Veterans new to the VA benefits system may be confused by the “disability rating” scale instituted to compartmentalize their healthcare needs. Many Veterans aren’t informed of the broad array of benefits made available to them, and they may lack the time to complete the research on their own due to the daily burdens of conditions they developed due to their service.
Berry Law wants to help take the guesswork out of the VA Rating system for Veterans and has compiled the basic information you need to work with the VA and ensure you get the maximum possible compensation for your sacrifice.
Compartment syndrome is a painful condition caused by blood pressure spikes that occur in the muscles. The membrane surrounding a muscle group is meant to securely hold the muscle, its blood vessels, and support systems. However, increased blood flow into these membrane compartments creates tension since the membrane is not flexible.
These pressure build-ups are generally categorized as either acute or chronic:
Acute compartment syndrome can sometimes be severe, normally triggered by a traumatic injury such as a car accident or other sudden or severe impact to a muscle group. Improper cast or bandage pavement can also interfere with blood flow
Acute compartment syndrome effectively prevents circulation in the muscle group it occurs in, which can lead to extreme pain and potentially permanent tissue damage and paralysis if left untreated.
Chronic compartment syndrome, or exertional compartment syndrome, is triggered by increased activity and generally occurs in the legs or stomach. Physical exertion causes an increased blood flow to the muscle group being used, which in turn creates a pressure buildup which, unfortunately, restricts the blood flow to the muscle group.
Common symptoms for compartment syndrome are generally the same between Acute and Chronic syndromes:
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms after physical activity, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, either through the VA directly or through an approved third-party care provider if you have previously qualified for community care via the provisions in the VA Mission Act.
To get diagnosed with chronic compartment syndrome, doctors generally want first to establish that you are not suffering from a condition that would cause the same symptoms of pain in or near the muscle group.
Since the condition most often develops in the legs of individuals who engage in a lot of running (or marching), your medical care provider will likely want to ensure that your symptoms are not the result of related conditions such as a hairline fracture of the shin.
If you are experiencing the above symptoms and have previously been involved in a traumatic accident or are wearing a post-surgery bandage or cast, you should seek immediate medical care to determine whether you are experiencing acute compartment syndrome.
Treatment for compartment syndrome can follow multiple possible trajectories. Most doctors will gradually progress through treatments of increasing levels of invasiveness to rule out any simple fixes to the problem before risking more serious intervention.
For chronic compartment syndrome, treatment will likely initially involve cessation of whatever strenuous activity caused the muscle to take on more blood. Often, a reduction of physical activity can result in symptoms subsiding, but the pain and pressure can return if the activity is ever recontinued.
Most individuals can manage the occasional flare-ups of chronic compartment syndrome by limiting their activity. However, there are more invasive procedures that can further mitigate symptoms.
As a next step, doctors may recommend physical therapy or orthotic inserts in shoes to further reduce the muscle group pressure; these treatment options can be time-consuming and costly.
The last line of treatment available for chronic compartment syndrome is coincidentally the first and only method of treatment recommended for acute compartment syndrome: surgery.
While surgery is considered the most invasive treatment option for chronic compartment syndrome, surgery to relieve the tension on the muscle membrane is sometimes the only option available to prevent permanent tissue damage in the muscle group. This procedure normally requires a small to moderate incision to be made and can involve a long recovery and physical therapy process.
It is helpful to approach the VA Disability Rating system with an idea of the roadmap to receiving your compensation. Knowing the next step in the process and what to do about roadblocks can greatly relieve the stress caused by navigating the VA claims system while struggling with the daily impact of a condition that affects your quality of life.
The first step is to seek medical advice and a formal diagnosis for compartment syndrome. If you already have that, great! The next step is to file for disability and work with your VA claims manager to establish service connection between your condition and your experiences in the Armed Services, which will usually be backed up by documentation, including an affidavit by your physician. If your claim is approved, you will likely receive a disability rating.
The VA disability rating you are given for service-connected conditions represents the impact that a given disability or health condition has on your daily life. This rating is expressed as a percentage number, ranging all the way to 100%. At 100% disability, you are entitled to receive the maximum amount of care and compensation possible through the VA
In creating your disability rating, the VA will likely factor in the type of condition or conditions you received or developed as a result of your service and evaluate how these conditions can potentially hinder your enjoyment or quality of life.
In the case of compartment syndrome, many potential causes would result in service connection.
Since chronic compartment syndrome occurs most frequently as a result of long-distance running or marching, the development of the condition in many Veterans can be traced back to that first long ruck in basic training or maybe to a long deployment with inadequate footwear.
A Veteran’s acute compartment syndrome could also be related to their service. Instances like vehicular collisions, hard impacts with the dirt, or even kinetic energy transfer when a bullet was stopped by body armor could create the conditions for a rapid buildup of blood in a muscle group.
If your disabilities impact your life uniquely burdensome or severely, it is important to make sure your VA claims evaluator is aware of these considerations. VA claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and no Veteran’s story is exactly alike.
Physical assessment by care providers, physical therapists, psychiatric care providers, testimony from fellow service members, officers you served under, and family members can all help to paint the full picture for your VA claims evaluator. If you are unsure if the information is relevant, submit it anyway! The goal is to make sure that your full story gets told.
Once you receive your disability rating, it is important to note that it is not a permanent figure. Your rating is intended to change through periodic evaluations of your quality of life and any change in the conditions affecting it. Because of this, it is important to carefully document any developments or complications that arise from your current conditions.
In some cases, complications or further development of symptoms can lead the VA to conclude that the impact on your quality of life has worsened. This will likely increase your disability rating. This is why it is never recommended to miss a re-evaluation of your disability.
The VA rating process can be confusing, but Berry Law can help with a wealth of online resources to help Veterans learn how to get the benefits they have earned by working with their VA representatives. If you or a loved one are struggling to get a rating increase for the benefits you deserve, consider scheduling a consultation with Berry Law’s team to find out if we can help you in the fight.
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