Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is an often chronic condition in which the stomach allows gastric acid to flow into the esophagus. GERD creates a burning sensation that may be felt from the chest to the back of the throat. While GERD is associated with heartburn, it is more painful and can cause discomfort on a nightly basis. The condition is fairly common among Veterans.
GERD can often be treated by lifestyle changes pertaining to diet, weight control, and cessation of smoking and drinking. However, many cases involving GERD require over-the-counter or prescription medication. In serious cases, Veterans with GERD may benefit from a VA-developed surgical procedure to correct the defect causing GERD.
Many Veterans have a GERD diagnosis as part of their VA rating as a secondary disability claim. Often, GERD is secondary to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because medication taken to manage symptoms of PTSD can cause GERD. Other medical conditions and medications can lead to GERD as well.
If you are a U.S. military Veteran who suffers from digestive issues that may be GERD and the condition is not already a part of your VA rating, you should discuss a GERD diagnosis with your doctor. If your disability claim for GERD has been denied, contact Berry Law Firm to speak with a VA appeals lawyer. Berry Law is a national law firm that helps Veterans across the country appeal denied VA claims. Our VA disability benefits attorneys, most of whom are themselves Veterans, can help you appeal a denied VA disability claim and seek the full VA benefits available. Call (888) 883-2483 to speak to a VA compensation lawyer on our team.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic illness that is caused when stomach acid flows up into your food pipe, also called the esophagus. Your stomach acid is naturally very corrosive; after all, it is meant to break down food into small components and molecules that can be absorbed by your intestines.
When stomach acid reaches the esophagus, it can irritate the esophageal lining. This causes discomfort, pain, and even long-term problems for your esophagus, including an increased risk for esophageal cancer.
Unfortunately, GERD is usually a long-term condition. It’s associated with heartburn, as well, which is why many Veterans mistake it for typical heartburn and do not treat it. Over time, GERD can lead to long-term inflammation and pain, as well as permanent damage to the esophagus.
GERD, or acid reflux, can be triggered by eating certain foods or by consuming large meals. It also can be caused by eating soon before lying down, such as within a couple of hours of bedtime.
Many Veterans who try to live with frequent heartburn actually suffer from GERD. Heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen, is a symptom of GERD. Both are caused by the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach weakening and loosening to the extent that it allows gastric acid to travel up the esophagus.
With GERD, the burning sensation is more intense and typically causes irritation up into the throat and sometimes into the back of the mouth. GERD may be accompanied by stomach spasms that produce vomiting.
Frequent GERD can damage esophageal tissue and, over time, increase the risk of esophageal cancer. An individual with GERD is also at risk for aspirating gastric acid or vomit into the lungs, particularly while lying down or sleeping. That can cause pneumonia or more extensive damage.
The Mayo Clinic says GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week. Many GERD sufferers deal with it on a nightly basis or after every meal.
Common symptoms of GERD include:
GERD frequently experienced while sleeping may cause:
If you experience the symptoms above or take an over-the-counter heartburn medication more than twice a week, you should speak to your physician about a GERD diagnosis. He or she may suggest lifestyle changes and diet modifications such as consuming fewer fatty and acidic foods, and smaller portions, and prescribe medication if you cannot control symptoms on your own.
OTC medications often recommended for GERD or acid reflux include omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid), which are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that block acid production and heal the esophagus. Stronger prescribed versions are available, as well.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says PPIs are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the VA. Roughly one of every six Veterans uses them to ease digestive disorders, including heartburn and acid reflux. The drugs are effective and well-tolerated when consumed properly. However, long-term use of PPIs carries a risk of serious side effects, such as pneumonia and loss of bone density.
Because the effects of GERD can interfere with your ability to work, you can obtain a VA disability rating for GERD or acid reflux and receive disability benefits. To do so, you will need:
There is no specific VA rating for acid reflux or GERD. It is commonly rated under “Diagnostic Code 7346, Hernia, Hiatal” under § 4.114 Schedule of ratings – digestive system. A hiatal hernia is a common cause of GERD.
The VA schedule of ratings allows a disability rating for a hiatal hernia and GERD ranging from 10% to 60%, depending on the severity of symptoms.
A 60% disability rating can be awarded for pain, vomiting, vomiting blood, material weight loss, blood in the stool, and other combinations of symptoms that produce a severe impairment of health.
Your GERD rating may contribute to a total disability rating that is greater than these percentages, however. For instance, if you have stomach cancer because of your time in the military or some other gastrointestinal-related condition or disability, that disability rating will be combined with your GERD disability rating for a higher total rating.
Therefore, it’s important to get your GERD rated by the VA so you can acquire the maximum benefits you deserve as soon as possible.
A Veteran could have suffered a traumatic injury to the abdomen or an illness while in service that can be linked to their gastroesophageal reflux disease. Information about a service-related injury should be in the Veteran’s military record and serve as evidence of a service connection.
If you didn’t experience symptoms of GERD until post-service, you may still obtain benefits for GERD through a VA disability claim on a secondary basis. This is known as secondary service connection and means that GERD was caused or aggravated by another service-connected condition.
At Berry Law, our VA disability attorneys have helped many Veterans file appeals and obtain a VA rating for GERD as a secondary condition to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Medical evidence establishes that anxiety, which many Veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder experience every day, can lead to an overproduction of stomach acid. This, in turn, can lead to GERD. In a 2014 study, for example, researchers found an association between PTSD and GERD (and other gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome), among Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is also known that GERD is a common side effect of tricyclic antidepressants commonly prescribed to Veterans with PTSD, such as amitriptyline (Vanatrip, Endep), imipramine (Tofranil), and nortriptyline (Pamelor, Aventyl).
As discussed above, your GERD may be secondary to another primary VA recognized disability, such as a hiatal hernia. Others conditions that can lead to acid reflux include respiratory disorders that cause violent coughing, which can cause GERD, particularly at night, and peritoneal adhesions (§ 4.71a – Diagnostic Code 7301), which can cause GERD when scar tissue between the peritoneum and stomach causes the stomach to twist or contort from its natural position.
Hormone imbalances caused or aggravated by hazardous chemical exposure cause weight gain, which can also lead to GERD.
Some medications you may have been prescribed for other VA-rated disabilities may cause GERD. For example, bisphosphonates prescribed to treat osteoporosis (§ 4.71a – Diagnostic Code 5013), such as alendronate sodium (Fosomax), ibandronate sodium (Boniva), and risedronate sodium (Actonel), can cause heartburn, nausea, and other gastrointestinal problems.
To become eligible to receive a VA rating for GERD, you must meet the following requirements:
When you file a disability claim for GERD, the VA may require you to undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination. A VA doctor will assess your condition and determine the level of impairment your condition has caused.
The VA will use the doctor’s report to either approve or deny your disability claim. The purpose of this exam is not to provide treatment, but to order tests and conduct a medical evaluation to determine whether your condition qualifies for disability benefits.
Following the exam, the VA doctor will submit a report to the VA, which will include:
It’s important to see a private physician to evaluate and diagnose you with GERD instead of relying solely on a VA doctor’s diagnosis. If the VA challenges your claim based on the report the VA doctor provides, having your own independent evaluation can help provide you and your attorney with important evidence that you have the condition and its severity and that it is the result of your service.
Your lawyer could use that to help you successfully navigate your initial application for VA disability benefits or when appealing your denied claim.
Veterans who have valid VA disability claims for GERD are unfairly denied. But Veterans always have the right to appeal the VA’s decision. Our award-winning VA appeals lawyers can challenge the denial and help you pursue the benefits available.
At Berry Law, we are Veterans fighting for Veterans. We are committed to helping our fellow Veterans in their fight for disability benefits. Our team includes Veterans, former VA employees, and military spouses dedicated to providing Veterans the advocacy they need to get the correct VA disability rating.
If your GERD VA disability claim was denied or rated too low, we may be able to help. Contact us today online or by calling (888) 682-0751 to receive a free case evaluation.
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