You can receive VA benefits for back pain, even if your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you with a specific condition.
Back pain can be a debilitating and chronic condition for a veteran, making it extremely difficult to be gainfully employed. The good news is that VA benefits are available for those suffering from long-lasting back pain, even it’s not attributed to a known back condition.
If you can link your back pain to your military service or prove that your active duty time worsened a preexisting condition, compensation is available to you.
To receive these benefits, you’ll have to provide medical records confirming that you’ve visited a doctor because of your back pain and link your disability to your service.
Here’s how you’ll go about receiving VA benefits for your back pain.
VA claims for a back condition
The most straightforward way to win your VA claim is to have a specific diagnosis of a back condition related to your service. If your doctor documents a back injury that you can trace to your time in the military, the process is pretty simple.
Common back conditions include spinal stenosis, a cervical strain, segmental instability, a vertebral fracture, or ankylosing spondylitis. Some of these disabilities are injuries, while others are degenerative conditions, but they can all receive a medical diagnosis from your doctor.
The actual diagnosis of the condition doesn’t necessarily influence how much compensation you’ll receive. However, it does provide a definite service connection when filing a claim.
A VA claim for back pain
You don’t necessarily need a diagnosis of a specific spinal condition to win a VA claim for back pain. A 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that even without an underlying disability, pain could be a legitimate reason to award VA benefits.
This ruling is the result of the story of Melba Saunders, who suffered a knee injury during her service time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite her pain, doctors couldn’t find a specific condition causing it, and the VA denied her claim.
Today, the law considers pain a disability, even without an underlying condition. Therefore, you can apply for benefits if you’re suffering from back pain.
How the VA assigns disability ratings
Backs are a tricky thing, as chronic conditions can cause a lot of pain, and, as we’ve mentioned, there might not be a specific condition causing it. As a result, the VA assigns disability ratings for back pain based on your range of motion. The more restrictive your range of motion, the more compensation you can expect.
The exception is an intervertebral disc syndrome (IVDS) diagnosis. IVDS is a condition where you’ll suffer incapacitating episodes that can last for weeks at a time but doesn’t include a permanent range of motion loss.
When dealing with a range of motion issue, you can receive a 100% disability rating for your back condition if you have stiffening of the entire spine. Additionally, a 50% rating for complete thoracolumbar spine stiffening and a 40% rating for the stiffening of the whole cervical spine are possible.
There are also ratings of 30%, 20%, and 10% for situations where your back pain or condition has caused a partial range of motion loss.
For intervertebral disc syndrome, you’re eligible for:
- A 60% rating if you’ve suffered at least six weeks of incapacitation over the last year
- A 40% rating if you’ve suffered four weeks of incapacitation over the last year
- A 20% rating if you’ve suffered two weeks over the last year
- A 10% rating if you’ve suffered one week over the last year
Keep in mind that your doctor must prescribe bed rest for your incapacitating episodes to count in the VA’s formula.
The compensation that you’ll receive ties directly to the disability rating that the VA assigns to you.
Your employability matters
The disability rating assigned by the VA isn’t the end-all. You can file for a rating increase if your pain has worsened, or you can also apply for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).
TDIU requires that you have one condition with at least a 60% rating or two disabilities that add up to 70%. You must also prove that it’s impossible to have a job and earn more than the annual poverty threshold because of your service-connected disabilities.
If your back pain prevents you from sitting for long periods in an office or lifting heavy items on a construction site, you might find it challenging to seek gainful employment. In these situations, extra compensation could come your way through your TDIU rating.
Making a VA back pain claim
The process of filing for VA compensation for back pain begins with medical documentation. You must have a physician diagnose you with a chronic condition or pain. From there, you will be subject to range of motion tests, so the VA can determine the severity of your disability to assign you a rating. Veterans Guardian VA Claim Consulting can prepare you to file your VA claim for back pain. Our team of experts will ensure that you have all the required paperwork to receive compensation for your back condition. Please stop by our contact page to set-up a free consultation to speak with a claim specialist so that you can file your claim with confidence.