There are a few groups of veterans that got poisoned by water and are showing signs of scleroderma. An estimated 300,000 total Americans suffer from scleroderma. Are you one of them?
This connective tissue disease can directly impact your quality of life and affect different parts of your body. If you believe that your condition is linked to your time in active service, you could be eligible to receive compensation from the VA to help cover the cost of living with a scleroderma disability.
Today, we’re sharing everything you need to know about scleroderma, including the different ways it’s rated and how to apply for the benefits you need.
What we Cover in this Article on Scleroderma VA Ratings
- What is Scleroderma?
- How Scleroderma Affects Your Skin
- What Scleroderma Can Do To Your Digestive Tract
- When Your Fingers and Toes Show Scleroderma Symptoms
- Your Other Internal Systems
- What Causes Scleroderma?
- Establishing a Service Connection for Scleroderma
- Is Scleroderma a Permanent Disability?
- Can You Get Social Security Disability For It?
- VA Ratings for Scleroderma
- Ratings for Raynaud’s Disease
- Ratings for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- Find the VA Benefits You Need to Help Treat Scleroderma
What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma the name used to define a group of rare autoimmune diseases that harden and tighten both your skin and your underlying, connective tissues. For comparison, another type of autoimmune disease is rheumatoid arthritis, which causes painful inflammation in your joints.
Scleroderma, which tends to affect more women than men, usually develops in people who are between 30 and 50 years old. There is more than one type of scleroderma, and the symptoms and severity can vary greatly. In some people, the condition is mostly skin-level, while others have more significant internal damage.
In the latter, scleroderma can affect the systems and tissues that lie underneath the skin, including:
- Internal organs
- Blood vessels
- Digestive tract
While specific signs will vary depending on the specific type of scleroderma you have, there are a few characteristic symptoms that are important to learn. Let’s take a look at how this condition affects different parts of your body.
How Scleroderma Affects Your Skin
Nearly everyone who has scleroderma will experience some type of reaction on their skin. In most cases, this will look like hardened or tightened patches that can appear sporadically. Due to being stretched so tightly, the skin may even appear to be shiny.
In some people, these patches will be rounded and circular in nature. In others, they will appear as long, thin stripes. Some might even suffer from widespread patches that cover most of their extremities.
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What Scleroderma Can Do To Your Digestive Tract
In some people, scleroderma can extend into their internal systems, even affecting their digestive system.
If this happens, it can cause a range of symptoms, which can vary based on the part of the digestive tract that is affected. For instance, you may have difficulty swallowing if your esophagus is affected. Or, if your intestines are affected, you could experience cramping, constipation or diarrhea.
When Your Fingers and Toes Show Scleroderma Symptoms
If you suffer from systemic scleroderma, you might find that your fingers and toes tend to become cold and numb without warning. This is a symptom of Raynaud’s disease, which causes the blood vessels in those areas to contract. While this most often occurs in cold environments, the condition can also be triggered by instances of stress or emotional distress.
Your Other Internal Systems
Other types of scleroderma can also affect other internal systems in your body. This includes, but is not limited to, your:
This condition can affect the performance and overall health of these organs in different ways and to different degrees. If left untreated, these issues could grow more severe and even become life-threatening.
What Causes Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is caused by your body’s overproduction of collagen. This is a specific type of protein that’s usually found in your body’s connective tissues, but isn’t meant to be present in substantial amounts. When your collagen levels rise beyond normal limits, they can begin to accumulate in your body tissues.
There is not one type of experience that can cause an onset of scleroderma, but most can be traced to your body’s immune response. This natural reaction can be kicked into overdrive after exposure to certain irritants, which can trigger a negative auto-immune response in your body.
This is important information for veterans, especially those who believe they may have been exposed to dangerous fumes or chemicals during their time in duty. Let’s review a few of the instances where this might be the case.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Thyroid Issues
Did you serve at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River in North Carolina? If so, the VA admits that you could have been exposed to contaminants in your drinking water while there.
Both scientific and medical research shows a link between this exposure and the onset of certain medical conditions later in life. To be eligible for benefits surrounding this concern, both of the following must be true:
- You served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1953 to December 1987
- You did not receive a dishonorable discharge when you separated from the military
There are 15 total conditions that the VA links to this contamination exposure, and scleroderma is one of them. If found eligible, you and your family members could receive compensation.
Camp Pendleton Toxic Exposure
Located in California, Camp Pendleton serves as a Marine Corps training facility. The groundwater and soil are polluted to the point that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has included it on its list of Superfund Clean Up Sites.
In all, nine areas around the facility have been designated as contaminated. If you or your family members drank water at this site, it is possible that it was heavily polluted, which could lead to long-term health conditions. A few of the toxic chemicals found on-site at Camp Pendleton include:
- DDT (banned pesticide)
- Benzene (component of fuel)
- Heptachlor (EPA-limited pesticide)
- Methyl Ethyl Ketone (industrial solvent)
If you can link your onset of scleroderma to your Camp Pendleton toxic exposure, you could be eligible to receive VA benefits to help cover the cost of your care.
In this video, one of our clients that was in the Navy didn’t realize the ringing in his ears was a VA disability until long after his service.
Establishing a Service Connection for Scleroderma
Even if you’re unable to trace the onset of your scleroderma to either of these above instances, you can still be eligible for VA benefits. You simply need evidence that your condition began during your time in service, with medical records that can help support that timeline.
In addition to your VA Claims File, or C-File, you can also include your personal medical records, as well as any lay statements or buddy statements that can help explain the circumstances surrounding your condition. For more detailed guidance on what to include in your application, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide.
Is Scleroderma a Permanent Disability?
Currently, there is no cure or permanent treatment for scleroderma. This is a chronic condition and those who suffer from it will have it for their whole lives. That said, there are some treatments that can help ease the severity of your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If your condition is isolated to your skin, you may notice that your symptoms clear up on their own in around two to five years. Yet, if the condition is more invasive, it usually continues to worsen over time as it affects your internal systems.
Keep in mind that with a chronic condition, you could be eligible to adjust and increase your VA rating as time goes by and your symptoms worsen. With a disability like scleroderma, we will try from the beginning to get a permanent rating. That means you won’t have to risk losing or reducing your rating in 5 years.
Can You Get Social Security Disability For It?
Some people have severe cases of scleroderma that impact their ability to work or hold a job. If this applies to you, you could be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.
In order to receive these benefits, you must be able to prove that one of the following is true of your condition:
- Your scleroderma has lasted or will last at least 12 months
- Your scleroderma will result in death
Your approval will hinge on your ability to prove the severity of your symptoms, along with how they limit your ability to work or engage in everyday activities. While our legal team does not handle these types of claims, we can help connect you with a partner lawyer who can walk you through every step!
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VA Ratings for Scleroderma
When you’re researching the VA rating for scleroderma, you’ll find that a specific diagnostic code for this condition does not exist. Rather, you’ll need to find the code that best aligns with the symptoms you’re experiencing as a result of your scleroderma.
Some of the ones to look up include:
- Skin lesions
- Calcinosis of the fingers
- Limitation of motion in your joints
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Right or left knee synovitis
- Flat foot or foot pain
- Hiatal hernia/gastroesophageal reflux disease
Ratings for Raynaud’s Disease
Many of these symptoms, including calcinosis of your fingers and carpal tunnel syndrome, can be traced back to the Raynaud’s disease described above that many scleroderma patients also experience.
The VA ratings for Raynaud’s disease are found under VA 38 C.F.R. § 4.104: Schedule of Ratings: Cardiovascular System, Diagnostic Code 7117. The ratings are as follows:
- 10% rating: Condition causes characteristic attacks one to three times a week
- 20% rating: Condition causes characteristic attacks four to six times a week
- 40% rating: Condition causes characteristic attacks at least one time per day
- 60% rating: Condition causes two or more digital ulcers and a history of characteristic attacks
- 100% rating: Condition causes amputation, two or more digital ulcers, and a history of characteristic attacks
By “characteristic attacks”, this refers to the sudden tightening, numbness and loss of control you feel in your fingers and toes. In most cases, your skin will first turn white. Then, those digits will turn blue and cold, and begin to feel numb.
Ratings for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
If scleroderma affects your gastrointestinal system, you could experience symptoms related to gastroesophageal reflux disease. Commonly known as GERD, this occurs when your stomach acid flows frequently and uncontrollably back into the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.
This type of backwash is known as acid reflux. If left untreated, it can irritate and burn the lining of your esophagus. In terms of VA ratings, this condition is rated the same as a hiatal hernia. Both are found under 38 C.F.R. § 4.114: Schedule of Ratings: Digestive System, Diagnostic Code 7346.
The ratings for this condition are as follows:
- 10% rating: Condition causes two or more of the symptoms required for the 30% rating, but at a lower severity
- 30% rating: Condition causes recurrent epigastric distress, including regurgitation, pyrosis, or dysphagia, as well as pain in your arm, shoulder or below your sternum, considerably impacting your health
- 60% rating: Condition causes pain, vomiting, material weight loss and hematemesis or melena, as well as moderate anemia. This rating also applies if there are other symptom combinations present that severely impact your health
Ratings for Skin Conditions
Even if scleroderma only affects your skin and has not impacted your internal organs, you could still qualify for VA benefits. The VA rates skin conditions under 38 CFR § 4.118: Schedule of Ratings: Skin.
Symptoms related to scleroderma are usually found under Diagnostic Code 7821. This code covers all cutaneous (skin-related) manifestations of collagen-vascular diseases that are not listed elsewhere in the schedule of ratings. This includes:
- Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus
- Calcinosis cutis
This code is rated in accordance with the VA’s General Rating Formula for the Skin, which covers the following DCs:
- 7806: Dermatitis or eczema
- 7809: Discoid lupus erythematosus
- 7813: Dermatophytosis
- 7815: Bullous disorders
- 7816: Psoriasis
- 7820: Infections of the skin not listed elsewhere
- 7821: Cutaneous manifestations of collagen-vascular diseases not listed elsewhere
- 7822: Papulosquamous disorders not listed elsewhere
- 7824: Diseases of keratinization
The VA ratings for all of these conditions are grouped into four tiers:
- 0% rating: Condition causes characteristic lesions that involve less than 5% of the entire body or exposed areas affected, required no more than topical therapy over the past year.
- 10% rating: Condition causes characteristic lesions that involve between 5% and 20% of the entire body or exposed areas affected, required intermittent systemic therapy (e.g. corticosteroids, retinoids, immunosuppressive drugs) for fewer than six weeks total over the past year
- 30% rating: Condition causes characteristic lesions that involve between 20% and 40% of the entire body or exposed areas affected, required systemic therapy for at least six weeks total over the past year (not constantly)
- 60% rating: Condition causes characteristic lesions that involve more than 40% of the entire body or exposed areas affected, required constant or near-constant systemic therapy over the past year
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
Find the VA Benefits You Need to Help Treat Scleroderma
If you’re currently suffering from scleroderma that you believe began during your time in the military, you could be eligible to receive benefits from the VA. Our team works with veterans every day from all over the country. We have helped widows and widowers figure out if their deceased spouses got the benefits they earned in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or even stateside.
If you need assistance completing this claim, our VA disability attorneys are here to help. Contact us today for a free legal consultation.
Yes, if you can prove that your skin condition is service-connected. The VA will rate your condition according to the most-similar condition that they can find. They are required by law to align it with the condition that would give you the highest compensation, so make sure you have somebody double-check their decision.
Yes, if you can prove that your scleroderma was caused by some other condition that was service connected, you have a chance at getting it rated as a secondary condition.