Human papillomavirus (HPV) can be contracted by men or women. The virus manifests as warts that can erupt anywhere, but particularly on the genitals.
The consequences of HPV are what drive many veterans to seek VA disability benefits for the disease. Some strains of HPV can increase the chances of developing cancer, including cancer of the cervix, anus, mouth, and throat.
However, the VA does not assign an HPV VA disability rating based on its risk factors. Rather, it is rated on the current manifestations of residual symptoms. Consequently, an HPV VA rating is often just as valuable for establishing a service connection for any future cancers as it is for the immediate VA disability benefits received.
In This Article About Veterans with HPV:
- How Does the VA Assign the Disability Rating for HPV?
- Are Warts Caused by HPV a Disability?
- Are Cervical Lesions Caused by HPV a Disability?
- What is the Disability Rating for HPV?
- What is the VA Disability Rating for HPV-Related Cancer?
- How Can HPV Be Service Connected?
- Using Testimony to Overcome Incomplete Records
- Misdiagnosis During Service
- Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities from HPV
- Can You Claim a Special Monthly Compensation for HPV?
- Overcoming Obstacles to Obtaining an HPV Disability Rating
How Does the VA Assign the Disability Rating for HPV?
For most conditions and diseases, the VA uses a rating schedule to assign a VA disability rating. These rating schedules group together symptoms and assign a rating for each group of symptoms.
However, the VA’s regulations do not provide a rating schedule for HPV. In fact, the VA has opined that HPV, by itself, is not a ratable disability. Instead, an HPV VA disability rating is based on the residuals manifested as a result of the HPV infection.
Are Warts Caused by HPV a Disability?
Yes. Chronic, recurring warts that are caused by HPV can be rated as a skin condition. For a relatively small outbreak covering less than 5% of the body or exposed area, the rating is based on the treatment necessary to control the outbreak.
- Topical treatment: If the warts have been controlled with topical treatment over the most recent 12 months, a rating of 0% is granted.
- Systemic treatment: If the warts can only be controlled with systemic treatment, like medication, photo treatment, or immunosuppressants, a rating of 10%, 30%, or 60% is granted depending on the number of weeks of systemic treatment over the preceding 12-month period.
Are Cervical Lesions Caused by HPV a Disability?
Yes, if they cause certain symptoms. If cervical lesions do not cause symptoms, they are not a ratable disability. In other words, the VA has opined that abnormal cells in the cervix cannot form the basis of a VA disability claim. According to the VA, cervical dysplasia is neither a disability nor an injury but a test result. Without accompanying symptoms, the test result by itself is not ratable as a disability.
Most cervical lesions occur without symptoms. However, some cases include symptoms such as:
- Bleeding: Vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods and unrelated to menstruation.
- Discharge: Vaginal discharge.
- Abnormal menstruation: Heavy, irregular, or painful periods.
- Pain: Pelvic pain, particularly during sex.
For cases that present symptoms that do not require treatment, the VA will issue a rating of 0%. If the symptoms of cervical lesions can be controlled with continuous treatment, a rating of 10% will be issued. If the cervical lesion symptoms cannot be controlled, the VA will assign a rating of 30%.
What is the Disability Rating for HPV?
The disability rating for HPV is the aggregate of the ratings for the symptoms (residuals) of HPV. Thus, suppose a veteran’s case of HPV causes chronic warts that require systemic treatment and cervical lesions that result in heavy periods and pelvic pain that require continuous treatment. The VA would assign a rating of 10% for warts and 10% for pain and abnormal menstruation.
These VA disability ratings would be aggregated using VA math. VA math is not simple arithmetic, but rather a formula used to approximate the impact of multiple disabilities on a veteran’s “whole body.” Using our free VA disability calculator, two 10% disability ratings produce an overall HPV disability rating of 20%.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
What is the VA Disability Rating for HPV-Related Cancer?
If service-connected HPV develops into cancer, the cancer would be the ratable disability. Again, HPV is only ratable by the conditions and diseases it causes. If a case of HPV causes cancer, the VA would use the ratings table for the particular type of cancer to assign a disability rating.
The way that the VA rates cancers has been addressed in other articles. Briefly, however, malignant neoplasms of the gynecological system, such as cervical cancer known to be caused by HPV, are rated at 100% from the time the cancer is diagnosed until six months after treatment ends. So, for example, if you are diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2018 and you undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatment from October 2018 until October 2019, you will be entitled to a 100% rating from October 2018 until April 2020.
Six months after cancer treatment is completed, the veteran is reassessed, and a rating is assigned based on the residual symptoms present at that time. Thus, if you still have pelvic pain and heavy periods six months after treatment for cervical cancer, you would be entitled to a 10% rating for menorrhagia.
If you are a Gulf War or post-9/11 era veteran who was exposed to toxins from burn pits during service, reproductive cancers are considered presumptive conditions in qualifying cases, meaning you would not need to prove the connection between your service and your cancer of any reproductive organ.
How Can HPV Be Service Connected?
To receive disability benefits, your disease must be connected to your service. In most cases, the service connection is established by showing that HPV was contracted during a veteran’s time serving in the military.
This is where a veteran’s military medical records can help establish the service connection. If a veteran has no warts and has normal pap smear test results upon entering the service, then complains of warts or an abnormal pap smear test during their service, the logical inference is that HPV was contracted during the veteran’s service.
Unfortunately, for some service members, embarrassment might have caused them to avoid seeking medical help for warts, particularly genital warts. As the name suggests, HPV is an infectious disease that is acquired from an infected person.
Moreover, while sexual contact is not the only way HPV is transmitted, it is a common transmission pathway. As a result, service members might seek treatment from non-military doctors or suffer in silence so that the stigma of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) does not make its way into their medical records.
Using Testimony to Overcome Incomplete Records
While this could create an obstacle to later obtaining VA disability benefits after the service member is discharged, it does not create a complete block. The VA can consider both non-military medical records and lay testimony from the veteran and anyone the veteran told about the infection.
For example, in one case, a veteran seeking disability benefits for HPV was treated for genital warts while serving. However, the veteran’s service treatment records did not include any record of treatment for genital warts. Whether due to an oversight or due to a medical corpsman trying to do the veteran a favor, the corpsman did not record the cryotherapy the veteran underwent to treat genital warts.
The VA was willing to look past the service treatment records and the veteran’s own statement in his discharge papers stating that he did not contract any STIs during his service. Instead, they allowed the veteran to testify that he suffered from genital warts and sought treatment for them while serving. They also allowed a statement from a service member who served with the veteran and was aware of the veteran’s genital warts. Ultimately, the VA weighed the evidence in favor of the veteran and found that HPV manifested during the veteran’s service as genital warts.
Misdiagnosis During Service
A service connection can be established even if the veteran’s case of HPV was undiagnosed or misdiagnosed during their service. For example, in another case, a veteran was diagnosed with chronic vaginitis during her service. The veteran also had an abnormal pap smear during her service that was never explained by her service treatment records.
Immediately after her separation from the service, the veteran was diagnosed with HPV. The VA reasoned that the vaginitis was a misdiagnosis and that the abnormal pap smear plus the diagnosis of HPV immediately after discharge established that the veteran had, in fact, contracted HPV during service, which entitled her to a service connection.
Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities from HPV
One of the most valuable aspects of having service-connected HPV is the ability to use that service connection for other disabilities, like cancer, caused by HPV. Under the VA’s secondary service-connected disability doctrine, a condition or disease that is caused by a service-connected disability can be the basis for VA disability benefits. This doctrine applies even if the secondary disability did not appear until years or even decades after your service ended.
For example, suppose you establish a service connection to HPV with medical records showing HPV manifested during your service. Even if your current VA disability claim contains only low-rated conditions like genital warts with a 0% or 10% disability rating, establishing a service connection will allow you to connect a later case of cancer that is caused by your HPV infection.
Thus, if a pap smear test shows possibly cancerous cervical cells, it may be worthwhile to begin the process of filing a VA disability claim. This claim can establish a service connection to your HPV in case the cells evolve into a malignant neoplasm. Since VA disability claims sometimes take years to resolve, starting one before you are diagnosed with cancer can put you in a position to receive HPV cancer VA disability benefits when you need them.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about one of the most important parts of a winning veteran’s disability claim: the nexus letter.
Can You Claim a Special Monthly Compensation for HPV?
The VA pays special monthly compensation (SMC) when a disabled veteran has lost the function of specific body parts or organs, such as hands, feet, or reproductive organs. If the symptoms of HPV for which you have obtained an HPV disability rating have caused you to lose function of your reproductive organs, you are entitled to claim SMC.
Overcoming Obstacles to Obtaining an HPV Disability Rating
One of the greatest obstacles to obtaining an HPV disability rating is the fact that most people with HPV are unaware that they had it. Some cases manifest as chronic warts, but many people fail to connect the warts to HPV particularly when the warts do not appear on the genitals.
Another obstacle to obtaining an HPV disability rating is that some service members conceal their HPV. This leads to incomplete service medical records that fail to support the veteran’s later claim for disability benefits.
Like many disabilities, establishing a connection between HPV and your service can be difficult. This is made even more difficult if the service medical records are incomplete.
Before filing a VA disability claim for HPV, it may be worthwhile to speak to a VA attorney who can review your claim and suggest additional evidence that might improve your chances of obtaining disability benefits. Moreover, a VA disability lawyer can help you respond to any rejections from the VA.
Schedule a free consultation online or call (866)232-5777 to discuss your claim with a VA attorney who can help you understand what HPV disability rating to expect, regardless of where you are currently located and whether you were deployed.