GERD VA Disability Rating & Claims

Numerous physical and psychological conditions can qualify a Veteran to receive VA disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, some of these conditions are more well-known than others. Some Veterans do not realize that they have service-connected conditions and could be eligible to receive monthly tax-free compensation. This is partly because many service-connected disabilities can be harder to identify and diagnose.

Many disabled Veterans deal with gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive system condition that can often be linked to military service. In this article, we will outline GERD symptoms to help you determine whether you are dealing with this chronic gastrointestinal disorders. In addition, we will also walk you through the process of qualifying for compensation for GERD, as well as what you can do if the VA denies your disability claim.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD) is a chronic disease caused by stomach acid flowing into the food pipe, irritating the lining of the esophagus. GERD is fairly common among Veterans, and lifestyle changes can typically treat it. However, some more severe cases of GERD may require medication. Most Veterans don’t know that they can file a GERD VA disability claim and receive disability benefits for service-connected GERD.

GERD: A Primer

GERD is a long-term condition where gastric acid and partially digested food flow from the stomach into the esophagus.  When this happens, it results in a painful sensation that is associated with heartburn. In milder cases, someone with GERD may assume that they simply have a bad case of indigestion. However, since GERD symptoms are often persistent, many of those dealing with the condition eventually seek treatment as their symptoms become more frequent and troublesome. 

GERD can eventually become a serious problem if a medical professional doesn’t treat it. Over time, stomach acid reflux damages the tissue lining the esophagus, causing inflammation and pain. In adults, long-lasting, untreated GERD can lead to permanent damage of the esophagus and sometimes even cancer. 

If you have been dealing with severe acid reflux for months or years, it is of great importance that you seek medical treatment. You may be dealing with GERD, which can be treated and prevented under the supervision of your healthcare provider. In addition, if you are a Veteran living with GERD, you may qualify for disability compensation for the condition. This compensation can help you cover any costs related to treatment for GERD.

GERD Symptoms 

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn: An often-painful sensation that typically occurs as a result of indigestion, heartburn is one of the most common symptoms of GERD. This symptom can sometimes be misattributed to run-of-the-mill indigestion, but in more severe cases, most people with GERD will experience heartburn that is much worse than what a big meal might cause. 
  • Nausea: GERD can also cause chronic nausea, also known as an upset stomach. Like heartburn, this symptom can easily be misattributed to indigestion, food intolerances, or other factors. However, nausea caused by GERD is typically chronic. 
  • Pain in the chest or upper abdomen: This symptom of GERD can be especially alarming for people with the condition. Some people with GERD may assume that they are having heart problems due to severe acid reflux. However, the severity of this symptom typically lowers as a treatment for GERD progresses. 
  • Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
  • Respiratory problems
  • Vomiting

When you lay horizontally to sleep, you may experience the symptoms of:

  • Coughing
  • Sleep issues
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Extreme discomfort in the chest and throat

Sometimes, GERD can coexist with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that is common in Veterans. If you are experiencing breathing problems at night and have been diagnosed with GERD, talk to your doctor about possible comorbid sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea and GERD, both conditions can potentially qualify you for disability benefits from the VA. 

Service-connecting GERD On A Direct Basis

If you experienced and have documented treatment for any of these symptoms while in service, you may be eligible to obtain disability compensation for GERD on a direct basis. For your GERD VA disability claim to be successful, it will need to be service connected. This means you will need:

  1. A current medical diagnosis
  2. An event, injury, or symptom that happened in-service
  3. A link, also known as a nexus, connecting your current condition to service

The VA should grant your claim if you have all three elements, resulting in VA compensation for GERD.

Secondary Service Connection For GERD

If you didn’t experience GERD symptoms until post-service, you could still obtain service for your GERD VA disability claim on a secondary basis. This is known as secondary service connection and means that another service-connected condition caused GERD. For example, if you take medication for PTSD and that medication has caused GERD symptoms as a side effect, you may file a claim for GERD secondary condition to PTSD.

Also, the medical evidence establishes that anxiety, including post-traumatic stress disorder, can lead to stomach acid overproduction. This, in turn, can lead to GERD. If you have PTSD and have been experiencing heartburn, nausea, and other symptoms of GERD, make sure to contact the VA. IF you are already receiving disability compensation for PTSD, you may be able to have your disability rating raised by qualifying for secondary service connection for GERD.

<h3> How The VA Rates GERD </h3>

If the VA grants service connection for GERD, they will rate the condition based on the presence and severity of your symptoms. Therefore, it is important at the beginning of your claim you provide written communication on the severity, frequency, and the number of symptoms you experience.

Typically, GERD is rated analogous to a hiatal hernia under 38 C.F.R. 4.114 diagnostic code 7346. Ratings under diagnostic code 7346 range from 10% to 60% disabling, depending on the presence and severity of symptoms.

If you have other service-connected conditions along with GERD, your can have a higher rating above 60%. However, VA disability ratings are not exactly the cumulative sum of the score given to each individual service-connected condition. Your disability rating can never exceed 100%, even if you have multiple severe service-connected disabilities.

Were You Denied VA Disability Compensation For GERD

Veterans who file VA disability claims for GERD are often denied. However, Veterans have the right to appeal the VA’s decision. A VA appeal involves requesting that the VA reviews their decision regarding your disability claim. In addition, an appeal can involve presenting the VA with additional medical evidence that can impact the outcome of your disability claim. 

If your GERD claim has been denied, there are several steps you can take to potentially get a better outcome. In addition to teaming up with a skilled attorney and appealing the VA’s decision, you can also do any of the following:

  • Get a second opinion from a private doctor: If the VA has concluded that your GERD symptoms are not severe enough to warrant benefits, you can get an independent medical examination (IME) and present the results as part of your appeal by reviewing your medical records. If a non-VA-affiliated doctor determines that your symptoms are more severe than the VA thought, the VA may reconsider their ruling regarding your claim. 
  • Submit buddy statements. If you are struggling to get service-connected for GERD, testimonials from trusted friends, family members, and fellow soldiers may help. These testimonials are often referred to as buddy statements. If anyone close to you is a firsthand witness to the link between your GERD and your military service, a statement from this person can impact the outcome of your disability claim. 
  • Get evaluated for additional disabilities. If the VA has denied your claim because your symptoms were not severe enough, a private doctor may be able to diagnose you with a different service-connected condition.

Recruiting a skilled attorney can help you get a better outcome for your GERD claim. If you were denied  Veterans benefits or given a rating that you feel is too low, we can help.

At Berry Law, we are committed to helping Veterans in their fight for disability benefits. With a team consisting of award-winning attorneys, Veterans, former VA employees, and military spouses, we are dedicated to providing Veterans the firepower they need to get the disability benefits they’re entitled to.

If your GERD VA disability claim was denied or rated too low, we may be able to help. Contact us today to receive a free case evaluation.