Military service is physical and often leaves a lasting impact on veterans’ bodies. Low back pain is one of the most common VA disability claims among veterans. Back pain can affect every aspect of your life, making everyday tasks difficult. What about work? Does your service-connected back pain functionally impair your ability to work? Did you know you can get VA disability compensation if your back pain functionally impairs your ability to work?
But what If I don’t have a diagnosed back condition?
While normally the VA requires veterans to have a specific diagnosis to be eligible for disability benefits, a 2018 case (Saunders v Wilkie) recognized that even without a diagnosis, pain can cause functional impairment. Meaning, if your service-connected back pain impairs your ability to work, you are entitled to compensation.
How do I get the highest rating for my back pain?
Pain is rated similarly to any diagnosed condition, the VA looks to the extent that your pain impacts your ability to function and work. Thus, in order to get the highest rating you need to provide the VA with as much relevant information as possible. The VA needs to determine the severity of your pain and the extent it impacts your ability to function.
- The first way you can demonstrate this is through medical records. Often people in chronic pain seek pain relief through varying methods; for example, a pain specialist or massage therapist. Submit any records that prove your pain impacts you to such an extent that you were seeking relief to function.
- The second way to prove your impairment to the VA is through employment records. Did you have to quit or get fired from a job because you were physically incapable of doing the work? Have you had a hard time holding onto employment because of your back pain?
- Finally, the third way to prove your claim is through personal statements and buddy statements. These statements should include how your back pain impacts you from either your own viewpoint or a friend, colleague, or a family member. How often are you in pain? How severe is your pain? Do you have trouble sitting or standing? How well can you move with your back pain? What kind of job do you have? How does your pain impact your job? What changes have you had to make because of your pain?
Ratings for Low Back Pain
Typically the VA uses the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine to evaluate back conditions, including low back pain. This rating is based on range of motion. The VA rates low back pain as:
40% Rating | Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine 30 degrees or less; or favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine
20% Rating | Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 60 degrees; or combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than 120 degrees
10% Rating | Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 60 degrees but not greater than 85 degrees; or combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 120 degrees but not greater than 235 degrees
If veterans do not meet the range of motion criteria, it is still possible to get a rating for low back pain if they have intervertebral disc syndrome as well. This rating focuses on the number of incapacitating episodes a veteran experiences as a result of their low back pain. An incapacitating episode is defined as a period of acute signs and symptoms that require bed rest as prescribed by a physician.
60% Rating |Incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least 6 weeks during the past 12 months
40% Rating |Incapacitating episodes having a total duration of at least 4-6 weeks during the past 12 months
20% Rating |Incapacitating episodes having a total duration of 2-4 weeks during the past 12 months
10% Rating | Incapacitating episodes having a duration of 1-2 weeks during the past 12 months
Submitting a claim with the proper support can be a confusing process; however, Bosley & Bratch has been helping veterans get the benefits they deserve since 1995. If you’d like support from a firm with 24 years of experience please contact us at 727-274-9223 or chat with us online for a free consultation.