Restless Leg Syndrome is one of those VA disabilities that your spouse and friends know you have, but you might not realize it. You can get a VA rating for RLS. Here’s how.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that may qualify veterans for VA disability benefits if you can prove a service connection. In many cases, veterans with RLS have other underlying or related conditions (e.g., sleep apnea, PTSD, etc.) that may also qualify for VA disability benefits.
RLS is a neurological condition that causes itching, burning, or other uncomfortable sensations. Itching or burning creates a constant urge to move the affected body part and, as the name implies, is most common in one or both legs. The symptoms of RLS are most noticeable during periods of rest – for example, at night when you are trying to sleep.
In this article, you will learn more about the causes of RLS and how it can make life difficult. You will also learn about VA disability for restless leg syndrome, including information about the specific VA disability ratings for RLS, details about the diagnosis, and what is required for the VA application process.
In this article about VA ratings for Restless Leg Syndrome:
- How Restless Leg Syndrome Can Affect Your Daily Living
- How Restless Leg Syndrome Differs from Comparable Conditions
- What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome and What Are the Treatments
- How to Get a VA Disability Rating for Restless Leg Syndrome
- VA Diagnosis of Your Restless Leg Syndrome Through a DBQ and a C&P Exam
- VA Disability Benefits for Medical Conditions Connected to Your Restless Leg Syndrome
- Steps for Further Questions or Help with Your Restless Leg Syndrome
How Restless Leg Syndrome Can Affect Your Daily Living
The level of disruption RLS can bring to your life will vary based on the severity of your condition and the effectiveness of doctor-recommended treatments. For some, RLS is a small inconvenience that is easily managed through medication or other lifestyle adjustments recommended by a doctor. For others, the effects of RLS are quite disabling and can lead to the onset of other conditions.
The uncomfortable sensation from RLS frequently occurs at night when you are trying to sleep. Stretching and other movements of the legs provide temporary relief, but this often leads to insomnia and sleep deprivation. The loss of sleep can make your daily activities more difficult and exacerbate other conditions, like depression and anxiety. Other effects of sleep problems caused by RLS include mental impairments such as memory loss, mood swings, and an inability to concentrate. All of this can disrupt your relationships with other people – both at home and at work.
While many experience discomfort from RLS at night, your RLS symptoms may happen during the day as well. This can be especially noticeable if your daily activities involve a lot of sitting or other sedentary events. If you work in an office, RLS symptoms make it hard to sit still and focus on work tasks. RLS can also make extended travel difficult because of the constant urge to move.
If you are concerned about possibly having RLS, you should consult a doctor to determine appropriate treatment, and to explore the VA disability benefits that might be available to you.
How Restless Leg Syndrome Differs from Comparable Conditions
Formally known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, RLS is a neurological condition resulting in abnormal feelings within the limbs. These feelings are typically described as an electric, throbbing, aching, itching, or burning sensation that creates a compulsion to move and stretch the affected limb. Feelings of muscle cramping or numbness, however, are not typically associated with RLS symptoms.
Although most common in one or both legs, RLS can also occur in other body parts like your arms. The condition is not specific to any particular age range and tends to worsen over time.
Despite the general worsening of RLS over time, it is not unusual for someone diagnosed with RLS to experience a reprieve from their RLS symptoms. These remissions often occur in the early stages of RLS, where abnormal sensations can disappear for weeks or months before returning. The speed at which your RLS develops is sometimes connected to whether you have other medical conditions associated with RLS. Those with related conditions may notice the severity of their RLS progress more quickly compared to those with no related conditions.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about the VA Rating Formula for Mental Disorders and Disabilities like PTSD.
Distinguishing Restless Leg Syndrome from Sciatica and Rapid Leg Movement Syndrome
RLS is frequently mistaken for two closely related conditions – sciatica and rapid leg movement. Sciatica is pain along the sciatic nerves, which run from the lower back down each leg.
RLS and sciatica are easily confused because the pain or abnormal sensations of both conditions happen in the same place – the legs. The key difference between the two conditions is that the pain from sciatica can be constant and exists regardless of whether you are resting or moving. The uncomfortable feeling from RLS, in comparison, happens when relaxed and resting.
Another medical condition mistaken for RLS is rapid leg movement syndrome, which is also known as periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). PLMD is a sleep disorder in which your legs or other limbs move uncontrollably after you fall asleep, causing disruption to the quality of your sleep. This differs from RLS, where the discomfort causes the urge to move your legs before you are able to fall asleep.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome and What Are the Treatments
For many diagnosed with RLS, the specific cause of their condition can be difficult to pinpoint. However, here is a list of common attributes associated with the cause of RLS:
- Genetics: There are particular gene variants associated with RLS, and it has been found to be hereditary, especially in families where RLS symptoms start before the age of 40.
- Chemical imbalances in the brain: RLS has been tied to those with low levels of iron in their brain. Additionally, dysfunction of the pathways in the brain responsible for the transmission of dopamine is also noted as a possible cause of RLS.
- Medication and other substances: RLS is sometimes attributable to or worsened by the use of certain medications, including antidepressants, anti-nausea, and antipsychotic drugs. The use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine is also connected to the onset of RLS.
- Neurological diseases: Those with Parkinson’s disease (a condition that affects dopamine pathways) or other neuropathy like sciatica have an increased chance of developing RLS. However, sciatica is a distinct condition, and its distinction from RLS is explained further below.
- Sleeping disorders: Sleep apnea and other comparable conditions that disrupt sleep are known to also trigger or increase the symptoms associated with RLS.
- Mental health conditions: Those with mental health conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also develop RLS. The causal connection between RLS and PTSD is especially important to understand given the increased frequency of PTSD among veterans due to their service.
Your doctor may recommend a range of possible treatments for RLS depending on the severity of your condition and other health factors. Some treatment possibilities include changes to your lifestyle such as avoiding substances that are linked to RLS, developing regular sleep habits, or starting an exercise program. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy for the affected limbs, including massages or the use of heat and ice. In more severe cases and where appropriate, your doctor may prescribe medication to address your RLS.
How to Get a VA Disability Rating for Restless Leg Syndrome
The process for obtaining VA disability benefits for your RLS will start by completing and submitting an application. The application will require submitting evidence of the condition for which you are seeking disability, along with evidence showing that the condition was connected to your service. For more information about the application process in general, please see our step-by-step guide, complete with answers to frequently asked questions.
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VA Diagnosis of Your Restless Leg Syndrome Through a DBQ and a C&P Exam
Because of the nature of the condition, there are no specific tests a doctor will use to diagnose RLS. Instead, your doctor will typically perform a physical examination and rely on a description of your symptoms and medical history for a diagnosis. In the case of RLS, the doctor performing the exam will look for the presence of five criteria and may use the international restless leg syndrome rating scale to determine their presence.
The criteria for diagnosing RLS include:
- An overwhelming desire to move your legs combined with an uncomfortable sensation.
- The urge to move your legs starts or gets worse while you are resting.
- The uncomfortable feeling and the need to move your legs is – to some extent – relieved by movement.
- The need to move your legs begins or worsens at night.
- These symptoms must not be caused by any other medical condition.
Due to the lack of objective testing for RLS, the VA will likely require you to complete a disability benefits questionnaire (DBQ) and undergo a veteran’s disability compensation and pension exam (C&P Exam). The C&P Exam will allow the VA to evaluate your RLS and determine the appropriate rating.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Ratings Methods to Determine VA Disability for Restless Leg Syndrome
Most medical conditions that qualify for VA disability benefits are given a unique diagnostic code that contains a rating schedule under Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Some medical conditions –like RLS – don’t have a diagnostic code but still qualify for VA disability benefits.
For cases involving RLS or other unlisted conditions, the VA relies on an analogous rating method to match your condition to a comparable diagnostic code. The VA will then use that diagnostic code’s rating schedule. There are a few possible diagnostic codes that the reviewing VA office may use to rate your RLS, depending on your unique circumstances.
In prior cases, the VA has used Diagnostic Code 8523, 8623, or 8723 for paralysis, neuritis, and neuralgia of the anterior tibial nerve to rate RLS. Under these codes, the rating ranges from 10 percent for moderate cases, to 30 percent for the more severe cases with complete loss of dorsal flexion in the foot. The VA has also applied Diagnostic Code 8103 for compulsive tics to rate RLS. Under Diagnostic Code 8103, the rating ranges from 10 to 30 percent depending on the frequency, severity, and muscle groups involved.
What to Look for When Hiring a VA Disability Lawyer
Here are 10 important details to look for when you hire a VA disability compensation lawyer for your application or appeal.
VA Disability Benefits for Medical Conditions Connected to Your Restless Leg Syndrome
The VA provides disability benefits for all ratable, service-connected conditions you have, up to a 100 percent rating. This is particularly important in cases of RLS because it is a condition that is often secondary to other conditions. Conversely, RLS may cause other conditions to develop that also qualify for VA benefits. Some conditions related to your RLS that may also qualify for VA benefits include:
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A rating for PTSD will vary from 10 to 100, percent depending on the frequency and severity of episodes that cause impairment to your daily activities.
- Sleep Apnea: Under Diagnostic Code 6847, a rating of 30 to 100 percent can be applied, depending on the frequency of your sleep apnea and whether breathing assistance devices are required.
- Musculoskeletal Conditions
Reviewing your medical and service history is an important step necessary to maximize your potential benefits by incorporating all service-connected conditions into your application. Even if one of your conditions has no direct connection to your service, it may still qualify for benefits because it is secondary to a condition that is directly connected. For example, your RLS may not have started until after your service ended, but if your condition is tied to service-connected PTSD, then it can still qualify for benefits.
If you are curious about what your potential benefits may look like, our free VA disability calculator is a useful tool that can help you find an estimate of your monthly compensation. The calculator determines your estimate based on your disability ratings and other information, such as your marital status and number of dependents.
Steps for Further Questions or Help with Your Restless Leg Syndrome
Applying for VA disability benefits for RLS can be a complex process because of the difficulty in evaluating the severity of the condition, its service connections, and whether it is related to other conditions.
Should you have any additional questions, Woods & Woods is a family-owned law firm with a large number of attorneys and staff available to assist you. In the event you were recently denied an application for RLS or believe there was a mistake with your rating, Woods & Woods is also experienced in the VA disability appeals process.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to better serve disabled veterans in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
Not quite yet. RLS can go away for a year and then come back, sometimes even worse. Keep a journal of when your symptoms went away so that you have an accurate record for your doctor. If they are gone for good and you can live a normal life, great! But if they come back and you have to start your claim all over, it will be hard to make up for lost time.
No. If the VA finds that your diagnosis is a different condition than what you originally applied for, they will simply give you a rating for the condition that you do have. Talk to our experienced team to make sure you apply for everything you deserve. The VA might not look into extra details to give you additional benefits for all of your conditions.