VA Disability Rating for Vets With Rheumatoid Arthritis

VA Disability Rating for Vets With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can be painful and even debilitating. Unfortunately, millions of people suffer from the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis every year, including thousands of US military Veterans. If you or a loved one are a Veteran and have service-connected rheumatoid arthritis, you could be eligible for compensation and disability benefits.

How much you can expect to receive depends on your rheumatoid arthritis VA rating. Read on to discover the possible disability ratings you may receive once you file your application for disability benefits. 

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder caused when your body’s immune system attacks its joints. Your immune system is comprised of white blood cells and other cell types. 

The job of those cells is to identify and attack infectious diseases and other harmful cells, such as malfunctioning cells. With rheumatoid arthritis, your body misidentifies healthy joint tissue as bad, resulting in tissue degradation.

Rheumatoid arthritis is slightly different from degenerative arthritis in that it’s often seen among current military service members or Veterans. Not every rheumatoid arthritis condition is service-connected. Still, if you served in the military and developed this condition afterward, there’s a chance it was caused or aggravated by your military service.

Common Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis can be moderate to severe, depending on how long you’ve had the condition. Some of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness in the mornings (usually lasts for 30 minutes or more)
  • Joint pain, swelling, stiffness, or tenderness

If it is left unchecked, rheumatoid arthritis can cause such severe inflammation that it leads to permanent damage to the cartilage or to surrounding bone tissue. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get your rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed and treated at the earliest opportunity. 

If you have trouble paying for treatments, the VA may provide disability benefits compensation to help you acquire the medical care you need and deserve.

Which Joints Are Most Commonly Affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While rheumatoid arthritis can technically affect any joint, some joints are more likely to experience the above symptoms than others. These include the joints of the hands, feet, knees, elbows, ankles, and wrists. 

You may often mistake rheumatoid arthritis in your wrists and hands for regular soreness or irritation. However, you can sometimes identify rheumatoid arthritis if you experience the same joint symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis is a bilateral condition, so if you have rheumatoid arthritis in one hand, you are more likely to have it in the other. 

VA Ratings for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Degenerative Arthritis

The VA rates rheumatoid arthritis according to Diagnostic Code 5002. This diagnostic code may result in a rating of up to 100% disability, though this is uncommon amongst service-connected health conditions.

The rheumatoid arthritis VA ratings are as follows:

  • 20% rating if you have rheumatoid arthritis and two or more incapacitating episodes per year
  • 40% rating if you have rheumatoid arthritis and three or more incapacitating episodes per year or you have a definitive impairment in your overall health
  • 60% rating if you experience four or more incapacitation episodes per year or experience a decline in health, anemia, or weight loss. A “decline in health” may include painful motion, loss of limb usage, etc.
  • 100% rating if you experience incapacitating symptoms. You will only receive a total disability rating if there is x-ray evidence showing the severity and damage of your rheumatoid arthritis

Whatever rating you receive, remember that your rheumatoid arthritis VA rating can’t be combined with other ratings you may already have for limited motion. You can, however, combine your rheumatoid arthritis VA rating with your VA disability rating for another, separate condition. These combined ratings may increase your monthly compensation from the VA.

C&P Exams for Service-Connected Rheumatoid Arthritis

To receive disability benefits for service-connected rheumatoid arthritis, you must sit for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. You’ll need to provide your up-to-date contact and medical information, then attend the exam, which a VA-contracted physician or VA physician will provide.

In your C&P exam, your joints will be examined by the physician. They’ll physically check your joints for visible damage, test your sensitivity and pain, and test your range of motion. All of this will help the physician determine your most accurate disability rating.

With knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys working for you, you can provide substantiating evidence, such as lay statements, to increase your disability rating and prove that your symptoms are more severe than they seem on paper. This can be invaluable if your rheumatoid arthritis is debilitating, but you haven’t yet suffered severe cartilage or bone damage.

Burn Pits and Rheumatoid Arthritis in Veterans

It’s also important to note that many Veterans have developed rheumatoid arthritis because of exposure to burn pits. Military burn pits previously released many toxins into the air, which could have led to rheumatoid arthritis in thousands of Veterans.

The US military previously used burn pits as waste disposal sites in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thanks to the 2022 Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act or PACT Act, the VA added many conditions to the presumptive condition list for burn pit exposure.

Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is not on the presumptive condition list for conditions automatically covered by VA disability benefits. Many Veterans are still fighting to add rheumatoid arthritis to the presumptive conditions list with their attorneys.

If you believe your rheumatoid arthritis is connected to your military service and burn pit exposure, contact Berry Law today to understand your options.

Receiving Service Connection for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can be caused aggravated by many different things, including your time in the military. You may develop rheumatoid arthritis because of overuse or repeated use of your limbs or joints, such as while doing manual labor or carrying heavy equipment. You may also have developed rheumatoid arthritis because of exposure to toxic chemicals, as mentioned above.

Regardless, receiving service connection for your condition involves:

  • Filing a disability benefits application with the assistance of Veterans law attorneys
  • Providing substantiating evidence to prove that your rheumatoid arthritis developed or worsened during or after your military service and was likely because of something that occurred during your military service

The exact evidence you’ll need to provide can vary depending on the severity of your symptoms. Generally, you’ll need to provide evidence like:

  • A current diagnosis of your rheumatoid arthritis from a licensed physician
  • Substantiating medical documentation, like medication prescriptions, to show that you require medical treatment for your rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lay statements from yourself, your friends and family members, and fellow service people. Lay statements can substantiate your claims about the severity of your symptoms or help support your claim that your symptoms only began after serving in the military
  • Your service records. If you believe a specific event (sometimes called a nexus event) caused or aggravated your rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll need to prove that you served in a specific area at a specific time

To receive disability benefits, you may choose to provide a nexus letter to support your claim, although it is not necessary. The nexus letter comes from a licensed physician, providing their opinion that your military service or a specific event that occurred while you were in the military caused or aggravated your rheumatoid arthritis. If you don’t know who to contact or where to get a nexus letter, your Veterans law representatives may be able to connect you to a licensed physician who understands the details of your case.

Veterans law attorneys can also provide additional support, such as helping you gather evidence, break down your legal options, and help you file an appeal for further benefits if your initial claim is denied or your disability rating is too low. 

Contact Berry Law Today

Depending on the severity of your rheumatoid arthritis, you could receive a disability rating of between 20% and 100%. The higher your rating, the more compensation you may receive from the VA and the more benefits you may be eligible for.

Securing a higher VA rating for your rheumatoid arthritis isn’t just a matter of demonstrating symptoms. It’s also a matter of filing your disability benefits application properly. Berry Law can help you do that and more, including collecting evidence to substantiate your claim, filing an appeal for a rating increase, and much more. Contact us today.


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) | Arthritis | CDC 

38 CFR § 4.71a – Schedule of ratings – musculoskeletal system. | Cornell Law

The PACT Act And Your VA Benefits | Veterans Affairs

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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