Obesity VA Disability

Recent studies have shown that nearly a third of military Veterans are classified as obese. While the underlying reasons for the high rates of unhealthy weight among Veterans might be diverse and complicated, a few factors have stood out. For instance, the rate of obesity was particularly high among those with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though the Department of Veterans Affairs will not grant military service connection for obesity, there may be ways for affected Veterans to obtain service connection for conditions associated with obesity to receive VA disability benefits.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a very complex disease that has far-reaching effects on the human body. It affects many areas of the body, often in ways that can lead to very deadly and harmful conditions. It is technically classified as when a person’s body mass index (commonly known as BMI) is above 30. This isn’t always the case because some people have a proportionally very large amount of weight from muscle content. However, for obesity, the BMI being too high is largely due to a large amount of fat content. The BMI scale doesn’t directly measure body fat content, so it may not always apply to the situation. However, a majority of the time, it does. 

What Causes Obesity?

Obesity is caused by a large number and a variety of factors. It can come from a person’s diet, lack of physical activity, environment, and many other causes. Often, obesity is the result of a combination of a large group of these different causes. 

Another way that obesity happens is through genetic conditions. Some people have a lower metabolism, which means that their body naturally burns through less calories than an average person. This means that they can consume the same amount of food and drink as another person, but they will gain more weight from it. Other people just tend to have a tendency to gain weight easier, and thus it is harder for them to lose weight. 

There are also some diseases and medical conditions that cause or increase the risk of obesity. One such example is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a genetic condition that applies to some women. This condition lowers the metabolism of a person, and makes it harder for them to lose or keep off weight. This leads to obesity, if not dealt with in a helpful way or with proper health care.

Another condition that has a very high correlation with obesity is PTSD. This has been associated and correlated with obesity because of the mental strain that it puts on people, causing them to resort to unhealthy coping methods. This can lead to obesity, which in turn leads to a large host of other medical problems. A large percentage of Veterans have PTSD, and that causes a considerable amount of Veterans to struggle with obesity. This correlation has been consistently documented, with lots of evidence to support the linkage, especially for Veterans. 

How are the Health Consequences of Obesity?

People with obesity are at risk for a very wide and diverse number of health complications. Obesity can affect many areas of the body, causing a large amount of problems for people. 

One of the most common effects of obesity is hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure. This is a health condition that can lead to heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, or even heart failure. It wears down the veins and heart of a body over a long period of time, and causes many health problems. Obesity causes this in a large amount of different ways, and often makes it hard to treat hypertension, thus propagating the disease further. 

Another very common consequence of obesity is that it is very closely correlated with Type 2 Diabetes. When there is too much blood sugar that comes from an excessive intake of food, the body starts to go into prediabetes, which leads to full diabetes. This is a condition that takes a very large toll on one’s life, and can cause a lot of difficulty, not to mention the high cost of being diabetic. 

A very common way that Obesity affects a lot of people is through mental health issues. People with obesity tend to have a lower self-esteem, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other debilitating mental conditions. These can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s life, and can make a large impact on a person’s ability to function in a day to day environment. These mental health conditions often propagate obesity, and cause it to get worse as time goes on. 

How can Obesity be Treated?

The two main ways that obesity tends to be treated is through lifestyle changes through diet and physical activity

Often, people who are obese tend to consume food and drink in quantities that are higher than reccomended. The food consumed also tends to be of a lower health quality, often with sugary drinks and heavily processed foods. Changing the diet to be more focused on healthier and less processed foods and drinks can be a huge step towards health. Focusing on portion size as well brings massive health benefits to people with obesity

When it comes to physical activity, people who struggle with obesity tend to not be very physically active, and often do not exercise. Changes to the person’s lifestyle to include more physical activity, like walking, exercising, and moving around more, can lead to large and important changes in a person’s body weight and metabolism. 

Compensation for Conditions Caused by Obesity

Obesity can serve as an intermediate step to link a condition to service. In other words, if a service-connected condition causes obesity, any condition subsequently caused or aggravated by the excess weight would be service-connected. The subsequent condition would be filed as secondary to the primary condition (the one causing obesity). The Veteran would then need to clarify the basis for the secondary service connection in a statement, indicating how primary condition caused their obesity.

For example, say a Veteran is service connected for post-traumatic stress disorder and gains a lot of weight, then develops diabetes. There are a number of ways for post-traumatic stress disorder to cause weight gain, including the medication taken for treatment. If post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms make it difficult to find the motivation to exercise or cause stress-eating, then it might be something the Veteran could submit a statement about.

However, if a medication causes weight gain, the Veteran would probably not be considered “competent” under the regulation to comment on the connection. She would instead need to get her doctor to provide a note linking her weight gain to the medication. Alternatively, she could submit a statement that she noticed gaining a lot of weight since starting the medication and also a list of common side effects (assuming weight gain is one of those side effects).

Can Obesity be Service Connected?

Obesity-related claims are rarely filed, probably because obesity is not service-connectable. Most Veterans do not realize how many conditions can cause or worsen obesity. For instance, musculoskeletal conditions like knee or back problems can cause pain with exercise, making it difficult to keep weight off. Similarly, respiratory conditions like asthma can decrease the ability to exercise. In turn, obesity has been linked to a myriad of diseases and conditions ranging from sleep apnea to eczema.

Even if a Veteran’s condition began in service or can be linked directly to a service-connected condition, it can also be linked through obesity. You should make the secondary condition argument. There can be multiple avenues for service connection. For instance, going back to the post-traumatic stress disorder example, there have been many studies showing that it can be causally linked to sleep apnea. In other words, sleep apnea appears to be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. However, obstructive sleep apnea can also be caused by obesity, which in turn can be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. By making both arguments, the Veteran would increase their chance of being granted service connection for sleep apnea.

Though obesity can be a difficult subject for many people to talk about, it can provide an important link between service-connected conditions and those caused by weight gain. Making the argument for secondary service connection is one of the many ways a Veteran can help ensure the best possible outcome when applying for VA benefits.

Veterans Disability Lawyers

Obesity is a common condition for Veterans. If a Veteran’s service links their obesity to a service-connected condition and causing other disabilities, you are entitled to disability compensation and a VA disability rating. If you applied for disability benefits related to a Veteran’s obesity and were denied and need another medical opinion, Berry Law can help get you a VA disability claim and VA disability compensation.

Berry Law helps Veterans appeal unfavorable VA decisions to get the full disability compensation they deserve. With attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, Berry Law is well equipped to get you the disability compensation you deserve. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation.

 

Sources: 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20375742#:~:text=Obesity%20is%20a%20complex%20disease,blood%20pressure%20and%20certain%20cancers.

https://www.healthline.com/health/polycystic-ovary-disease#causes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4459590/

https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html