Veterans were required to do physical labor to accomplish their duties. In certain situations, they must repeatedly practice firing weapons with their trigger fingers. These tasks can result in the development of long-term chronic disabilities like carpal tunnel and trigger finger.
If you’re wondering about the definition of trigger finger and its disability rating from the VA, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more.
Put simply, trigger finger syndrome is characterized by pain and/or inflexibility in your fingers, usually your pointer or ring fingers on your dominant hand. Trigger finger can occur in any finger, but it is most commonly seen in these fingers because they are used to pull firearm triggers.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of trigger finger syndrome include:
Damage to the tendons and soft tissues around your finger cause these symptoms to arise. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and gout can cause or aggravate trigger finger, which may contribute to tissue damage or deterioration. However, extended use of your finger for typical physical activities, like pulling a thick trigger, can also lead to this condition.
The symptoms of trigger finger are most evident in the morning when you first start to move your hands and fingers after a few hours of low motion. Repeated motions or gripping activities may activate your symptoms.
There are several ways to treat trigger finger syndrome, depending on the severity of its symptoms. Nonsurgical treatments include:
If trigger finger is severe enough, it may require surgical intervention. With surgical intervention, attempts are made to repair the damaged tendons and soft tissues that affect the fingers. Surgical intervention can range from slightly successful to highly successful and is always expensive.
If you believe you’ll need surgical intervention for your trigger finger, you may want to apply for disability benefits to receive financial aid.
While the VA does not rate trigger finger specifically, it does rate conditions that affect the hand, such as carpal tunnel. Veterans suffering from trigger finger may be rated analogous to those other conditions. The VA then awards disabled Veterans disability compensation based on their symptoms and severity.
When the VA rates a disability analogous to another disability, it tries to match the symptoms. Using carpal tunnel as an example, the symptoms contemplated in the diagnostic code match those experienced by trigger finger sufferers.
The VA provides various degrees of rating for paralysis of the nerve in question. Depending on how severe the symptoms are and whether the disability is in the dominant hand, the rating can range from 10% to 70%
It’s important to receive a diagnosis of trigger finger right away, especially because it can affect the results of your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam.
Every Veteran seeking disability benefits will be scheduled for a C&P Exam. This exam measures your symptoms and their severity so the VA can accurately assign you a fair disability rating. A licensed medical practitioner administers the exam.
If you have trigger finger, you cannot move your hand as much as you could otherwise, at least without severe discomfort or pain. This may lead to a higher monthly disability compensation awarded by the VA.
Your trigger finger syndrome can be connected to your military service on a direct or secondary basis.
If you receive direct service connection for trigger finger syndrome, it means that a specific event in the military or your military duties directly led to the condition developing or worsening.
For example, if you had to fire firearms repeatedly in the military, then developed trigger finger later on, you may apply for and receive direct service connection. You would then be compensated for that condition.
If you receive secondary service connection for trigger finger syndrome, it means that some other service-connected disability or injury caused or aggravated your trigger finger.
For instance, say that you develop arthritis because of your time in the military. That arthritis leads to tendon damage in your pointer finger, then trigger finger syndrome. Since the military caused or worsened your arthritis, you may still qualify for disability benefits for your trigger finger on a secondary basis.
As noted above, the military doesn’t assign distinct disability ratings trigger finger. However, it assigns disability ratings for a related condition, carpal tunnel, under Diagnostic Code 8515. Here’s a breakdown of the disability ratings the VA assigns for carpal tunnel:
The higher of the two disability ratings above is always applied when the carpal tunnel affects your dominant hand. The lower percentage rating is applied when the carpal tunnel affects your non-dominant hand.
So, how does trigger finger factor into these disability ratings? The VA will try to compare the trigger finger symptoms to those in the diagnostic code for carpal tunnel. So, if your finger is locked into position and cannot move, the VA might consider that “complete paralysis” of that nerve and give either a 60 or 70 percent rating based on the non-dominant or dominant hand.
Total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) is a special Veterans benefits status that treats your disability rating as if it were at 100% even if it isn’t on paper (e.g., you can have a disability rating of 70% but receive monetary benefits as if it were 100%).
You may only qualify for TDIU if your disability prevents you from maintaining substantially gainful employment. For example, if you have trigger finger in both hands or arthritis in both hands plus trigger finger, you may qualify for TDIU compensation. In this hypothetical scenario, your condition(s) make it so difficult to move your hands or work that you can’t get a job.
However, your trigger finger has to be very severe for you to qualify for TDIU. Furthermore, your trigger finger must be nonresponsive to treatment, such as surgery, medication, etc.
As you can see, you may recover additional disability compensation for trigger finger if it was caused or aggravated by your time in the military and has been exacerbated by carpal tunnel. However, it can be tough to know what exactly you’ll receive in disability benefits, especially since the military doesn’t have a designated diagnostic code for this condition.
Berry Law can help. With our experienced attorneys, you’ll be well-equipped and ready to file a successful disability benefits claim or increase a disability rating you previously received for your service-connected carpal tunnel.
Contact us today to see how we can assist you.
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