Carpal tunnel is a common condition that affects around three million Americans annually. If you’re a Veteran who’s been affected by carpal tunnel due to your military service, you may be entitled to VA disability benefits.
Here’s everything Veterans need to know about VA carpal tunnel ratings and how to qualify for benefits.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes compression in the median nerve of the hand.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow, one-inch tunnel in the wrist. One of the major nerves in the hand, called the median nerve, passes through the carpal tunnel. This nerve controls the muscles at the base of your thumb. It stretches down your arm and across your elbow.
When the carpal tunnel narrows or the tissues around the flexor tendons swell, it puts pressure on the median nerve and reduces its blood supply. This results in numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand, wrist, and forearm.
Some people are born with a smaller carpal tunnel, making it more likely that they’ll encounter carpal tunnel syndrome at one point or another. Other potential causes may include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be painful and debilitating, and there’s often no specific injury that causes it. Symptoms tend to start gradually and worsen over time.
Below, find some of the primary symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:
You can find the VA rating for carpal tunnel in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) under Part 4, Diagnostic Code (DC) 8515: Paralysis of the Median Nerve. Although this rating table is for paralysis, VA uses the mild and moderate paralysis levels to also compensate sensory symptoms like pain, numbness, and tingling.
Typically, the VA disability rating for carpal tunnel is 10%. However, depending on the severity of the condition and whether it’s present in the dominant hand, carpal tunnel syndrome’s rating can reach 70%.
More severe carpal tunnel syndrome that involves paralysis tends to rate higher, while milder cases rate lower. Further, carpal tunnel in the dominant hand can result in a higher rating than conditions in the non-dominant hand.
|The Severity of Median Nerve Paralysis||Dominant hand||Non-dominant hand|
|Incomplete paralysis, severe||50%||40%|
|Incomplete paralysis, moderate||30%||20%|
|Incomplete paralysis, mild||10%||10%|
VA will not grant higher than a moderate level unless your condition also involves what it calls “organic changes” such as loss of reflexes or muscle atrophy.
A Veteran must meet these basic criteria for a carpal tunnel VA rating:
Service connection for carpal tunnel syndrome is possible if your condition began during or was caused by your military service.
Remember that you don’t necessarily need to be on-duty when you develop carpal tunnel syndrome so long as the condition is connected to your military service. For example, suppose you started painting as a hobby during your military service to decompress from stress. If you developed carpal tunnel syndrome from painting, you might still qualify for a VA disability rating.
To get a service connection, you’ll need to show:
In addition, to make sure you receive the appropriate rating once service-connected, you should include a full account of the condition and how it’s impacting your life.
Sometimes one service-connected injury or disability can cause or aggravate another condition down the line. This is called a secondary service connection, which can help you receive a VA disability rating for carpal tunnel.
For example, suppose you broke your wrist during an exercise. Despite getting proper medical care for the injury, the wrist never healed properly, causing you to adjust your movements over time. Then, over time you develop severe carpal tunnel as a result.
This situation could help you receive a secondary service connection and allow you to qualify for a VA disability rating, even if the carpal tunnel did not begin until after your military service.
To receive secondary service connection, you’ll need to show:
If you do not have medical evidence yet for each of the points you need to prove, you can try submitting detailed statements about your injuries, disabilities, and the history of your carpal tunnel symptoms. If you meet a certain threshold of evidence — even if it’s not enough on its own to prove service connection — then VA should obtain an examination and medical opinion on your behalf.
Even if you’re convinced your carpal tunnel qualifies for a VA rating, you might not be sure how to receive your rating. Here’s how Veterans can be rated for carpal tunnel.
To receive a carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis, you can make an appointment with your primary care physician. Also put together as much evidence as you can think to support your claim including medical records, statements, and more.
Next, file a disability claim with your VA Regional Office (RO), and include all the medical documentation you gathered to prove the condition and its origin. The application can be filed online or by mail.
After reviewing your application, the VA will typically schedule a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam. This exam will be with a VA-approved doctor, and it’s meant to give the VA a second professional opinion to confirm your condition.
During the C&P exam, you’ll be evaluated by the doctor with tests such as x-rays and dexterity tests. Then the doctor will report back to the VA with their findings.
Understand that this exam is not to treat your condition but to evaluate it and ensure it qualifies for a VA disability rating.
The RO will assess your case, and they’ll determine your VA disability rating and benefit. Typically, carpal tunnel results in a VA disability rating of 10%, but more severe conditions could rate up to 70%.
Yes, you can increase your VA disability rating for carpal tunnel. To do this, you’ll need to prove to the VA that your condition has worsened, qualifying you for the higher rating. The best way to increase your rating is typically through objective medical evidence.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome is severe, you may qualify for VA Special Monthly Compensation (SMC-K), which automatically adds $128.62 to your monthly disability benefit. As a Veteran, you can receive up to three SMC-K awards on top of your basic disability pay and any other SMC awards.
A severe rating means you have no effective remaining function in one or both hands. This is more officially called Loss of Use of a Hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful, often debilitating condition that affects countless Veterans. If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel and developed the condition directly or indirectly from your military service, you may be entitled to a VA disability benefit.
VA disability ratings for carpal tunnel are typically 10%. Still, they can range up to 70% depending on the severity of the condition and whether it’s in the dominant hand.
To get a VA rating and start receiving your disability benefit, you’ll need medical documentation that includes a current diagnosis for your carpal tunnel, plus evidence confirming that the condition was caused directly or indirectly by your military service.
Still have questions? Contact Berry Law today to receive a free case evaluation.
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