Patches of your skin becoming discolored and pink when you are a veteran can be a sign of the stress or auto-immune response to vitiligo.
If you notice patches of your skin beginning to turn pale, you may wonder what could possibly be causing it. If these patches show up on your hands and face, especially around your mouth, you may have vitiligo. This disease isn’t dangerous or contagious, but it can have a serious impact on your life.
If you served in the military and you now have vitiligo, you could be entitled to VA disability compensation. Read on to learn more about this disease and how you can get vitiligo disability benefits for it.
What We Cover In This Article On Vitiligo Veterans Benefits
- What Is Vitiligo?
- Symptoms That Affect Veterans
- What Causes Vitiligo?
- Complications Amplify Mental Health Problems
- How It’s Diagnosed
- How the VA Rates Disabilities
- The Two Ways the VA Rates Skin Conditions
- Skin Area Calculations
- Vitiligo Ratings
- How to Qualify for VA Disability
- Preparing for Your Appointment
- Proving a Service Connection
- Getting a Medical Nexus
- VA Disability Compensation Rates
- What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied
- Get Vitiligo Disability Benefits
What Is Vitiligo?
Before we dive into how the VA rates vitiligo, let’s talk about what it actually is. Vitiligo is a disease that causes patches of your skin all around your body to lose their color. These patches can show up on any part of your body, including the inside of your mouth and even your hair.
Vitiligo can affect people of any ethnicity, though it does tend to be more noticeable in people with darker skin tones. These patches will grow and spread as the disease progresses and can cover significant portions of the body. While it is not contagious or inherently harmful, it can cause some self-esteem and mental health challenges.
Symptoms That Affect Veterans
The primary symptom of vitiligo is a patchy loss of color on the skin. This usually starts on the hands and face, as well as openings in your body, including your mouth, ears, and eyes. You may also see this loss of color starting on your genitals and around other bodily openings.
This loss of color can also extend to your hair and even your mucus membranes. You may notice patches in your mouth and the inside of your nose beginning to lose their color. Your hair may also start going prematurely gray or white in patches over your scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, or facial hair.
While some of these things (like losing your hair) can be a normal sign of aging, when they happen to you at a younger age, it may be a sign of vitiligo. Veterans that show symptoms while in service or shortly thereafter can get a VA rating for their condition for as long as a year after discharge.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is the result of pigment-producing cells dying or ceasing to produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that determines your skin tone – the more melanin you have, the darker your skin is. But when you have vitiligo, the cells in charge of producing that pigment die off or stop working.
There can be a few different reasons why these melanin-producing cells may suddenly stop working. Oftentimes, vitiligo is the result of family history or some variety of autoimmune conditions. It can also be the result of a high level of stress, severe sunburn, or severe skin trauma, including chemical burns.
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Complications Amplify Mental Health Problems
In and of itself, vitiligo is not a dangerous or contagious condition. However, it can have some complications that may leave the person at risk for other physical and mental health challenges. One of the primary complications vitiligo can cause is social or psychological stress and increased risk of isolation, depression, and anxiety.
Vitiligo can also leave you at increased risk for sunburn since you don’t have melanin in those areas to protect your skin. You may be at increased risk of eye problems and may need to focus on protecting your eyes. Vitiligo has also been linked with an increased risk of hearing loss.
How It’s Diagnosed
Your doctor will need to perform a visual examination, as well as some other tests in order to diagnose you with vitiligo. They will begin by asking about your medical history, including if you have a family history of vitiligo. They may also need to know if you have any other diagnosed autoimmune disorder and if you’ve had any recent skin injuries.
Your doctor may use a special lamp to examine the paler patches on your skin. They may also need to perform blood tests or even a skin biopsy in order to rule out other potential causes. It’s best to go prepared for any of these tests when you get ready for your appointment.
How the VA Rates Disabilities
If you served in the military and you now have vitiligo, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation. If your claim is approved, the VA will give you a disability rating. These ratings are expressed in percentages ranging from 10 percent to 100 percent, with most disabilities being rounded to the nearest 10 percent.
Your disability rating is meant to reflect how severely your condition impacts your ability to live a normal, healthy life. The higher the rating, the less able you are to live a normal life. Your disability rating will be the primary factor in determining how much compensation you’ll get from the VA each month.
The Two Ways the VA Rates Skin Conditions
Skin conditions are hard to summarize in a single percentage rating because they are so varied. They can present with a wide variety of different symptoms and can impact vastly different amounts of a person’s body. The VA has compromised by using two different rating systems for skin conditions: one based on area and one based on severity.
The VA has a special set of calculations you can do to figure out what percentage of your body is impacted by your condition. If math isn’t your strong suit, there are charts that can help you estimate roughly what percentage of your body is impacted. In rarer cases, the VA may also evaluate your rating based on how severe your condition is.
Skin Area Calculations
The VA has divided the body up into segments that roughly equal a given percentage of your body area. For instance, the skin on your head makes up about 3.5 percent of your total body area, the fronts of each forearm are 1.5 percent, and the top of each foot is about 1.75 percent. You can use these regions to calculate a rough estimate of your total affected percentage.
If you’re working with smaller patches, as in the case of vitiligo, you’ll need to measure each patch and add their dimensions to come up with their total area. Then you’ll divide the combined area of all your affected skin by the total area of all the skin on your body. For the purposes of VA ratings, you have about 2,636 square inches of skin on your entire body and 368 inches of exposed skin.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
The VA bases their ratings for vitiligo on how much of your exposed skin is affected. These areas include regions not easily covered by clothes, such as the face, hands, arms, and neck. You’ll need to calculate your area percentages using that 368 inches of exposed skin and only the patches that fall into this exposed skin category.
If your vitiligo affects these exposed areas of skin, you could be eligible for a 10 percent disability rating. However, if your discolorations are not in exposed areas, you may receive a rating of 0 percent. This does not mean your claim was denied, but it does mean you won’t receive any monthly compensation.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
How to Qualify for VA Disability
In order to qualify for VA disability compensation, you’ll need to meet three basic criteria. First of all, you’ll need to have an official diagnosis of your condition. This must come from a VA-approved doctor; almost any traditionally certified medical doctor will meet the required standards.
You must also be able to prove that your condition is connected to your military service. You’ll need to start by finding a specific incident or set of circumstances in your military service that could have caused your condition. Then you’ll need to have your doctor provide you with a medical nexus connecting the two.
The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Preparing for Your Appointment
Before you go to your doctor’s appointment, there are a few things you should do to make sure it’s as successful as possible. First and foremost, you should gather a comprehensive personal and family medical history. Your doctor will need to know if there’s any history of vitiligo in your family, as well as if you or anyone in your family has an autoimmune disease.
You may also want to get hands on a copy of your military service records before you go to your diagnosing appointment. This can help speed along the process of getting your medical nexus, as we’ll discuss in a moment. These records may also help your doctor make a firm diagnosis, as they can provide information about the incident that may have caused your condition.
Proving a Service Connection
Once you get an official diagnosis, you’ll need to start the process of proving a service connection. A service connection is a specific event or set of circumstances in your military career that could have caused your vitiligo. In this case, this could include a severe sunburn, chemical burns, or even high levels of stress.
In order to prove a service connection, you’ll need to get hands on your military service records. You can do this through your eBenefits account on the VA website. You can also visit your local VA office to get help finding the records you need.
When you call us, we go through an extensive series of questions to find the most likely service connections and additional disabilities you may have. We also know who to call and where to track down your medical records and other important evidence for your best claim.
Getting a Medical Nexus
With your service connection and diagnosis in hand, it’ll be time for you to get a medical nexus from your doctor. This is simply a certified statement confirming that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by the event you pointed out in your service record. If you get your service records before your diagnosing appointment, you may be able to get your medical nexus the same day.
A medical nexus prevents veterans from claiming disability compensation for injuries and conditions that started after they left the military. For instance, if you get in a car crash and get a concussion five years after you leave the service, you can’t claim VA disability compensation. But if you had a history of concussions in the military, you may be able to file a claim for traumatic brain injury.
VA Disability Compensation Rates
Once your claim is approved and you get your disability compensation rating, you’ll start receiving payments from the VA each month. Your disability rating will be the primary determining factor in how much compensation you receive. If you have a 10 percent disability rating, you’ll receive $152.64 per month tax-free from the VA.
You may also be able to get separate ratings for secondary conditions that combine with your vitiligo rating to give you a higher overall disability rating. For instance, your vitiligo may cause you to feel isolated, which causes you to develop depression. This is a separate, though connected, condition that can get its own rating.
What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied
Don’t get discouraged if your first VA disability claim gets denied. You can always appeal this decision, including all the way up to the BVA in Washington, D.C., if needed. You can also appeal disability ratings that you feel are unfairly low.
If your claim is denied, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer specializing in veteran affairs. We can help you navigate the confusing world of deadlines, evidence submissions, and appeals. They can also give you insider tips to help you make sure your next appeal is successful.
Get Vitiligo Disability Benefits
Vitiligo can be a challenging disease to live with, but you could be eligible for compensation from the VA. Talk to your doctor about your condition, and if possible, bring your military service records to your appointment. This can help you move along in the disability claims process and get the vitiligo disability benefits you deserve.
If you’d like help with your VA disability claim, 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.
Those are different conditions and their causes are different so you’ll want to go over your experience to have an accurate service-connection. Your family doctor will need to diagnose it but then call us and we can tell you about your application options.
Yes. VA Disability is awarded for conditions that are caused, made worse, or discovered during your military service. If it showed up in a VA medical record while you were serving, it is eligible to be service-connected. (This goes for any condition, not just skin conditions like vitiligo.)