Back Pain and Getting VA Disability for Arthritis is a Double Pain in the Neck
When your back hurts from arthritis pain, the last thing you want to do is work through the VA Disability rating system to get a higher rating – or any service-connection in the first place.
The hard part about back pain is that it can be caused in so many ways. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be caused by trauma but also be hereditary. Physical injuries like strains or slipped discs can also cause back pain but be amplified by knee injuries. Wear and tear of carrying a 50-pound pack for 3 years uphill both ways can wear out joints and trigger osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and sciatica.
There are some veterans that are able to breeze right through the application process, with all of the right paperwork and medical events detailed in their C-File. There are others that get a lot of run-around about their condition, the causes, and the state of their disability. Since many forms of arthritis in your back are degenerative and get worse over time, the long and tedious VA disability claim process can be very discouraging. We know because we’ve helped thousands of veterans work through the process to the very end so they could finally put a new roof on their house or pay off debts that they incurred after years of living with a disability.
- Back Pain and Getting VA Disability for Arthritis is a Double Pain in the Neck
- Your Arthritis May Progress as Fast as your VA Claim
- Get Reports from Your Doctor about Changes in Your Symptoms
- VA Benefits for Various Back Injuries and Conditions
- How Arthritis in the Spine is Rated by Veterans Affairs
- VA Ratings for Spine Issues are Based on Movement, Pain, and X-Rays
- Different Types of Arthritis Can Get Different VA Ratings
- Bone Spurs Cause Burning or Tingling in Your Hands or Feet
- Don’t Wait Until Arthritis and Back Pain is Unbearable
- Get a Free Consultation from our Certified VA Lawyer Team
- You can get SSD for arthritis AND VA benefits for arthritis at the same time.
Your Arthritis May Progress as Fast as your VA Claim
Because it does take a long time to work through the VA application and appeal process, a lot of injured service-members or their surviving spouses give up before they even get started. Don’t do it! It’s worth working through the process with a certified VA disability lawyer to get the full benefits and compensation you deserve.
Very few veterans will receive VA benefits for arthritis in their neck and spine alone. Those types of claims almost always include some sort of injury to legs or arms, a PTSD rating, or some other service-connected injury. That combination automatically puts you into a range of combined ratings. Since the progression of your symptoms is critical to the level of your rating, you want to include all of these symptoms together in your application.
Back pain can be treated and solved if it is a certain type. If it doesn’t go away or it flares up every few weeks, it may be a sign of arthritis in your spine. If it flares up enough that it affects your job or keeps you in bed several times a year, you want to seek VA medical care and start your disability claim soon.
Get Reports from Your Doctor about Changes in Your Symptoms
As degenerative disc disease gets worse, it will help if you have reports from a doctor showing the change over time. You might also be able to submit a buddy statement that talks about how active you were 10 years ago before you entered the service and how you can’t play basketball or run a 5K like you used to. Showing that progression of arthritis in the lower spine will help show the VA that your condition is changing.
You can also submit a statement from past employers about what kinds of special concessions needed to be made for you and your back pain. If you couldn’t lift heavy weights, couldn’t sit for long periods of time, couldn’t stand for long periods of time, whatever. You can put us in touch with your past co-workers or boss to prepare a statement about your disability.
VA Benefits for Various Back Injuries and Conditions
Whether you have full-blown degenerative disc disease or a few bone spurs, the process is the same.
- Establish a service-connection to your disability
- Clearly show the effects of your disability on your life
- If you cannot work, show proof that you have tried and failed to work at various jobs
- Attach statements from friends and others in your unit
- Apply for any other secondary service-connected disabilities
- Include requests for SMC (Special Monthly Compensation) if you need that too
As you submit your application to the VA, that will trigger their “duty to assist” rules. You’ll have a C&P exam and the VA will have to verify or deny every disability you report. You don’t want to waste their time claiming things that will be denied, but you don’t want to miss anything either. Back pain can be a symptom of fibromyalgia, diabetes, or other more serious spine injuries, so you want all of it checked out.
You can also service connect the increased injury to your joints. If you have a medical record showing back pains before you enlisted, you can apply for disability because your military service made a previous condition worse. Depending on what your condition was, carrying that heavy pack or jumping out of an airplane could have made it worse. That gap is worthy of a VA rating. It will take twenty-nine 10% ratings to add up to 100% TDIU, but every rating counts when you are doing VA Math.
How Arthritis in the Spine is Rated by Veterans Affairs
When you talk to the VA or your doctor, they are going to talk about Cervical spine issues and thoracolumbar spine issues. You can even download the form they use to review it all right here. You can prepare for your C&P Exam by understanding what kinds of things they are going to look for.
Cervical Spine ratings have to do with your neck. Cervical flexion is the measure of how much you can turn and tilt your head at the shoulder.
Thoracolumbar ratings have to do with the lower back. Can you bend over forward, lean to the left and right and turn at the waist? All of those movements involve the thoracolumbar spine area.
If you reach over your shoulder and touch your back, you’re reaching the cervical area. If you reach around to your back under your arm, you are touching the thoracolumbar area of your back. If you can’t reach back there in any direction without shoulder pain, then we need to talk about that too.
VA Ratings for Spine Issues are Based on Movement, Pain, and X-Rays
At your C&P Exam, they will measure your flexion (FLEK-shun) in your neck and back. You can see in this picture from CFR 38 Section 4.71a that they are still measuring it the same way they were measuring it 20 years ago.
If you have arthritis in your back, you will probably have limited flexion. Limited flexion can be the result of bone spurs or ankylosing spondylitis. That means some of the joints have fused together and no longer move independently of one another. This can cause a lot of pain because the natural shock-absorber between the joints is also not working.
Of course, your back is going to hurt after carrying 100 pounds of the lightest gear ever made, but if it continues to hurt for years, you want to get an exam. An X-Ray or MRI can help prove your case for an injury, but many forms of arthritis don’t show up on X-Rays or MRIs. They can show bone spurs or fused joints but don’t always show swollen joints.
Blood tests can also reveal some kinds of arthritis. While not all people that have the genetics get arthritis, there are other factors such as smoking, stress, and environmental conditions that can bring it on. A drone pilot sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day could have back pain for being sedentary just as a calvary scout could have a jammed sciatic nerve from sliding down the side of a rock-hill in Afghanistan. Since a lot of the causes of arthritis are unknown, these could all be presented as factors.
Different Types of Arthritis Can Get Different VA Ratings
Depending on the type of arthritis you have, the warning signs will show up in different ways. Ankylosing spondylitis is a form that sets in when you are under 45 years old. The pain comes on during the night, which is going to cause insomnia or symptoms similar to sleep apnea. Blood tests can show heightened inflammation and pain when you are still for a long time (like in bed.) Osteoarthritis happens in more concentrated spaces and might have started at a specific point. If you have back pain in a specific spot ever since you fell off of that truck, that might be osteoarthritis.
Arthritis in the shoulder and neck could be rheumatoid arthritis. It begins in smaller joints like fingers and elbows, but can also affect your joints at the base of your skull. Turning your head side to side, or looking up and down would all become limited as RA sets in around those joints. Osteoarthritis is not going to spread. It is like not having enough cushion around your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is the opposite. It is like having too much fluid around your joints, so they become swollen.
If rheumatoid arthritis is spreading around your body, your VA rating should take that into account. You can get a higher VA rating for arthritis that causes incapacitating episodes than you can for monthly pains in your neck.
Bone Spurs Cause Burning or Tingling in Your Hands or Feet
Sometimes back pain is caused by osteophytes or bone spurs – bony projections that form along the edges of your joints. The hurt just by being there. They can even break off and get into your joints and cause even more pain. They are caused by injury and inflammation around a joint that can come from tendonitis or osteoarthritis.
What might first be back pain can be a signal about other illnesses. Bone spurs can be treated and relieved, but if the burning and tingling continue, they could be a sign of circulation/cardiac issues. Bone spurs don’t have a VA Rating of their own. You can’t get VA Disability for bone spurs, but you can get a rating for pain or other related back issues.
Don’t Wait Until Arthritis and Back Pain is Unbearable
You want to get your claim started with the VA as soon as possible because it takes a long time.
- The VA loses paperwork
- They require new medical examinations
- Laws can change and budget restraints from Washington can affect the flow of cases at the VA
- Your conditions can improve or decline while you are waiting for the VA to make a decision
Don’t sit and wonder what the VA thinks of your disability rating, apply and begin the process of getting a direct decision.
Get a Free Consultation from our Certified VA Lawyer Team
Many people think they can’t afford a lawyer to help them with their VA claim. The fact is that we are only paid a fifth of your backpay and case expenses once we win your case. While our writers and doctors and lawyers and case managers work on your case, they are paying it forward — sometimes for 10 years — before we ever get paid for your case. Some firms charge up to 30% with fees on top of that, but we don’t get paid until the day you get paid.
You can get SSD for arthritis AND VA benefits for arthritis at the same time.
If you are already getting social security disability for arthritis in your back and you are a veteran, you can also get VA benefits for the same injury. While the Social Security Administration rates disabilities differently and for different reasons, they allow overlaps. Talk to us about your current disabilities and we’ll let you know if they might also qualify for VA benefits. Depending on your disability and the documentation, you can even use the same doctors’ reports and former employer statements in your VA case. They are completely separate branches of the government, but they sometimes consider one branch’s approval as they approve your VA benefits.