Military veterans experience medical disabilities at higher rates than their civilian counterparts, leaving many military families dealing with financial strain. To help veterans who incurred injuries as a result of active military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a disability benefits program.
Every year, the program provides income for millions of disabled veterans and publishes an Annual Benefits Report that lists the most common service-related disabilities. This article will discuss the top 10 types of injury related to military service, how the VA calculates disability ratings based on those injuries, and how affected veterans and their families can get the compensation they need and deserve.
Disability Ratings and How They Work
Before moving on to discuss the top 10 most common types of service-related injuries, it’s worth briefly discussing VA disability ratings since they are crucial to determining how much compensation disabled veterans will receive. The VA assigns disability ratings based on the severity of a person’s impairment. Ratings range from 0-100 and are assigned in 10% increments. If veterans have more than one qualifying disability, the ratings are calculated separately and then added together to determine the person’s final disability rating.
Top 10 Types of Qualifying Injuries
Not all injured veterans receive compensation via the VA’s disability benefits program. In fact, well under half of all service members’ claims are approved. Having ample documentation either in the form of military or civilian medical records and letters from witnesses to the events that caused disabling conditions can help, but it isn’t a guarantee. Of the claims that are approved, most fall into one of the following 10 categories.
Although tinnitus is technically a symptom of another underlying problem rather than a disease or injury in its own right, it is still the most commonly claimed low-rating veteran disability. Tinnitus, which causes people to hear ringing, buzzing, or humming noises when no external source of sound is present, is usually caused by ear injuries, hearing loss, or circulatory system disorders and is often exacerbated in veterans by exposure to loud sounds such as gunfire, nearby aircraft operations, and combat-related procedures.
2. Bilateral Hearing Loss
The VA considers two factors when determining whether a claimant has bilateral hearing loss. The first is decibel loss, which measures how people hear sounds played at different volumes. If a claimant loses more than 25 decibels in three frequency ranges, the VA should approve the claim. The second factor is speech discrimination, which measures a veteran’s speech recognition capabilities. A score of less than 94% is considered sufficient proof of hearing loss.
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is common among service members. This mental health condition is caused by shocking or distressing events and can cause a wide range of long-lasting symptoms including everything from flashbacks to depression and anxiety. To get a PTSD claim approved, the disabled veteran must have a current diagnosis and a professional opinion that links it to an in-service stressor that instigated the problem. However, the stressor doesn’t have to be combat-related. Examples of non-combat PTSD-inducing events include training accidents, car crashes, and service-member suicides.
4. General Scars
Scars and other skin conditions caused by injuries incurred during military service can cause lasting pain or cosmetic damage. When this is the case, the veteran can provide color photographs of the scars and statements corroborating their source, they may be claimed as disabilities. Surgical scars and those that don’t heal properly are typically rated higher.
5. Limitation of Flexion of the Knee
Knee problems that involve limitation of flexion are the fifth most common type of disability claim. The term flexion refers to how far someone can curl their knee inward or outward, and the level of limitation helps to determine the VA rating associated with the claim. In this case, the VA assigns ratings based exclusively on the flexion range. Severe cases in which a veteran’s knee flexion is limited to 45 degrees will lead to 50% ratings, but most of the time, ratings range from 0-20%.
6. Back and Neck Strains
Officially referred to as lumbosacral or cervical strains, these types of injuries must be assessed at an official compensation & pension (C&P) exam. Cervical strains occur when tendons or muscles in the neck are damaged, torn, or excessively stretched, while lumbosacral strains cause the same issues in the lower back. Back and neck strains are characterized by limitations to range of motion, functional loss, and fatigue, and they often occur as a result of extreme physical exertion associated with military service.
7. Paralysis of the Sciatic Nerve
When the sciatic nerve, which runs down the lower back and legs, becomes damaged or aggravated, it causes a condition commonly known as sciatica. Symptoms of sciatica can include:
- Neuralgia: sharp pain in the legs or lower back.
- Neuritis: intense pain or numbness caused by spinal degeneration.
- Paralysis: the inability to control the body’s lower limbs.
Most veterans who make sciatic nerve paralysis claims rate between 0-20%. However, these claims can rate as high as 80% if the claimant experiences complete paralysis below the knee.
8. Limitation of Ankle Motion
If service members experience limitations of ankle motion, it can impede their ability to perform daily activities. These types of musculoskeletal conditions are also caused by the extreme physical demands of active duty, although traumatic injuries can also cause ankle damage. Unfortunately, improper handling of an initial ankle sprain can increase a veteran’s risk of experiencing more of them in the future, which can further limit the ankle’s range of motion and cause significant instability. Veterans with significant damage to the ankle joint often experience not just weakness and decreased movement but also loss of power, pain, and arthritis.
9. Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are intense, debilitating headaches that make completing daily tasks at home or work extremely difficult. This type of headache affects the side of the head and can last anywhere from several hours to several days. Additional symptoms are often present, as well, including nausea, dizziness, throbbing head pain, and a heightened sensitivity to light and sound. If these symptoms cause migraine sufferers to have to isolate themselves in dark, quiet places to manage the pain, it’s known as prostration. Prostrating migraine attacks are considered more severe and are thus rated higher by the VA.
10. Limitation of Arm Motion
Limitation of arm motion is usually the result of an incompletely healed arm or shoulder injury. However, repeated injuries can also limit the arm’s range of motion and cause further instability of the joint. Veterans often develop disabilities related to limitation of arm motion as a result of physical training, repeated lifting of heavy objects, falls, impacts, accidents, and the buildup of scar tissue. The rating assigned to a limitation of arm motion claim will vary based on how severe it is and whether it affects the veteran’s dominant arm.
Where to Find Help With Disability Claims
Unfortunately, the VA does not make it easy for disabled claimants to get the benefits they need and deserve. Their first-time approval rate typically hovers around 35%, and even those claims that are approved often get assigned unreasonably low ratings. Disabled veterans who were injured or became ill as a result of their military service deserve better.
If you need help with filing a VA disability claim or an appeal, contact the Law Offices of Wilkerson, Jones, and Wilkerson, personal injury attorneys in Rock Hill, SC. Wilkerson, Jones and Wilkerson can assist any disabled veteran in Rock Hill, SC, with filing a claim or an appeal, so reach out today for a free case evaluation.
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