Herniated Disc VA Disability

Herniated Disc VA Disability

Back injuries are one of the most common injuries Veterans face. Unfortunately, back injuries, especially any injury to the spine, can be very serious. Every time we move, our back is involved in some way. Veterans living with chronic back pain may feel discomfort every day, all day, unless they receive proper treatment.

Herniated discs are a common type of spinal condition. If you are a Veteran and you suffer from a herniated disc, you may wonder whether you can receive disability for a herniated disc. The short answer is… yes, if:

  • You developed a herniated disc during your military service or 
  • You had an injury involving a herniated or bulging disc that got worse while you were in the military

Under these circumstances, you are entitled to request VA disability for herniated disc conditions in the form of VA disability compensation.

Let’s start with the basics of how herniated disc disability may arise.

What is a Herniated Disc?

To understand what a herniated disc is, let’s look at the spine’s anatomy. The parts of the spine include vertebrae (bones in the spine), discs (cushions between the spinal vertebrae), and the spinal cord. A herniated disc is caused by an injury to the discs that cushion the bones of your spine. These discs have a soft, jelly-like interior (the nucleus) and a hard, rubbery exterior (the annulus).

The Mayo Clinic defines a herniated disc as when the soft nucleus pushes out through a tear in the outer annulus. Herniated discs often occur in the lower back but can impact any part of the spine. A bulging disc can cause various types of pain and discomfort and may lead to other conditions, including sciatica or spinal stenosis.

What Can Cause a Herniated Disc Disability?

Herniated discs are typically related to aging and are, therefore, considered degenerative conditions. As we age, the spinal discs become less flexible and more prone to tearing or other injury when someone strains or twists their back. A herniated disc can also be caused by a traumatic injury to the back or sudden or repeated movements that cause damage over time.

Often, Veterans can develop herniated discs by putting too much strain on their backs. For example, during their military duty, a service member may lift heavy items that eventually damage their back muscles, leading to a disc bulge or tear. If you worked a physically demanding job in the military, you are at a higher risk of developing a herniated disc or other back problems.

Herniated Disc Symptoms That Affect a VA Back Pain Rating

Veterans who are suffering from a herniated disc could be dealing with several different symptoms. Typically, three main categories of symptoms are associated with a herniated disc. According to the Mayo Clinic, a person with a herniated disc may experience:

  • Arm or leg pain – Often described as sharp or burning
  • Numbness and tingling – Radiating sensations of numbness or pins-and-needles in the body parts affected by the nerves impacted by the bulging disc
  • Weakness – Nerves impacted by a herniated disc may cause muscle weakness, depending on the location of the injury and affected disc
  • Trouble with bowel or bladder control

It is also possible to have a herniated disc without any symptoms.

Do You Qualify For VA Disability For a Herniated Disc Condition?

A Veteran can receive VA disability compensation for herniated disc disability if they can show:

  • Their military service caused the herniated disc disability,
  • The disability worsened while in the military, or
  • Another disability related to their military service caused the herniated disc

If your military service caused your spinal condition or made it worse, you can request VA disability for a herniated disc compensation. The amount of compensation you may receive will depend on the current severity of your back condition including range of motion, incapacitating episodes, and pain.

To obtain a herniated disc VA rating, you must first establish that your injury is service-connected. Or, if another service-connected disability caused your herniated disc, you can request compensation based on a secondary service connection.

How Can You Prove Service Connection for Herniated Discs?

To receive a service connection for your herniated disc disability, similar to all VA disability requests, you must show three specific elements. To prove that your herniated disc disability is related to your time in the military, you must show:

  • A current medical diagnosis of your disability
  • An in-service event or stressor event that caused your disability
  • A medical link or nexus connecting the in-service event to your current disability
  • Other evidence from laypeople can help support your claim for VA disability benefits. For example, your family, friends, or coworkers could provide statements describing your condition during your time in the service

Veterans can also receive a herniated disc VA rating on a secondary service connection basis.

What is a Secondary Service Connection?

Veterans can request VA disability compensation based on a secondary service connection for a disability that was caused by, or aggravated by another service-connected condition.

In a herniated disc disability scenario, if a Veteran injured his leg during military combat service but later he herniated a spinal disc during rehabilitation therapy for the leg injury, he might receive a VA rating for a bulging disc as a secondary injury connected to the combat injury.

Another form of secondary VA disability claim may arise if the herniated disc disability causes another condition that qualifies for VA benefits. As mentioned above, a bulging disc could lead to several related conditions, including:

  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cervical spinal pain
  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Thrombotic stroke 

As you can see, these cases can be complicated. Speak with an experienced VA disability lawyer to fully understand your specific rights and options if you want to seek disability for a herniated disc condition.

VA Disability: Herniated Disc Ratings

The VA rates each herniated disc disability by the number of incapacitating episodes it causes, the limitation to a Veteran’s range of motion, and the overall impact the condition has on their daily life. Sometimes, the VA will accept medical opinions from a private doctor when determining if a condition is service-related.

Usually, the VA will require you to attend a C&P examination (compensation and pension exam) with a VA-approved healthcare provider to determine the extent of your herniated disc. The doctor will likely have you bend or twist in multiple directions to determine how limited your range of motion is. You may also have to report your level and frequency of pain stemming from your bulging disc injury.

Depending on the herniated disc VA rating assigned to your condition, you can expect a certain disability payment every month. Disability ratings can range from 0% disabled to 100% disability. The most severe symptoms or amount of incapacitation will receive a higher rating and more disability compensation than a lower rating.

Using the Schedule of Ratings found at 38 CFR §4.71a, the VA will rate your herniated disc disability. The potential VA disability herniated disc ratings are:

10% – Veterans who were unable to work for at least one week but less than two weeks in the past year due to an incapacitating episode
20% – Veterans who had incapacitation episodes of at least two weeks but not more than four weeks in the past year
40% – Veterans who were incapacitated for at least four weeks up to six weeks in the past year
60% – Veterans who were incapacitated for at least six weeks in the past year

Other factors that influence a VA rating for bulging disc conditions

Beyond the rating criteria described above, the VA will assign a rating according to various symptoms, including:

  • The amount of pain suffered and how often
  • Whether the Veteran feels numbness or tingling
  • Is there any muscular weakness, and if so, the extent of the weakness
  • What is the Veteran’s ability to walk
  • Does the Veteran suffer from balance issues that could lead to falling
  • What limitations does the Veteran face during everyday life

If you can show your herniated disc disability was caused by a service-related event or aggravated by your military service, you may be able to show “service connection by aggravation.” This designation can lead to a higher VA disability rating and more compensation as a result.

Do You Qualify For Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU)?

If your herniated disc disability makes it difficult or impossible to hold employment, you may be eligible for TDIU benefits as well. If your bulging disc condition keeps you from holding “substantially gainful employment,” you can request TDIU benefits from the VA.

When you request TDIU benefits, the VA will review your medical information and decide whether you can work. If the VA agrees you cannot work at all, you will receive a 100% disability rating.

For More Information About Receiving VA Disability for Herniated Disc Conditions, Reach Out to Berry Law

If you need help appealing a herniated disc VA disability claim or requesting an increased herniated disc VA rating, Berry Law can help. At Berry Law, we are Veterans fighting for Veterans who have been denied disability compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or given a low disability rating.

Berry Law has been helping Veterans with their legal needs for over 50 years, and we have helped thousands of deserving Veterans successfully appeal unfavorable VA decisions.

Ever since our team was founded by a Vietnam Veteran, Berry Law has been committed to helping fellow Veterans receive the disability compensation they deserve. Reach out to the dedicated team at Berry Law today by calling (402) 466-8444 or complete our online contact form.

John S. Berry, , Lawyer for VA Disability Benefits
John S. Berry, , VA Disability Benefits Attorney
Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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