A bulging or herniated disc can occur due to aging or physical injury. Regardless of the cause, the result is pain, numbness, discomfort, and weakness. If your military service caused or worsened an injury like this, you may be able to receive compensation from the VA.
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Back injuries are no joke. You may have shooting pain in your arm, leg, neck, or shoulders, making it almost impossible to get comfortable. Walking, standing, or sitting can make the pain worse. That doesn’t leave you a lot of options for how to spend your days, except in pain. If you experience back pain from an injury you experienced during your service, you may qualify for a bulging or herniated disc VA disability rating.
In this article about the herniated disc VA rating:
Bulging vs. herniated discs
To understand the difference between bulging and herniated discs, you should first understand what a disc is.
A disc is a cushion between your spine’s vertebrae. It comprises an outer layer of tough or strong cartilage with softer cartilage inside. People have 23 of these discs in their spine.
A bulging disc is when the cartilage in the disc stiffens, and the outer layer starts to stick out. This bulging usually happens on all or most of the disc.
Bulging discs are relatively common with age but can also result from physical activity. Lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling heavy loads can lead to bulging discs. Likewise, strenuous exercise, falls, and vehicle collisions can cause bulging discs.
A herniated disc is when a crack in the outer layer of cartilage causes some of the soft inner cartilage to stick out where the crack is.
Herniated discs are painful because the rubbery cartilage that’s protruding often irritates nerve roots.
Herniated discs can also happen with age but may result from an injury like lifting heavy objects, twisting while lifting something heavy, falling, or taking a heavy blow to the back.
Symptoms of bulging or herniated discs
Many of the symptoms of bulging or herniated discs are the same. Some people with mild conditions may have no symptoms at all. Others are not so fortunate.
Depending on the location and severity of the disc issue, you may have pain in your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, legs, feet, lower back, or buttocks. The symptoms may range in severity from tingling to numbness or severe shooting pain. In addition to nerve pain, a disc injury can also cause muscle spasms, muscle weakness, or loss of muscle control.
The pain you experience may worsen at night, when walking, when standing or sitting for long periods, or when you laugh, cough, or sneeze.
VA benefits for veterans with bulging or herniated discs
Although they are different injuries, the VA doesn’t differentiate between bulging discs and herniated discs when rating the conditions. They lump these injuries together as “intervertebral disc syndrome,” or IVDS.
The VA evaluates IVDS using diagnostic code 5243 in the Schedule of Ratings for the musculoskeletal system. Herniated or bulging discs will either be rated under the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine, or the Formula for Rating Intervertebral Disc Syndrome Based on Incapacitating Episodes. The VA will rate the condition based on whichever method results in a higher evaluation.
“Commonly, veterans with neck disabilities report difficulty driving due to an inability to fully turn their neck. And veterans with a back disability often report difficulty bending forward to tie their shoes or sitting down for a very long time in a chair that is not a recliner,” said VA disability lawyer Cecilia Ton. “By making the VA aware of the severity of your functional loss, that could trigger the VA to assign a higher rating.”
The VA defines an incapacitating episode as a period of time in which a person experiences intense, immobilizing pain or helplessness due to a disorder. Ankylosis is the stiffening or immobility of a joint, lordosis is the inward curvature of the spine, and kyphosis is an outward curvature of the spine.
Formula for Rating Intervertebral Disc Syndrome Based on Incapacitating Episodes:
|Description||VA Rating||Monthly payment (vet only)|
|With incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least 6 weeks during the past 12 months||60%||$1,3161.88|
|With incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least 4 weeks but less than 6 weeks during the past 12 months||40%||$755.28|
|With incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least 2 weeks but less than 4 weeks during the past 12 months||20%||$338.49|
|With incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least one week but less than 2 weeks during the past 12 months||10%||$171.23|
General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine
With or without symptoms such as pain (whether or not it radiates), stiffness, or aching in the area of the spine affected by residuals of injury or disease:
|Description||VA Rating||Monthly payment (vet only)|
|Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine||100%||$3,737.85|
|Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine||50%||$1,075.16|
|Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine; or, forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine 30 degrees or less; or, favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine||40%||$755.28|
|Forward flexion of the cervical spine 15 degrees or less; or, favorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine||30%||$524.31|
|Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 60 degrees; or, forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 15 degrees but not greater than 30 degrees; or, the combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than 120 degrees; or, the combined range of motion of the cervical spine not greater than 170 degrees; or, muscle spasm or guarding severe enough to result in an abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour such as scoliosis, reversed lordosis, or abnormal kyphosis||20%||$338.49|
|Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 60 degrees but not greater than 85 degrees; or, forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 40 degrees; or, combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 120 degrees but not greater than 235 degrees; or, combined range of motion of the cervical spine greater than 170 degrees but not greater than 335 degrees; or, muscle spasm, guarding, or localized tenderness not resulting in abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour; or, vertebral body fracture with loss of 50 percent or more of the height||10%||$171.23|
Service connecting spinal disc conditions
You can connect a spinal disc condition to your military service.
If your condition existed when you joined the service but worsened during your time in the military, you may be able to service connect your disability.
Alternatively, if your bulging or herniated disc was diagnosed while serving, it is likely evidence for a direct service connection.
Finally, you could show that your condition occurred after your service. In this scenario, you’ll need to show that you are now diagnosed with the disability and connect it to your service. You can still get VA disability for the injury, even if it wasn’t documented when it occurred. You may need to establish when the injury happened by possibly providing lay statements from anyone who might be aware of the incident. If that is not possible, there can be other ways to argue service connection.
TDIU for bulging or herniated disc
In some cases, a veteran can be awarded a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) for a disc-related condition. This occurs when a veteran can’t obtain substantially gainful employment due to their condition. TDIU may be granted for a veteran’s bulging or herniated disc alone or may be granted based on the combined effects of other service-connected conditions.
Disc injuries can leave a veteran in almost constant pain. It can keep them from forming work-related tasks like lifting, standing or sitting for long periods, or doing much walking at all. Veterans who develop secondary conditions to their illness may struggle even more. When veterans apply for and are granted TDIU, they are compensated at the 100% disability rating level even though their condition is rated below 100%.
Veterans who can’t hold down a steady job that supports them financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of their service-connected disabilities are eligible for TDIU if they have:
- At least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling OR
- Two or more service-connected disabilities with at least one rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more
For veterans who don’t meet these rating criteria but still can’t work full-time because of service-related disabilities, there is still an opportunity to receive extraschedular TDIU.
“If you were injured while serving this country and are reading this review, I encourage you to contact Woods and Woods right away. They are always standing ready to assist veterans in need.”
J.B., a Navy veteran in VirginiaGoogle review
How our VA-accredited attorneys can help
If you have a service-connected condition that affects your ability to live and work comfortably, you deserve VA disability compensation. Contact Woods and Woods today for a free consultation to see how we can help. You only pay us if we win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
No, it’s not too late. Many service-connected disabilities don’t show up for years. We handle late-onset claims every day.
No, you can’t receive more than one VA rating for the same injury. The VA calls this “pyramiding,” and it’s illegal for VA to assign both. You can apply for multiple back disabilities, but you’ll only be granted one rating. The VA is required to give you whichever rating is the highest, so make sure you work with a VA disability lawyer to know the best route to take.