Military service can place an incredible amount of stress on the body. Veterans often suffer from back and spinal pain after discharge. Some develop degenerative disc disease (DDD), a painful and lifelong condition that can lead to significant disability.
The VA provides benefits for qualifying veterans with degenerative disc disease. But the path to obtaining those benefits can be filled with obstacles. If you are struggling to obtain a fair VA disability rating for degenerative disc disease, the Berry Law Firm can help.
For more than 50 years, our attorneys have helped veterans secure the VA disability benefits they deserve. Several lawyers at the Berry Law Firm are veterans themselves. We apply our first hand military experience with legal knowledge to every case we handle. Our legal team can help you obtain benefits and assist with every aspect of the VA appeals process.
Call our office or contact us online to arrange a free consultation today.
Why It Can Be Difficult to Get Degenerative Disc Disease VA Benefits
The VA can award benefits only if it finds there is a connection between a veteran’s impairment and their past military service. Degenerative disc disease is a condition that develops and progresses over time. All too frequently, claims are denied or given low disability ratings because an examiner dismisses the disease as the result of the normal wear and tear of aging. That leaves veterans grappling with limitations that impact their ability to work and enjoy life.
Even veterans may not realize that their degenerative disc disease is service-related. But look back at your time in the armed forces. Did you ever fall off machinery? Carry heavy weapons or packs? Slip on uneven ground? Strain yourself during basic training? There are countless numbers of ways that could have triggered spinal injuries leading to degenerative disc disease, regardless of your age.
What Is Military-Related Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease is caused by the deterioration of the discs in the spine. Discs are important shock absorbers. They cushion and separate the vertebrae and also provide stability for the entire spinal column. Although degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere in the spine, it is commonly found in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions, which experience the most motion and strain over a lifetime.
Chronic pain and unpredictable episodes of severe pain are common as discs deteriorate. Flare-ups can last from days to weeks before ebbing to a lower level of pain. Thinning spinal discs can also place pressure on the nerves in the surrounding areas, resulting in muscle spasms, numbness, hot spots and shooting pain throughout the arms and legs. Degenerating discs can also cause spinal instability in the affected area.
Common examples of other conditions related to degenerative disc disease include:
- Herniated discs occur when a disc ruptures and part of its soft center leaks out. It can cause nerve pain throughout the limbs.
- Spinal stenosis happens when the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord. Surgery may be required to stabilize the spine.
- Bulging discs dry out over time and can lose their shape. A bulging disc can protrude into the spinal column and cause narrowing that results in pain. The vast majority of bulging discs are in the lower spine.
Many veterans with degenerative disc disease can find relief with rest, physical therapy, medications and lifestyle modifications to help with pain management. But there is no cure. Limited mobility or frequent bouts of disabling pain can disrupt a veteran’s ability to maintain employment and complete basic tasks of daily life. Medications that cause severe drowsiness may also impact productivity.
If degenerative disc disease is affecting your ability to work or quality of life, you may qualify for VA benefits. Getting the appropriate disability rating to reflect the severity of your condition is essential. A lawyer can help you gather the documentation you need to get a fair rating.
How the VA Decides Disability Ratings for Degenerative Disc Disease
The VA classifies degenerative disc disease as a musculoskeletal disorder of the spine. Back injuries are a common complaint after military service. Unfortunately, spinal injuries tend to receive low disability ratings despite the fact that they can be quite debilitating. It is very important to provide the VA with solid evidence to support your claim for disability benefits.
To receive VA disability benefits for degenerative disc disease, you must be able to prove that it is a service-connected condition or one that was aggravated by your time in military service. Degenerative disc disease may also qualify as a secondary service-connected disability, or one that developed as a result of a service connected injury. The VA rates a secondary condition separately.
The general ratings formula for spine conditions is primarily based on range of motion. A physician must test your ability to move using a goniometer. The VA will not accept results from any other method.
The rating criteria also evaluates whether the cervical (neck) or thoracolumbar (lower back) regions are frozen in a favorable or unfavorable position. A favorable position means that the spine is frozen in flexion or extension at 0 degrees. Any other position is considered unfavorable.
A VA examiner will then assign a rating based on the doctor’s assessment and any other evidence that you supply in your application. The rating could range from anywhere between 10-50% or 100%, each providing a different amount of monthly benefit.
Get Help from Our Degenerative Disc Disease VA Benefits Attorneys
Getting benefits from the VA is supposed to be a hassle-free process that can quickly turn into a maze of red tape when disputes arise. Let the Berry Law Firm help you get the disability benefits that you earned. Contact us today.