Many of America’s Veterans have paid high prices to keep us safe, including experiencing amputations of one or more limbs.
Amputations involve the removal of one or more limbs or body parts. These serious medical interventions result in lifelong disabilities and loss of function. Many Veterans with amputations require and deserve disability benefits.
The VA has a set of disability ratings for service-connected amputations that can impact how much monthly compensation you may receive upon submitting a successful VA disability benefits application. Read on to learn more about VA disability ratings for amputations and how they’re determined.
An amputation is the loss or removal of a body part that does not recover or grow back. It can include but is not limited to the removal of:
● Fingers, including index and long fingers
● Toes (and sometimes the metatarsal head of the foot)
Amputation is always a difficult and life-changing experience regardless of the exact body part removed. Many Veterans may have a body part amputated because of their combat service or time in the military performing potentially dangerous work.
Other Veterans may have a limb or other body part removed or amputated because of a medical procedure. For example, if a limb is crushed or damaged because of an accident, a surgeon may opt to amputate the limb to prevent blood swelling and other negative health effects. Additionally, amputation may be required due to an infection or disease that is related to service, such as due to service-connected diabetes.
Any amputation suffered during military service – not just in combat – qualifies for disability benefits. However, different types of amputations receive different VA disability ratings, which can impact a Veteran’s total disability rating and monthly compensation.
The VA rates and awards benefits to Veterans with amputations based on whether the amputations occurred to the upper or lower extremities. Amputations are also categorized based on whether they occurred traumatically – in the moment of injuring incident, such as an accident or combat event – or if they occurred by surgical removal.
The VA’s ratings for amputations of the arms and hands are under Diagnostic Codes 5120 through 5125. Depending on the circumstances of your amputation and related factors, you could receive a disability rating of:
● 100% for amputation of an entire arm, including the scapula, shoulder, clavicle, and/or ribs
● 90% for amputation of the entire arm from the shoulder down or below the shoulder but above the elbow for the dominant arm
● 80% for amputation of the arm below the shoulder but above the elbow for the nondominant arm or below the deltoid but above the elbow for the dominant arm
● 80% for amputation of an arm above the pronator teres for the dominant arm
● 70% for amputation of an arm below the deltoid but above the elbow for the nondominant arm or above the pronator teres for the nondominant arm
● 70% for amputation of an arm below the insertion of the pronator teres for the dominant arm or amputation of the dominant hand
● 60% for amputation of an arm below the insertion of the pronator teres for the nondominant arm or for amputation of the nondominant hand
If both arms or hands are amputated, the VA automatically awards the Veteran amputee a 100% disability rating. This higher rating reflects the Veteran’s struggle and future difficulties in life, even if they receive prosthetics.
The lower extremities include the legs and feet. The VA uses the same regulation codes to issue disability ratings, specifically the Schedule of Ratings – Musculoskeletal System.
These ratings are as follows:
● 100% for the amputation of a leg, including any part of the pelvic bone
● 90% for the amputation of a leg at the hip
● 80% for the amputation of a leg at the upper thigh
● 60% for amputation of a leg at the mid to lower thigh and cases in which a second amputation is required because of complications from an initial amputation
● 60% for amputations that render knee joints unstable
● 40% for amputation of a leg below the knee
● 40% for amputations that render a foot or ankle unusable
● 10% to 40% for various levels of foot amputations depending on severity, the Veteran’s ability to move or walk after the surgery, etc.
If a Veteran has both legs or feet amputated, the VA will award them a 100% disability rating automatically. Note that, as opposed to hands and arms, the VA doesn’t distinguish between dominant and nondominant legs or feet.
After a surgical amputation, a Veteran may be required to stay at a hospital or go through an extensive period of convalescence. In this case, they may receive a temporary 100% disability rating until they are well enough to be released.
This usually lasts for three months; after this, the VA will reevaluate your case and assign you a different disability rating based on your permanent disabilities.
The VA has a special classification for limbs or body parts you can no longer use, even if they are not amputated or removed. The VA classifies a condition as “loss of use” when a part of a service member’s body would function just as well as an amputation with a prosthesis.
For example, if you have nerve damage that prevents you from using your right arm, the VA may classify that disability as a loss of use disability. That’s because, in theory, if you had that arm amputated and replaced with a prosthetic, there would be no major difference.
Loss of use determinations are based on how much function remains in the limb. To determine this, the VA may have you sit through a Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exam, in which you will test various actions like grasping, walking, and beyond.
When it comes to the loss of use of one or both feet, the VA also considers how well you can balance and propel yourself on the ground. Note that loss of use designations don’t have to result from a specific illness or injury. Instead, they can occur from a combination of disabling injuries.
Loss of use normally applies to the hands and feet. It may also apply (and qualify you for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) benefits as described below) to the following body parts or situations:
● Losing your sight in one eye
● Losing the use of a reproductive organ
● Joint impairment
● Having a paralyzed limb
● Being deaf in both ears
● Being unable to communicate using speech
● Losing one or both breasts from a mastectomy or radiation treatment
In most cases, loss of use is categorized and rated similarly to a full amputation. Put another way, if you receive a 40 percent rating for the amputation of a given limb and can’t use the same limb at all, you can expect a 40% service-connected disability rating.
Similarly, if you have lost the use of both hands, arms, feet, or legs, you should receive an automatic 100% disability rating from the VA to reflect this.
However, loss of use is not always 100%, and a higher evaluation isn’t always the outcome of this level of disability. For example, you may only partly lose the use of your hand or foot, which may result in a lower disability rating. Speak to experienced Veterans law attorneys to discover how the loss of use may impact your overall disability rating and disability claim.
Veterans with amputated limbs or body parts may be awarded special monthly compensation or SMC. SMC is an extra monetary benefit awarded in addition to your regular disability compensation. SMC levels L through O are awarded to Veterans who:
● Have one or more limbs or extremities amputated
● Lose the use of one or more limbs or extremities
Check out the VA’s chart for special monthly compensation rates to discover how much you may receive in addition to your standard Veterans benefits if you have one or more limbs amputated.
The VA may rate your amputations differently depending on their severity, your other disabling conditions, and other factors. Berry Law can help you understand the rating system, help you put together a successful disability benefits claim, and ensure that you understand the process from start to finish.
You don’t need to go through the disability benefits application process alone. Contact us today for a free consultation and more information.
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