Are you a military veteran who now suffers from low back pain? If so, you’re not alone. According to a survey of 11,000 American Gulf War veterans, 17% reported severe back pain.
A lumbosacral strain can affect your ability to take part in normal daily life. Applying for your Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability rating is often challenging. As you will read in this article, you don’t have to go through this alone.
What We Cover In This Article About Lumbosacral Strain VA Benefits
- Anatomy of the Lumbosacral Region
- What Is Lumbosacral Strain?
- What Activities in the Military Cause Lumbosacral Strain?
- How Does a Lumbosacral Strain Impact Your Lifestyle?
- How Are VA Ratings Assigned?
- How to Calculate Your VA Disability Benefit
- VA Ratings for Back Problems
- How Does Lumbosacral Strain Compare to Other Back Problems?
- VA Disability Application Process
- What We Do For You
- How Long Does a VA Disability Claim Take?
- Can You Appeal Your VA Rating?
- Do You Need Help with Your VA Disability Claim?
Anatomy of the Lumbosacral Region
The lumbosacral (lum′bō sā′krəl) spine includes the 5th lumbar vertebra (L5) through the 1st sacral vertebra (S1). This is the transitional region between the lumbar and sacral spine.
The lumbosacral region manages the load transfer from the spine into the pelvis and legs. This “load transferring” increases the risk of traumatic injuries, degeneration, and disc herniation.
The intervertebral discs lie between the boney vertebrae. These discs have a soft, pulpy inside with a tough, fibrous outside. An injury can often cause the disc to push out from between the vertebrae. This can cause pressure on the spinal nerves.
Spinal nerve roots leave the spinal cord through the 4th lumbar to the 3rd sacral vertebra. The five nerve roots join to form the sciatic nerve.
This is the largest nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerve sends and receives messages from the buttock and thigh. It also extends down the leg to the heel and sole of the foot.
What Is Lumbosacral Strain?
The generic medical term for low back pain is a lumbosacral strain. This describes a tearing of the low back muscles and tendons.
Low back pain may also occur due to other problems. Examples include:
- Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal column causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
- Spondylolisthesis which means the vertebrae are slipping out of position
- Lumbosacral radiculopathy is a disease of the lumbar spinal nerve root and can compress the spinal nerve root
- Lumbosacral radiculitis describes swelling of the nerve root in the early stage of radiculopathy
- Lumbosacral spondylosis refers to wear and tear on the lumbar spinal discs causing bone spurs and shrinking discs
- Ankylosing spondylitis describes arthritis in the spine that causes the spinal joints to freeze in place
Each of these conditions can cause pain in the low back, buttocks, legs, and feet. The individual may also experience weakness and loss of function.
What Activities in the Military Cause Lumbosacral Strain?
As stated earlier, many military personnel experience back problems. This back pain results from time spent carrying 100 pounds of the lightest kit in the world. Military members now also have more deployments which multiplies the back strain.
Many job activities contribute to back pain. This includes jumping, quick pivoting, and running. The repetition of stress and trauma contributes to spine and joint problems.
What are some common disabilities that add up to 100% TDIU? Here are some examples from one of our VA disability lawyers.
How Does a Lumbosacral Strain Impact Your Lifestyle?
When you have ongoing low back pain, it changes how you take part in daily activities. Sitting for over 15 minutes can increase your pain. You may find it necessary to use a roll behind your low back or elevate your hips and knees to feel comfortable.
This also impacts driving. Some individuals need to wear lumbosacral support when driving to decrease pain.
Low back pain often increases with prolonged standing as well. Stooping, kneeling, or squatting can prove more difficult. Thus, lifting objects may not be an option. Even reaching overhead can cause pain.
Many people with low back pain find it hard to sleep due to the pain when lying down. You may have to get a new mattress and use pillows to achieve a comfortable sleeping position.
Individuals with these symptoms may not be able to complete a workday due to pain. They can’t take part in social or family activities. Back pain can effectively stop a person from participating in life.
It’s easy to see why a veteran with Lumbosacral Strain would be hoping to get 100% TDIU if he/she can’t work.
One of our VA disability lawyers talks in this video about back pain and secondary service connections from pain killer side-effects.
How Are VA Ratings Assigned?
The VA disability rating describes the severity of your medical condition due to military service. Your monthly disability compensation depends on your disability rating. This also determines your eligibility for other VA benefits.
The disability rating is expressed as a percentage. The intent is to describe the percent that your disability decreases your health and functionality. The VA uses the following criteria to decide your disability rating:
- Medical evidence submitted, such as doctor’s reports or medical test results
- If required by the VA, the results of your VA claim examination
- Other requested information from sources such as federal agencies
Some veterans have more than one medical problem. In this case, the VA combines the disability rating. Yet, it’s more complicated than adding the ratings together.
The VA uses the “whole person theory” method to decide your total VA disability rating. It can’t exceed 100% because no one can be over 100% able-bodied.
What if you had a medical condition before enlisting that got worse due to your military service? The VA will determine how much your military service “aggravated” your condition.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers explains how VA math is used to combine, not add, multiple disability ratings.
How to Calculate Your VA Disability Benefit
How can you run a calculation to estimate your veteran’s disability benefit? This is not an easy task. Good news, just click on this link to get a veteran’s disability calculator.
This free calculator helps you compute your VA disability rating. “VA math” doesn’t follow conventional math rules. An 80% disability plus another 20% disability won’t add up to a 100% disability rating.
To use the calculator, follow each step and enter your information. This will give you the current 2020 rating.
VA Ratings for Back Problems
The VA uses a general formula for back problems primarily based on your range of motion. Make sure that the provider precisely measures the angle that you can move in all 6 directions. This must be documented for you to receive your proper compensation.
The following information describes the VA ratings for 3 common back conditions.
A lumbosacral strain diagnostic code is 5237. The ratings for this condition may range from 10% to 100%.
Ratings between 10% and 40% are given, in part, based on your ability to bend forward and move in the other 5 directions. Ratings between 50% and 100% are based on the level of ankylosing spondylitis present.
Degenerative Disc Disease
The VA assigns a diagnostic code of 5003 for degenerative disc disease. They examine the level of degeneration and the number of joints affected. Another criterion considered is the frequency of incapacitating episodes you experience.
The VA often gives a 10% to 20% rating based on how severe your symptoms are.
Intervertebral Disc Syndrome (IVDS)
The diagnostic code of Intervertebral Disc Syndrome (IVDS) is 5243. The VA evaluates how often and for how long veterans are bedridden due to IVDS. Using this criterion, they determine the percent of disability.
How Does Lumbosacral Strain Compare to Other Back Problems?
Everyone has different pain experiences. Back pain is often described from dull, constant aching to sharp, shooting pain. This pain can hit without warning when you move a certain way or lift something.
The medical community divides back pain into 2 categories.
Acute pain describes pain that lasts less than a few days to a few weeks. This pain often gets better on its own. Most of the time, there’s no loss of function once the pain resolves.
Chronic pain continues for 12 weeks or more. It may begin as an acute event but doesn’t resolve.
Treatments for chronic back pain may or may not reduce the pain. It’s important to know the meaning of the medical terminology used to describe back problems.
- Sprains describe overstretched or torn ligaments
- Strains mean that a tendon or muscle has torn
- Spasms describe a sudden contraction of a muscle or muscle group
A traumatic spine injury may cause compression of the spinal cord, displacement of discs, or ruptured discs.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers gives tips for your C&P Exam.
A lumbosacral strain means ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles have torn. This may result from trauma or overuse. It’s common to experience significant pain and a decreased range of motion.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) or osteoarthritis of the spine describes vertebral disc problems. These discs lose their fluid pulp inner layers. They can become displaced or rupture.
Individuals with DDD have pain, numbness, and tingling in all 4 extremities. Their function is often significantly compromised.
Intervertebral Disc Syndrome
Have you heard of someone having a bulging or herniated disc? The medical diagnosis for this is Intervertebral Disc Syndrome (IVDS). The nerve root becomes irritated due to pressure from the displaced disc.
This causes sharp, chronic pain. Patients also complain of numbness, tingling, and weakness in their legs.
VA Disability Application Process
The VA disability application process can be confusing. Some attorneys specialize in assisting veterans with this application process. They can answer your questions and help you navigate the system.
The following is an outline of the application process.
You have 3 ways to submit your VA disability claim. You can use the online system which will give you a message once the claim is submitted. Another option is to use the eBenefits method which sends a completion message in about one hour.
The third way is via the U.S. mail service. After the VA receives your application, you will get a confirmation letter in about one week.
Your application is then reviewed by a Veterans service representative (VSR). They will make sure you’ve included all the necessary information.
Collection of Evidence, Review, and Decision
This individual may ask you to provide evidence to support your claim. This information can come from healthcare providers, government agencies, or other sources.
The VSR reviews all the evidence and then makes a decision.
The next step is to compile the claim decision packet. Once this step’s completed, it will be ready for mailing.
Completion of Claim
Your claim decision packet is then mailed via the U.S. postal service. This may take 7 to 10 business days to arrive at your location.
Here is a review from one of our past clients who almost lost his VA disability.
What We Do For You
We handle all of these forms and their respective timelines. We help answer your questions and interview you as we fill out any possible forms that you’ll need. We also know how to look for other conditions that you may not realize are eligible for VA disability. We look over your entire medical record, reviewed by on-staff doctors familiar with VA law, and other records in your C-File.
We do all of this at no charge. We only charge a fee once we’ve won your case.
How Long Does a VA Disability Claim Take?
As of April 2020, VA disability claims were taking, on average, 105.9 days for completion. This timeframe depends on the type of claim that you file.
If you have several injuries or disabilities, this creates a more complex and time-consuming claim. Delays in the collection of evidence can also contribute to longer turn-around times.
Can You Appeal Your VA Rating?
Yes, absolutely! If you disagree with the claim decision you receive, you may appeal. Having an attorney who’s knowledgeable about the VA appeal process can be helpful. There are 3 ways to make your appeal.
If you have new, relevant evidence that wasn’t filed before, you can submit a Supplemental Claim. You also have the right to request a more senior reviewer to conduct a Higher-Level Review.
After filing a Supplemental Claim or requesting a Higher-Level Review, you still might not agree with the decision. At this point, you can appeal to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Common reasons for veteran appeals include a low rating or a worsening of their condition. If you feel your rating is too low, a VA benefits appeal lawyer can help you with your appeal. It’s important to know that you only have one year to file an appeal.
If you have more mental or physical impairments after your disability rating, you can appeal. With the help of an attorney, you can prove your increased level of disability. It’s important for the VA to have sufficient evidence to increase your disability rating.
Do You Need Help with Your VA Disability Claim?
This article provided a comprehensive guide to understanding VA ratings related to a lumbosacral strain. Have you completed the application process? Are you unhappy with the results and wish to file an appeal?
If you need any help filing or appealing a VA disability claim, contact Woods & Woods. We’re experienced Veterans Disability Compensation Benefits lawyers. We have been fighting for our clients’ rights since 1985.
If you have symptoms that overlap and your C&P Exam finds that you have a different condition, the VA is required to give you whatever helps you get the highest rating. Whether it is a slipped disc or IVDS, whichever earns the highest rating is what they’ll diagnose you with.
Yes, if you can prove the lumbosacral strain was a secondary-connected condition to your service-connected knee injury. Secondary service connections can be a big help in getting a higher combined VA rating.