From the initial days of training, future paratroopers begin learning how to properly land from their jump. The physical forces involved in a parachute jump make proper landing techniques key in minimizing the risk of injury. But even in a training environment, missteps can and do occur, and of course, jumps in a combat environment certainly increase the potential for injuries.
Medical journal studies have been conducted to determine what the most common injuries were to military paratroopers. One study found that the ankle was the most commonly affected joint and that 80% of injuries involved the paratrooper’s legs, including the knee and hip joints. Further, the study found that “most of the injuries occurred on landing, and about 70 percent were mainly caused by improper landing fall technique.”
A further study states that the spine is another common area for injury, including the head, neck, and back. These injuries include “strains, sprains, and compression fractures that are attributed to the landing force transmitted through the coccyx up through the spine.” This same study also found that “[h]ead and neck injuries have been attributed to backward falls on landing or a jarring impact when the head whips back during the [parachute landing fall] forward tuck.” The shoulders and arms can also be injured if the elbows are not in the proper position upon landing.
Clearly, the stresses and demands placed upon the bodies of paratroopers and paratrooper candidates place them at risk for the development of injuries throughout the body, not limited to any specific limb.
These injuries are not necessarily the end of the story. These injuries may only appear to cause issues in the short term, resolving after treatment. Often, we see many of our veterans have documented injuries during their service, that appear to have resolved by the time of their separation physical. One study has found that injuries do increase the risk of later development of arthritis in previously injured joints, which may go undiscovered or unreported until the degeneration of the joint has progressed to the point where the arthritis is ‘symptomatic’ and that this process may take anywhere from a few months up to 10-20 years after the injury occurred.
Additionally, degenerative arthritis can cause certain nerves in the body to become pinched or otherwise damaged, leading to a condition known as radiculopathy. In the lumbar spine, the femoral and sciatic nerves can become involved, leading to symptoms such as constant or intermittent pain, numbness in parts of the legs, decreased sensation, and decreased reflexes. Likewise, when there is degenerative arthritis in the cervical spine, nerves running into your arms may become involved, potentially leading to several of the same symptoms.
These secondary conditions are not necessarily limited to the nerves. In some cases, persons suffering from constant pain and functional loss due to these degenerative conditions can begin to suffer from feelings of anxiety and depression. If these feelings rise to the level of DSM-V diagnosis from a mental health professional, then that condition may be service-connected on a ‘secondary’ basis.
If the claimed musculoskeletal injuries have interfered with your ability to exercise, leading to the development of obesity, the secondary effects of obesity, such as the development of type 2 diabetes, or obstructive sleep apnea. While the VA does not recognize weight gain or obesity as a condition subject to service connection, it may be used as a ‘stepping stone’ from one service-connected condition to a claimed condition.
Generally speaking, if a veteran served at least some time on active duty, and has a DD-214 showing honorable service, this element will have been met. If a veteran has a DD-214 showing a different ‘character of discharge’; or if a veteran only served in the Reserves or National Guard and was not called to active duty, service connection may still be possible, but it may depend on the specific facts of your case.
As long as a veteran has suffered some sort of injury or other incident in service, this element will generally be met. In the case of veteran paratroopers, in-service documentation of a hard landing causing injury will be good evidence to prove this element.
However, not all veterans will have documentation of an in-service event. Oftentimes, a seemingly minor injury was not reported, or no specific injury occurred. In these cases, it may be helpful to get statements or other evidence to help demonstrate to the VA that either an unreported injury did occur, or that your military duties put repeated stress on your body.
To meet this element, there must be a currently diagnosed problem, such as degenerative arthritis in a joint, or a DSM-V recognized mental health condition. For joint problems, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held that painful motion in a joint can qualify as a current disability for VA purposes. However, a veteran must demonstrate ‘functional loss’ associated with that painful motion. Essentially, you must show the VA that your painful joints impact your ability to work, such as having difficulty standing for long periods of time.
This is oftentimes the most difficult element to provide. There are certain cases where the VA will legally presume a link to military service, such as veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, or veterans who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, NC. However, in most cases there must be competent medical evidence showing that it is at least as likely as not’ that a veteran’s military service or a veteran’s currently service-connected condition, caused or aggravated the claimed disability.
Often, a veteran does not have the required medical expertise to show this nexus. However, the VA has a legal requirement to assist veterans in developing their disability claims. Once certain conditions are met, this includes providing a veteran with an examination from a doctor who will take range-of-motion measurements if needed, and review the veteran’s medical records and provide an opinion as to whether the claimed condition is at least as likely as not related to the veteran’s military service.
A veteran can also seek out a private doctor or medical examiner to provide the required nexus finding. The veteran would be responsible for any costs associated with getting this private medical opinion (also known as an independent medical opinion, or IMO). If a veteran wishes to get an IMO, it is recommended that the private doctors use the VA’s Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) which are currently available online at the VA’s website.
If the VA has denied entitlement to service connection for your claimed conditions, the VA is required to provide you with the basis for their adverse decision. Carefully reading the language used in the decision should point you to which of the above elements were not met. Once the deficient elements have been identified, you may submit an appeal to the VA Regional Office or the Board of Veterans Appeals.
If you wish to appeal to the VA Regional Office, you have two options. The first is to submit a Supplemental Claim using a VA Form 20-0995. This type of appeal requires you to submit ‘new and relevant’ evidence. This can take the form of a personal statement or can be documentary evidence like private medical records. Second, you may request a Higher-Level Review by submitting VA Form 20-0996. This type of appeal relies only on the record as of the date of the appealed decision. So, no new evidence may be submitted with this appeal. This type of appeal is generally best when you believe that the VA made a legal error, such as failing to provide an exam.
You may also appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The Board are a group of Veterans Law Judges (VLJs) that will review the evidence of record and make a final determination on your claims. An appeal to the Board has three docket options: Direct Review – in which the Board reviews the record as of the date of the appealed decision; Evidence Submission – in which you have a window of 90 days to submit additional evidence once your claims are received by the Board; lastly the Hearing docket is the slowest but will allow you an in-person or virtual hearing with the VLJ assigned to your case.
If you are a Veteran paratrooper, and have had your disability claims denied, please contact Berry Law to see if we can assist you in seeking the disability benefits you deserve.
 Ekeland, A. “Injuries in military parachuting: a prospective study of 4499 jumps.” Injury 28.3 (1997): 219-222.
 Hauschild, Veronique D., et al. “Injuries Among Military Paratroopers-Current Evidence and Data Gaps.” (2019).
 Punzi, Leonardo, et al. “Post-traumatic arthritis: overview on pathogenic mechanisms and role of inflammation.” RMD open 2.2 (2016): e000279.
 Saunders v. Wilkie, 886 F.3d 1356, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2018).
 Currently, the website address is: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/dbq_publicdbqs.asp.
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