Military service can place an incredible amount of stress on the body. Whether from the physical rigors of combat, from the psychosomatic effects of stress and anxiety on the body, or from other factors, many soldiers can leave their time in the military with a wide range of physical problems. For many Veterans, one of the most persistent and painful service-related issues is back pain.
Veterans often suffer from back and spinal pain after discharge, and these issues can last for decades. Some develop degenerative disc disease (DDD), a painful and lifelong condition that can be significantly debilitating. Veterans with DDD often suffer from significantly reduced mobility, which can make it extremely difficult to work and function in everyday life. Many Veterans with degenerative disc disease are rendered immobile by the condition, and it can be very hard for Veterans with this disability to find jobs that they can physically endure. Thus, DDD can often put a significant financial strain on a disabled Veteran and their family.
The VA provides benefits for qualifying Veterans with degenerative disc disease, and these benefits can make life much more manageable for people living with the disability. If a Veteran with DDD qualifies to receive disability benefits, this means they will get monthly compensation based on the severity of their condition. However, the path to obtaining these benefits can be filled with obstacles. Many Veterans struggle to get the disability benefits that they need and deserve for degenerative disc disease. If you are struggling to obtain a fair VA disability rating for degenerative disc disease, Berry Law Firm can help.
For more than 50 years, our attorneys have helped Veterans secure the VA disability benefits they deserve. Many lawyers who are long-term members of our team are Veterans themselves, having served in multiple branches of the military. As a team of Veterans helping Veterans, we are committed to helping you get the disability benefits that you need and deserve, whatever it takes.
We apply our first-hand military experience and extensive legal knowledge to every case we handle, helping Veterans navigate the VA appeals process and get properly compensated for their disabilities. Our legal team can help you obtain benefits and assist with every aspect of the VA appeals process, starting at your regional VA office and moving up to higher courts if necessary.
Call our office or contact us online to arrange a free consultation today.
Why It Can Be Difficult To Get Degenerative Disc Disease Benefits
The VA can award benefits only if it finds a connection between a Veteran’s impairment and their past military service. The VA often describes this connection as a nexus. A nexus is the direct link between a disability, either physical or psychological, that a Veteran suffers from and their time in the military. There are several factors that can lead to a service-connected disability, including the physical strain and stress that many soldiers endure on a daily basis while they are on active duty.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that develops and progresses over time. Because DDD often does not appear noticeably during a soldier’s time in the military, it can be difficult to recognize the condition in its early stages. Instead, many Veterans start to deal with more severe symptoms of DDD years after they have retired from the military.
Because DDD is a condition with symptoms that can worsen over the course of years and decades, many Veterans who apply for degenerative disc disease benefits end up with their claims rejected. Veterans with DDD are often denied benefits or given low disability ratings because an examiner dismisses the disease as the result of the normal wear and tear of aging. In its earlier stages, it can be easy to assume that DDD symptoms are just everyday aches and pains that have no link to a Veteran’s military service. However, this assumption is often incorrect and can leave Veterans grappling with limitations that impact their ability to work and enjoy life.
Many Veterans may not even realize that their degenerative disc disease is service-related. However, looking back on your time in the military, you may be able to quickly recall situations that may have led to chronic back and spine problems:
- Did you ever fall off machinery?
- Did you ever carry heavy weapons or packs?
- Did you ever slip on uneven ground?
- Did you ever strain yourself during basic training?
All of these are experiences that many Veterans will likely remember having throughout their time in the military. They are also all factors that can lead to long-term back pain and the development of degenerative disc disease. These experiences and other similar experiences can help the VA verify that your DDD is service-connected. You may even be able to look in your military medical records and find documented instances when you sustained back injuries during your time in the military.
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 the military. 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 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 10–50% or 100%, each providing a different amount of monthly benefits.
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. We have helped thousands of Veterans like yourself get the disability compensation they need and deserve. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.