If you are experiencing back pain due to your military service, you can receive VA benefits, as long as you fulfill the necessary requirements. In order to receive any kind of benefits, you must demonstrate that you are a former member of the U.S. military with an honorable discharge, that you have a current medical condition caused by your military service, and that you have medical evidence connecting your condition to the in-service event, injury, or illness.
Back pain and its causes
Back pain presents itself in many ways. You could be experiencing dull, aching pain or shooting pain; burning or stabbing pain; cramps or spasms; or numbness and weakness. The pain may even extend down your limbs. In addition, you may experience flare-ups that increase the severity for a time.
A number of diagnosable conditions can cause back pain, including bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, osteoporosis, and muscle or ligament damage due to military service. However, it is important to note that you do not need a specific diagnosis to receive compensation for back pain. A 2018 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that pain alone is a legitimate diagnosis for awarding VA benefits. This was a tremendous victory for veterans, as back pain can be quite substantial, even without an obvious, identifiable cause.
Back pain is very often a secondary cause of another known condition, such as a leg injury. For instance, an injury that causes a veteran to walk with a limp may aggravate the back, causing chronic pain. This would be a clear secondary condition to the leg injury. But back pain itself may cause ratable conditions, such as depression, arthritis, or radiculopathy (pinched nerves).
As with primary causes, a secondary cause requires a diagnosis as well as medical evidence showing the link between your service-connected condition and the secondary condition.
Getting rated for back pain
Receiving a rating for back pain can be tricky, especially when no clear cause can be identified since everyone experiences pain differently and because there are so many possible causes. The VA has determined two fairly objective tests by which to rate back pain: range of motion and functional limitations. Thus, if a veteran can bend forward 60 degrees, but can only bend forward painlessly for 30 degrees, both should be evaluated.
A VA evaluator should also consider flare-ups, which can cause the veterans’ range of motion and functionality to decrease significantly during those periods. While this is less objective, it should be taken into consideration when determining a VA rating.
An exception to this rule is a diagnosis of intervertebral disc syndrome (IVDS), which includes the degeneration of one or more discs of the spine. This condition can cause debilitating periods in which the veteran is severely incapacitated, but does not cause a permanent range of motion loss. Thus, IVDS has its own rating system, based on the number of weeks of incapacity you have experienced in the previous year. A doctor must prescribe bed rest in order for it to be counted by the VA.
Getting help with your VA rating
Your C&P examiner must diagnose your back condition, whether as a primary or secondary condition connected to your military service, even if the diagnosis is simply “back pain,” and give a report about your range of motion and functional loss. This is a critical component to getting compensation for your suffering. If you disagree with your C&P results, you can submit an argument and evidence supporting your position. You will also want to check that the examiner’s report has properly listed your symptoms and severity, any flare-ups, and any additional factors such as functional loss and inability to perform basic tasks.
Lay statements (aka “buddy letters”) and an examination by a private doctor can be additional sources to support your case.
As disabled veterans ourselves, here at the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, we know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be to receive a favorable rating from the VA or to have an unfavorable rating changed. We’ve turned our experiences into a passion for helping other veterans get the compensation they deserve without having to endure all the headaches we endured.
If you are struggling to receive a VA rating for your back pain, or if you believe you deserve a higher rating, contact Robert B. Goss, the Veterans Attorney, at (877) 425-4838. We are here to help you.