Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the spinal canal grows narrower and the nerves within it become pinched. Veterans experiencing this condition due to service may seek a spinal stenosis VA rating for disability compensation.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
VA disability for spinal stenosis is rated based on the severity of the condition and the veteran’s range of motion. If you’re a veteran who believes they have service-connected spinal stenosis, read on to learn more about the condition, how the VA rates it, and what you can do if your spinal stenosis keeps you from working.
In this article about spinal stenosis VA claims:
What is spinal stenosis?
Nerves run from the base of the brain down into the spine and out the sides to deliver messages throughout the body. The spinal canal, the tunnel-like space within the spine, is their super highway. Spinal stenosis is the condition that occurs when that space becomes narrower, putting pressure on or pinching the nerves, resulting in pain in the neck, back, and legs. Spinal stenosis most commonly affects the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis) and the neck (cervical spinal stenosis).
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis symptoms depend on where the narrowing occurs and how much pressure the nerves experience. Symptoms may include burning, numbness, tingling pain, and weakness, and they usually increase over time as spinal stenosis slowly develops. These symptoms can be felt in the neck, back, and down through the arms, legs, hands, and feet. They may be constant or come and go.
Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis in the lower back may also include heaviness and cramping in the legs. The condition often causes pain when walking, standing, and going downhill but is relieved by leaning forward, walking uphill, or sitting. Symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis may include balance problems and problems with the use of your hands.
Veterans with severe spinal stenosis may also experience symptoms related to bowel, bladder, and sexual functions.
Foraminal spinal stenosis
The openings on either side of the spine where the nerves leave the spinal canal are called the neural foramen. Foraminal stenosis is a type of spinal stenosis that occurs when these openings become narrower, which puts pressure on the nerves as they exit. The symptoms of foraminal stenosis are similar to those of general spinal stenosis, and the location of the symptoms depends on which opening is narrowed and which nerves are being pinched.
“The firm got me to 70%, and I was happy. Individual unemployability was awarded to me and to this day I’m so grateful. My future is no longer bleak. These people work very hard for you.“
R.C., a Navy veteran in HawaiiFacebook review
Causes of spinal stenosis in veterans
Wear and tear is to blame for many spinal stenosis cases. Repetitive use or overuse of joints can cause our ligaments to thicken, our bones and joints to grow, and our vertebrate discs to dry out and bulge. These factors can lead to less room in the spinal canal for our nerves.
“Think about all of the PT you did in combat boots, all of your ruck marches, all of the fast roping, rappelling, and parachuting. The wear and tear on your load-bearing joints may have been a minor issue when you were younger, but as you age, those injuries can no longer be ignored,” said VA disability lawyer Zack Evans.
Arthritis and spinal stenosis
Osteoarthritis is a common cause of spinal stenosis. Osteoarthritis wears away the cartilage in joints like the spine, and bones start to rub against each other, leading to disc degeneration. The body wants to grow new bone to combat this, but it shows up as an overgrowth of bone called bone spurs. These spurs can grow inward toward the spinal canal, narrowing the space and putting pressure on the nerves.
Other causes of spinal stenosis include injuries, surgeries, bulging discs, spondylolisthesis, tumors, fractures, infectious diseases, inherited diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Spinal stenosis VA rating
The VA rates spinal stenosis under diagnostic code 5238 in the Schedule of Ratings using the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine.
VA disability lawyer Cecilia Ton explains how this formula works: “The VA uses a general rating criteria for injuries and diseases to the spine. If you take a look at this rating code, you’ll notice that VA has equated certain range of motion scores with certain disability ratings. One of the ways you can show the VA that you are entitled to a higher rating is to point out that your range of motion scores fit with the higher rating code.”
When multiple areas of the spine are affected, ratings may be combined using VA math for a combined rating. For example, a cervical spine with forward flexion of 15° produces a VA disability percentage of 30%, and a lumbar spine with a total ROM limited to 120° produces a VA disability percentage of 20%. The 30% and 20% are combined using VA math for an overall VA disability rating of 40%. Veterans who cannot move any part of their spine may be determined to have “unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine” and given a 100% rating.
“I honestly believe that:
1) Dealing with that VA requires an expertise that many of us do not possess.
2) Woods & Woods made the difference.
Their savvy expertise in dealing with the VA and their commitment to their clients exemplifies a level of professionalism and commitment that seems not to be the standard in today’s world.“
C&P exams for spinal stenosis
Veterans seeking disability benefits for spinal stenosis will likely be asked to complete a compensation and pension (C&P) exam for their VA rating.
The physician will typically measure the veteran’s range of motion during this exam. Veterans’ ROM measurements represent the maximum angle they can move each section of the spine – bending backward, forward, side to side, and rotating to the left and right.
Physicians will also take note of the type, severity, and location of all of the symptoms the veteran is experiencing. If they haven’t already, veterans will likely undergo imaging tests such as a simple spine x-ray, CT scan, or MRI to see a cross-section of the spine to confirm the spinal stenosis diagnosis.
Spinal stenosis secondary VA rating
Spinal stenosis can be service-connected on a secondary basis. For example, veterans who have already received service connections for herniated discs may be able to receive additional VA disability benefits if it leads to a spinal stenosis diagnosis. Service-connected injuries are another possible cause of spinal stenosis that can lead to a secondary connection.
Spinal stenosis can also lead to additional disabilities. If your service-connected spinal stenosis has resulted in peripheral nerve issues, you may be eligible for additional VA benefits for peripheral nerve disabilities through a secondary service connection.
TDIU for spinal stenosis
Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) may be available for veterans with spinal stenosis who cannot maintain substantially gainful employment because of their symptoms. The effect of spinal stenosis on mobility and functionality can make it much harder for a veteran to perform specific job tasks, and regular flare-ups of pain can lead to many missed work days. TDIU provides a pathway for veterans to receive the same compensation as a 100% rating, even when their symptoms do not meet the criteria in the Schedule of Ratings.
To be eligible for schedular TDIU, veterans must have at least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR two or more service-connected disabilities, with one condition rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.
How Woods and Woods can help
If you need help applying for VA disability benefits or appealing a decision, contact us at Woods and Woods. Our team of VA-accredited lawyers, legal analysts, case managers, and support staff is here to assist veterans in getting the benefits they deserve. Reach out today for a free case evaluation. You only pay if we win your case.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
TDIU may be available for veterans with spinal stenosis who cannot maintain substantially gainful employment because of their symptoms. The effect of spinal stenosis on mobility and functionality can make it much harder for a veteran to perform specific job tasks.