Veterans can receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if they suffer from an illness or disability that was caused by their time in the service.
Some Veterans are unaware of all that the VA covers, which can cause them to miss out on the benefits they deserve. And many Veterans may not know that the VA can cover arthritis that develops from their time in the service.
Arthritis is the painful swelling of one or multiple joints. It can occur in multiple areas of the body, such as the hands, knees, or back, and can worsen as a Veteran ages.
Although there are many types of arthritis, the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage between joints to break down, causing severe pain in a person’s joints. People who work in strenuous conditions over a long period, like Veterans, may be prone to developing osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is a disease where the immune system attacks the joints directly.
Veterans are particularly at risk of developing osteoarthritis. Because much of their work in the service requires active movement, there can be a significant amount of stress on the joints over time.
Certain conditions may also put Veterans more at risk of developing arthritis, including age, family history, gender, obesity, and any previous joint injury. Symptoms can include:
If arthritis symptoms go unchecked, Veterans may find themselves in pain and not know precisely what is causing it. As a result, their quality of life can decrease significantly.
To better understand what kind of arthritis you have, your VA doctor will first check your joints for swelling, redness, and warmth. They’ll also want to see how much mobility and flexibility you have in the affected joints, and they’ll listen to your list of symptoms.
Laboratory tests can help pinpoint the specific kind of arthritis a Veteran might have. For instance, bloodwork can help reveal the inflammation markers that are characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis.
Alternately, arthrocentesis — obtaining a sample of joint fluid by inserting a needle into the affected joint — can help doctors diagnose inflammation and even bacterial causes of arthritis.
Imaging may detect problems within the joint that other diagnostic methods cannot identify. To track the progression of your arthritis, your VA doctor may recommend regular X-rays to show cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs.
Your healthcare professional might also suggest a CT (computerized tomography) scan, which combines X-rays taken from many different angles to create cross-sectional views of both bones and surrounding soft tissues.
Similarly, they might recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging ) to obtain more detailed cross-sectional images of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
Finally, your VA doctor might recommend an ultrasound. This quick and non-invasive technology uses high-frequency sound waves to provide images of soft tissues and cartilage near arthritic joints.
When a Veteran goes to get treatment for their arthritis, they may be surprised by some of the different forms of treatment.
Overall, the hope is that treatment for osteoarthritis will result in a greater range of motion, decreased pain, and improved strength in the affected joint(s).
Drug-based treatments for arthritis may include:
Other treatment options can include:
It is not unusual for a Veteran suffering from arthritis to be prescribed a combination of specific treatments. Combining treatments will help to maximize the likelihood of healing and improvement.
One of the most common joint areas that develop arthritis for Veterans is the knee. Arthritis in the knee can make everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, and running extremely painful.
Many different knee conditions and injuries can cause knee pain, but here are some of the common symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee:
Sadly, arthritis in the knee tends to get worse over time. In Veterans, it usually occurs either when strenuous activities in the service cause stress on their knee over time or when they sustain an injury that damages their knee.
Did you know that more than 1 in 3 veterans will be diagnosed with arthritis? How about the fact that the second most prevalent service-connected disability in 2020 was limited flexion of the knee, a common symptom of arthritis?
If a Veteran sustains an injury during their time in the service and later suffers from arthritis in the knee, they may be entitled to benefits from the VA. For this reason, it is important that Veterans report any injuries — including damage from repetitive stress on a joint — to the authorities so that it can be recorded.
A Veteran with arthritis might receive either a 10 or a 20 percent rating, depending on the specifics of their condition.
Unfortunately, it is common for the VA to overlook information or make mistakes on arthritis claims.
To complicate things, some Veterans may not report an injury at the time that it occurred. Similarly, the full extent of an injury may not be known until years after it happened.
Service records and medical records are valuable pieces of evidence when making a claim. A failure to have the proper claim could result in the VA denying the claim or giving a Veteran a low disability rating.
Veterans have to make a service connection between their arthritis and their time in the service. In order to have a service connection, there are three necessary components that a Veteran’s claim must prove:
When a Veteran seeks a medical professional to make the connection between the current diagnosis and in-service stressor, the doctor must use clear and concise language when writing their statement. Usually, this will be a statement that says that the Veteran’s arthritis was “at least as likely as not” caused by their time in the service.
If a doctor does not use this sort of phrasing and language in the claim, the VA may deny the claim or give a low disability rating.
The VA makes many mistakes every year when they review Veteran claims. These mistakes can lead them to give a low disability rating, which results in low benefits for the Veteran or a denial of the overall claim.
When either of these two scenarios occurs, it can leave Veterans feeling stressed and defeated. After all their hard work compiling evidence and writing up a claim, it may feel like it was for nothing.
Thankfully, Veterans can appeal any decision the VA makes by making a supplemental claim or submitting their case to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Appealing may make the VA change their minds regarding the status of a Veteran’s current disability or illness, and it may even make the VA allocate more benefits and a higher disability rating.
Veterans who decided to submit a supplemental claim should act on it quickly. If they do not begin the process within one year of receiving their initial decision, they will have to start the whole claims process again.
When a Veteran appeals a VA decision, they should reach out to an experienced attorney like the ones at Berry Law. Our experience in helping Veterans get the benefits they deserve allows us to be effective when working with Veterans on arthritis claims.
As professionals in Veteran claims, we see many service members who are unaware of what the VA is looking for in their claim. This leads to simple, preventable mistakes on both the Veteran’s and the VA’s part.
All of this can be avoided by working with a skilled attorney. Berry Law helps ensure that a Veteran has all of the necessary components for their claims so that they have the best chance of securing the benefits they deserve.
While arthritis can be a challenging condition to manage, whether it’s in your knee or elsewhere, Veterans don’t have to go through it alone. Veterans can receive VA benefits for their arthritis, and the right law office can help. For more information on Veteran’s benefits and VA law, visit Berry Law’s website.
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