Sexually transmitted diseases aren’t something any of us like to think about or deal with, and in the world of STDs, syphilis has a particularly bad reputation but is increasing among veterans.
Syphilis can have very mild symptoms at first and then vanish for years before showing back up and doing enormous damage to your body’s major systems.
If you were in the military when you contracted syphilis, you could be entitled to compensation. Read on to learn more about this disease and VA disability ratings for syphilis.
In This Article About Veterans and Syphilis VA Ratings:
- What Is Syphilis?
- Primary Syphilis
- Secondary Syphilis
- Latent Syphilis
- Tertiary, Congenital, and Neurosyphilis
- Syphilis Causes and Spread
- Risk Factors for Syphilis
- Complications from Syphilis
- How the VA Rates Syphilis
- How VA Ratings Work
- How to Qualify for VA Disability
- Getting a Diagnosis
- Proving a Service Connection
- Getting a Medical Nexus
- VA Compensation Rates
- Learn More About VA Disability Ratings for Syphilis
What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is an infection caused by a bacterium that is usually spread through sexual contact. Initial symptoms are mild and painless, and the bacteria can live dormant in your system for years or decades. But if it’s not treated early, syphilis can become deadly, damaging everything from your heart and nervous system to your brain.
Syphilis causes sores on the mouth, genitals, and rectum, especially early in the disease. If another person’s skin or mucous membranes (mouth, nose, genitals, rectum, etc.) come in contact with those sores, the bacteria can pass to them. Early syphilis is easy to cure, but there is no vaccine against this disease, and late-stage syphilis can be deadly.
There are a few stages of syphilis, and each of them has distinct symptoms. It’s important to note that stages don’t always occur in the same order, and some of them may overlap. Many people may not experience symptoms past the primary stage for years or even decades before the disease reappears.
The initial symptom of syphilis is a sore called a chancre (pronounced “shanker”) that develops about three weeks after exposure. This sore is painless, and you may not notice it, since it can be located on or in the genitals or inside the rectum. The chancre will heal on its own and will disappear about three to six weeks after it initially appears.
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After your initial chancre goes away, you may experience the secondary stage of syphilis. During this stage, you might develop a rash that begins on your trunk. The rash isn’t usually itchy, but it will eventually cover your entire body, including the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.
During secondary syphilis, you may develop more sores in your mouth or on your genitals. You may have a sore throat, your muscles may ache, and you may begin to lose hair. Within a few weeks, your rash may disappear completely, or it may come and go for up to the next year.
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If you go through the first two stages of syphilis and don’t receive treatment, you’ll enter latent syphilis. This is the stage when the bacteria lies dormant in your body, causing no symptoms whatsoever. During this stage, you aren’t likely to pass syphilis to a partner, since the disease spreads through contact with the sores it causes.
The latent stage of syphilis can last years or even decades with no signs of the disease. You may live out the rest of your life without ever experiencing any of the later stages of syphilis. But once syphilis enters the latent stage, it can be difficult to cure, especially since you may not realize you have it until it’s far too late.
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Tertiary, Congenital, and Neurosyphilis
Between 15 and 30 percent of people who have syphilis will develop complications later in life known as tertiary syphilis. During this stage, syphilis does enormous amounts of damage to your body, attacking your heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. It can even kill you if left untreated, and diagnosis can be tricky, since it may be years since you were originally infected.
During any of the stages we’ve discussed, syphilis can also become neurosyphilis, spreading and attacking your brain, eyes, and nervous system. If a pregnant person has syphilis, they can also spread the disease to their baby during pregnancy or birth. These babies usually have no symptoms of the disease until later in life, when they may become deaf, experience tooth deformities, or develop a condition in which the bridge of the nose collapses.
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Syphilis Causes and Spread
The bacterium that causes syphilis is called Treponema pallidium. As we mentioned, the disease is usually spread through sexual contact, when a partner may make contact with one of the sores syphilis causes. In some cases (though these are not as common) syphilis can be spread through kissing or during pregnancy and childbirth.
Syphilis only spreads through direct skin-to-sore contact, and the bacteria can’t live on other surfaces. This means you can’t get or spread the disease by sharing eating utensils or using the same toilet seat, for instance. Syphilis also does not spread through doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, or other communal areas.
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Risk Factors for Syphilis
The biggest thing that increases your risk of developing syphilis is your sexual habits. People who engage in unprotected sex with a number of different partners tend to be at higher risk of encountering a syphilis chancre. This is especially true if one or both of the partners is not regularly getting tested for STDs.
People infected with HIV may also be at higher risk of developing syphilis since their bodies can’t fight off the bacteria as effectively. People who have anal sex, especially with partners of the same sex as them may be at higher risk, too, since syphilis sores can occur inside the rectum. It’s always good practice to use protection when having sex with a new partner and to get tested for STDs between every encounter with a new sexual partner.
Complications from Syphilis
During its tertiary stage, syphilis can cause a variety of severe and even deadly complications. People experiencing tertiary syphilis may develop small tumors on their skin, bones, liver, or other organs. These tumors are called gummas, and they usually disappear when you get treated with antibiotics.
Syphilis can also attack your nervous system, causing a number of serious problems. People with syphilis are at higher risk for stroke and meningitis, and they may experience hearing loss, vision loss, dementia, bladder incontinence, and loss of pain and temperature sensations. Syphilis can also cause your body’s major artery, your aorta, to swell, and the disease may damage your heart valves.
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How the VA Rates Syphilis
If you were in the military when you contracted syphilis, you could be eligible for VA disability compensation. The disability rating you get will depend in large part on how severe your symptoms are. If you’re in the latent phase of syphilis and experiencing no symptoms, you likely won’t get any compensation, even if you have the disease.
If you have tertiary syphilis, your disability rating will depend on which symptoms you’re experiencing and how severe they are. Mild symptoms like a limitation on your sexual life due to fear of spreading the disease could get you a 10 percent rating. Severe neurosyphilis could get you a 100 percent rating.
How VA Ratings Work
So what do these disability ratings mean and how do they work anyway? If the VA approves your application for disability, they will assign you a disability rating. These ratings are expressed as a percentage between 0 and 100 percent, and they are usually rounded to the nearest 10 percent for compensation purposes.
Your disability rating reflects how much your condition impacts your ability to live a normal, healthy life. The less your life is impacted by your condition, the lower your rating will be, and vice versa. These ratings are the primary factor the VA will use to determine how much compensation you receive each month.
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How to Qualify for VA Disability
In order to qualify for VA disability, you must meet three basic criteria. First of all, you must have an official diagnosis of your condition from a VA-approved medical professional. In the case of syphilis, as well as in most cases, your family doctor or any other traditionally licensed medical professional should be able to provide this diagnosis.
Once you have your diagnosis, you will need to be able to prove a service connection for your disease. This is an incident or set of conditions during your military service that could have caused your condition. And finally, you must have a medical nexus connecting the two.
Getting a Diagnosis
If you suspect you may have syphilis, the first thing you need to do is make an appointment with your doctor. Your primary care physician will be able to provide you with the tests needed for a diagnosis. You may even have gotten this diagnosis while you were still in the military if you noticed the initial chancre or developed the rash characteristic of secondary syphilis.
When you go in for your doctor’s appointment, they will likely draw some blood to test for syphilis. Your body produces antibodies to fight syphilis, and those antibodies will stay in your system even for years after the disease. If you have severe neurological symptoms as a result of late-stage syphilis, your doctor may suggest drawing some cerebrospinal fluid from your spine to test for syphilis.
Proving a Service Connection
Once you have your diagnosis, you’ll need to prove a service connection in your military history, In the case of syphilis, if you contracted the disease while you were in the military, no matter how it happened, you may have a service connection. The tricky thing with syphilis is proving when you initially contracted the disease.
If you developed and were treated for the sores or rash that characterize early syphilis, there may be documentation of that in your military service record. Otherwise, you may have to chase the disease back to the specific encounter in which you may have contracted the disease. If you contracted syphilis as the result of rape, that can provide a service connection, too.
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Getting a Medical Nexus
With your diagnosis and service connection in place, it will be time to get your medical nexus. A medical nexus is a statement from your doctor confirming that your condition is at least as likely as not the result of the incident in your service record. Your diagnosing doctor should be able to provide this medical nexus for you.
If possible, try to get your hands on your military service record and find your service connection before you go to your diagnosing appointment. This way, your doctor can provide your medical nexus on the same day as your diagnosis. This can help speed along your disability application process and get you compensation sooner.
VA Compensation Rates
The amount of compensation you receive from the VA each month will depend largely on your disability rating. If you have a rating of 10 percent, you’ll get $152.64 per month from the VA. If you have a 20 percent rating, you’ll receive $301.74 each month, tax-free.
For ratings of 30 percent and above, the VA will also consider whether you have people depending on you financially.
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Learn More About VA Disability Ratings for Syphilis
Syphilis is an insidious disease that can present with very mild symptoms at first and then disappear for years or even decades. When it shows back up, it can wreak havoc on many of your body’s major systems, including your brain, eyes, nervous system, and heart. If you contracted syphilis while in the military, you could be entitled to compensation, depending on how severe your symptoms are.
If you’d like to learn more about VA disability ratings for syphilis, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today and start getting the compensation you deserve.
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 serve disabled veterans better in difficult times.
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You may start pyramiding if you overlap symptoms on your VA disability application. The VA rates diseases and symptoms, but you can’t get rated on the same symptoms caused by two different diagnoses. Let’s talk about your medical history because the VA is required to give you the rating for whichever condition would rank highest. Don’t let them choose the cheapest option.
The VA doesn’t make a moral call on your condition. All they can do is rule if you got syphilis while you were enlisted or not. If you can prove the service-connection with your timeline and prove your current symptoms are connected to that, you are eligible for VA disability benefits. Call us for help getting it.