you know there are specific conditions like radiculopathy that can get you a higher VA rating? If you are a veteran suffering from daily back pain, make sure you apply for all of the VA disabilities you are entitled to. Back pain doesn’t often travel alone. It comes with symptoms like numbness in your hands and feet, a lack of flexibility, and even digestion or bowel issues. Work with some experienced VA lawyers to make sure you get all that you deserve on your first application.
In This Article on VA Disability for Radiculopathy
- The Easiest Ratings for Joint/Back Pain are Also the Lowest
- Back Conditions that Get a Higher VA Disability Compensation
- Radiculopathy Disability for Veterans
- Pinched Nerves in the Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar Regions
- The Lower Your Range of Motion the Higher Your Rating
- How the VA Disability Rating for Radiculopathy Works
- When to Keep Quiet During Your C&P Exam
- Maybe You Want the VA to Deny Your Radiculopathy Claim!
The Easiest Ratings for Joint/Back Pain are Also the Lowest
If you have been honorably discharged and have joint or back pain, you can probably get the minimum 10% rating for a disability. That will bring in about $152.64 a month based on the current VA rating schedule. It’s not much, but it’s a start. You might be able to pay for some heating pads or some visits to the chiropractor/spa with that. There are a lot of other back conditions that can get you a higher rating and therefore more money per month from the VA.
“Back pain” is also a general term without a diagnosis, so you probably won’t get a permanent rating. If you want a permanent disability rating for your joint pain, you’ll need a diagnosis and a clear measurement of your range of motion. Even if you already have achieved the service connection or the 10% rating for back pain, you can still get help from us to increase your rating or double-check your effective date.
Back Conditions that Get a Higher VA Disability Compensation
The general minimum for undiagnosed back pain veterans’ disability benefits is 10%. These diagnosed and service-connected disabilities can get you a higher rating.
- Degenerative Joint Disease
- Intervertebral Disc Syndrome (IVDS)
- Radiculopathy (aka. pinched disc or sciatica)
- Bulging Disc
- Spinal Fusion
- Peripheral Neuropathy
While not all of these are exclusive back pains, they can all point to conditions in the spine that would warrant a higher VA rating.
Radiculopathy Disability for Veterans
When the bones in your back lose their cushioning, they rub together and may pinch a nerve. Since your brain and spinal cord connect to your entire body through your nerves, any part of your body can have pain or go numb when a nerve in your back is pinched. That numbness or pain from a pinched nerve in your spinal column is called radiculopathy. When you go see the doctor and describe numbness or pain in your arms or legs, they will ask you more questions to narrow down your diagnosis. Sometimes diabetes or arthritis can cause radiculopathy in addition to direct spine injuries.
The different nerves in your back are grouped together and carry different VA rating schedules. Depending on the loss of feeling in your elbow vs. your dominant hand, you might get a different VA rating. If your Sciatic nerve causes your foot to drop and impairs your walking and you can’t lift your knee, you might get up to an 80% rating. If your long thoracic nerve is affected, however, it will keep you from raising your arm above your shoulder level and will only earn a 30% rating at the worst.
Identifying which nerves are affected and how bad will be the main goal of your C&P exam. Don’t hide anything and be explicit and detailed about what hurts and what is numb. Also, explain what you can’t do because of that numbness. If you can’t stand at work because your legs go numb or if you can’t lift weights at the factory because you can’t lift your arm, be sure to say that in detail and get it on the record at your exam. Loss of ability to lead a normal and functional life is the exact reason that VA disability benefits are awarded.
Pinched Nerves in the Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar Regions
Doctors look at your back in three sections. The cervical area is around your neck and shoulders. The thoracic area is in the middle down to your lower back. Lumbar is the region of your lower back all the way down to your tailbone. Each one of these areas connects nerves from your brain to all over your body.
Neck pain is a cervical spine problem. It can be stiffness or even sharp pain. A herniated disc in this region can cause pain that radiates down one or both arms. Movement can be restricted not only because of pain in your neck but moving a certain way can make you lose feeling in your hands. This could have a direct effect on your work if you can’t look around while holding a weight.
If your work is affected by this kind of condition, make sure your doctor knows it. Also, have your boss (or especially your ex-boss if you got fired!) document what special considerations you need at work to deal with this problem. You’ll need evidence of trouble at work if you want to move this claim closer to a 100% TDIU rating.
Thoracic radiculopathy is going to be a lot scarier but won’t affect you in the same way. The pain usually radiates around your ribs and into your chest. It doesn’t affect your arms and legs as much as it affects your whole trunk. Pain or numbness can even come and go as you take deep breaths or physically exert yourself. Since you are agitating the vertebrae in the middle of your back, this can get you when you are standing or sitting. This is the rarest form which means it is also the least diagnosed. Even if you have this, it often takes a long time for the doctors to rule out everything else and give you this diagnosis.
Lower back pinched nerves are the most common type and even have sub-classes of diagnoses. Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve is pinched or pushed on from a disc. It causes pain, burning, and numbness all the way from your butt down to your toes. It can affect one side or the other, and be different levels on both sides. If you have a dull pain in your back but feel like your legs are being electrocuted, you probably have some form of sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy.
Lower Parts of Your Back
The sacrum is the region of the back that connects to your hips and pelvis. The coccyx is your tailbone and it’s at the very bottom. These do not often get involved with bulging discs or radiculopathy, but they can be injured, dislocated, or affected by arthritis.
The Lower Your Range of Motion the Higher Your Rating
When it comes to your exam, the number one thing the doctor will measure for your back pain is your range of motion. This is also called flexion. The key isn’t how far you can move, but how far you can move before you are in pain. If you tough it out and move a little extra, you can keep going on that patrol in Iraq. When it comes to your C&P Exam, you don’t want to tough it out. I’m not saying you should be a wimp and fake it, but you should be honest with the doctor about where the pain starts. You can download the questionnaire right here to see what kind of questions they are going to ask about your back.
You’ll move your head forward and backward like you are looking up and down. You’ll tilt your head side to side and then you will turn your head to look around. Measures of your extension, lateral flexion, and rotation all combine to measure your cervical flexion. This only applies to your neck. If you experience any pain in the movement, or if those moves cause your arms or hands to go numb or burn, tell the doctor.
Your flexion for the thoracic and lumbar areas are grouped together into the “Thoracolumbar” tests. Here you bend over forward at the waist for one measurement. You also bend backward just a little bit, but not much. You bend side to side and then rotate at the hips for the final measurements. Again, point out any cracks or crunches that your joints make and let your doctor know if you can’t make some of the movements because of pain. He or she is going to write down the angle of your flexion. The angle of your flexion for your cervical and thoracolumbar spine areas determines what your rating will be.
How the VA Disability Rating for Radiculopathy Works
For back pain, you are going to get rated based on pain and flexion. For radiculopathy specifically, you’ll be rated on neurological symptoms. Which limbs are numb or paralyzed and to what extent is how the rating is given. The nice thing about this is that while you only have one back, you can get multiple ratings for a left leg and a right leg which can then be combined into a greater rating. The back pain is rated separately, so you could have a 40% rating on your back, 20% on your right let and 10% on your left leg which would make a combined rating of 60% with the bilateral factor thrown in.
The VA rating for cervical radiculopathy is all based on how your shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, and hands can move. Diagnostic code 8510 puts the ratings into these four categories:
|All shoulder and elbow movements lost or seriously affected but hand and wrist are normal||70%|
These same ratings match most of the ratings of Thoracic and Lumbar Radiculopathy as well. Of course, the words “Severe, Moderate, Mild” all have vague meanings. What is going to clarify those words is how paralysis affects your life. If you can’t feed yourself, you would be closer to the 50-70 level and maybe even qualify for Aid and Attendance. If you just drop the remote control sometimes but otherwise you’re fine, you’ll be closer to barely getting the 20% rating. Keep track of how often and how severe your episodes are. If they make you unable to work or conduct a normal life, tell them. You can look at all of these ratings in more detail by diagnostic code on 38 CFR § 4.124a – Schedule of ratings – neurological conditions and convulsive disorders.
When to Keep Quiet During Your C&P Exam
While you should tell the C&P Exam doctor every detail of your symptoms and even bring a written account of when you had symptoms over the past year, there is a time to be quiet. If your back creaks or pops when you move it, you want the doctor to hear that. If your neck crunches or grinds when you turn it in a different direction, make sure your doctor listens to those sounds. The doctor can’t feel what you are feeling. They can only assess your symptoms based on what they can observe about your movements. If they can hear your bones rubbing together, joints popping, or your back cracking when you move it, make sure they record it in their report.
Crepitation is the medical term for these sounds. You can have crepitation in any joint. It often shows up in your knees or feet. Since your back is a long line of joints, it can happen in any part of your back too.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Maybe You Want the VA to Deny Your Radiculopathy Claim!
Why would you ever want to be denied for radiculopathy? If there is a big bad disability that will get you more money per month, you’d want that instead. Degenerative Disc Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Gulf War Syndrome all have the capability of a higher rating. They are also more likely to be ruled Permanent and Total, which means you don’t have to go back and re-apply and risk losing your benefits every 5-10 years.
Make sure you work with an expert when you file your claim with the VA so you don’t miss anything like that. Our certified VA Disability lawyer team works with doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists to work through your claim and make sure every inch is covered. Every case is different, but let us take a free look at your claim before you send it in, or even before you start the application process.
The call and the advice we give you on that call are all free. Call today.
Yes, any injury that happened during your active duty, even when you were on leave or even playing basketball on the base, is service-connected. Start filling out the paperwork if you were honorably discharged, you deserve the benefits.
Sometimes, there is little to no back pain with radiculopathy. While the injury is in the back joints, the symptoms show up in your hands and feet. You may have another disability like diabetes or arthritis instead, so make sure you get a full physical from a doctor.
Every case is different, so please contact our certified team. TDIU is a more complex process than just one disability most of the time, so you’ll have to present your full case to the VA.