VA Disability Rating for Degenerative Disc Disease: A Guide (2022)

Posted byBerry LawonJune 18, 2018 inVeterans Benefits

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

(Video) VA SECONDARY DISABILITY CLAIMS

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 for degenerative disc disease is usually 20%, independently of how severe your condition may be.

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.

Sources:

(Video) VA Disability for Back Pain

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16912-degenerative-disk-disease

https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/degenerative-disc-disease

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/degenerative-disc-disease

FAQs

What is the VA rating for degenerative disc disease? ›

The VA generally rates degenerative disc disease between 10 and 20%, depending on the number of joints affected.

What conditions are secondary to degenerative disc disease? ›

It's important to look into worsening symptoms and secondary conditions that may have surfaced as a result of the degenerative disc disease. DDD can trigger other conditions including radiculopathy, herniated discs, neurological impairments, spinal stenosis, and more.

What stage is moderate to severe degenerative disc disease? ›

Stage 4 is considered severe DDD because it is challenging or impossible to reverse in many cases. It may still be possible to treat the condition and improve your quality of life though. Typically, treatment will involve some physical activity and exercises to reduce pain levels.

Is a degenerative disc a disability? ›

Degenerative Disc Disease, or DDD, is among the most common impairments for which the Social Security Administration (SSA) receives disability applications. While it is a qualifying disability under certain circumstances, proving your condition meets the SSA's duration and severity level requirements can be difficult.

Can DDD be service-connected? ›

To receive disability benefits for DDD, it's necessary to prove that it's a condition connected to your time in service or one that was aggravated by your time in the military. Sometimes, DDD qualifies as a secondary service-connected disability or one that has developed because of a service-connected injury.

Is degenerative disc disease a pre existing condition? ›

In summary, DDD as seen on x ray examination and MRI scans is not a painful condition, therefore evidence of this “disorder” before an accident or injury does not mean that the patient had a painful pre-existing condition.

Is frequent urination a VA disability? ›

According to 38 C.F.R. § 4.115a, urinary frequency is to be rated as follows: Daytime voiding interval between 2 and 3 hours, or, awakening to void 2 times per night, warrants a 10 percent disability rating.

Does an MRI show degenerative disc disease? ›

In summary, an MRI plays an important but not exclusive role in the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. In a symptomatic patient who has failed nonoperative conservative treatment and has normal X-ray findings, an MRI can be a very useful tool for further evaluation of a patient with axial back pain.

How much VA disability will I get for lower back pain? ›

What is the average VA disability rating for back pain? VA disability ratings for back pain can range from 10% to 100%, depending on the severity of the pain, the range of motion the veteran is left with, and the frequency of the pain.

What is L4 L5 degenerative disc disease? ›

DISC DEGENRATIVE DISEASE L4-L5 CAUSES

Tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc – Pressure on the outer layer of a disc can result in the development of small tears. The jellylike material from inside the disc can then seep through these cracks – a condition known as a herniated disc.

What is Stage 3 degenerative disc disease? ›

Stage 3. Stage 3 is marked by a more extreme change in the posture and curvature of the spine, along with more pain and loss of mobility. Nerve damage is common and scar tissue typically begins to form. Discs are even thinner than before, which can sometimes cause even more deformation of the bones.

Does degenerative disc disease make you tired? ›

While symptoms vary, they generally include pain along the cervical spine, neck, lumbar spine, or lower back. The pain often radiates throughout the arms, buttocks, and extremities. Fatigue can increase with prolonged periods of sitting, standing or walking.

How do I get rid of mild degenerative disc disease from the VA? ›

Generally, to prove service connection and secure a degenerative disc disease VA rating, veterans need evidence of the following three things: An in-service event, injury, or illness; A current diagnosis of DDD by a medical professional; and. A medical nexus, or link, between the in-service event and current diagnosis.

Can I get disability for mild degenerative disc disease? ›

Working may seem impossible if you have degenerative disc disease. If you find yourself unable to perform the basic functions of your job because of extreme back pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness, you may be able to file a claim for LTD benefits.

Can I get a blue badge with degenerative disc disease? ›

Degenerative disc disease is one of the spine conditions that qualify for disability benefits. In order to qualify for disability benefits with degenerative disc disease, your condition needs to meet the criteria laid out in the Social Security Administration's Blue Book listing.

What is the average VA disability rating for neck pain? ›

Most neck ratings fall between 10-percent and 30-percent, depending on your range of motion limitations, including painful motion. Keep in mind that residual conditions such as nerve damage, referred to as radiculopathy by VA, and cervicogenic headaches can receive separate ratings.

What is the VA rating for chronic osteoarthritis? ›

Degenerative arthritis, caused by overuse of the joints or an injury, is the most common form of arthritis in veterans and is rated under Diagnostic Code 5003. Veterans receive either a 10% or 20% rating depending on the severity of their symptoms and the number of joints affected.

What conditions are secondary to lower back pain? ›

A few examples of these secondary conditions or complications are radiculopathy, myelopathy, urinary incontinence and/or frequency along with mental health conditions as well.

Can a back injury cause degenerative disc disease? ›

Degenerative disc disease typically occurs in the lumbar spine, the lower back area, causing pain and stiffness. While it can occur as part of the aging process, trauma, such as a car accident, can also cause it.

What jobs can I do with degenerative disc disease? ›

Ideal Jobs for People Suffering from Back Pain
  • Content writer. Many companies need good writers who can develop content for their blogs, websites, social media accounts and newsletters. ...
  • Office job. ...
  • Customer service representative. ...
  • Tech worker. ...
  • Accountant. ...
  • Sales representative. ...
  • Self-employment. ...
  • Home school teacher.
22 Jan 2020

Is degenerative disc disease caused by arthritis? ›

Not really. But they can be related. DDD can cause spinal osteoarthritis in some patients. The key difference is that degenerative disc disease describes what is happening to the spinal discs.

How much is VA disability for erectile dysfunction? ›

Erectile dysfunction is rated under 38 C.F.R. § 4.115b, Diagnostic Code 7522. Under DC 7522 a 20 percent rating is warranted for deformity of the penis with loss of erectile power. This is the sole disability rating provided under this diagnostic code provision.

What is VA rating for insomnia? ›

VA Disability Ratings for Insomnia Disorder

So this means, insomnia could be rated like mental disorders which range from 0% to a 100% disability rating, per the Schedule of Ratings for Mental Disorders (38 CFR § 4.130) meaning it is possible to receive over $3,000 from the VA for service connected insomnia issues.

Is erectile dysfunction a service connected disability? ›

Erectile dysfunction is a condition that can stand in the way of a happy, fulfilling life. If you developed erectile dysfunction during or after your military service, you may qualify to receive VA disability benefits.

What is L5 S1 degenerative disc disease? ›

Cauda equina syndrome may occur at L5-S1 due to an injury to the cauda equina nerves that descend from the spinal cord. This syndrome is a medical emergency and typically causes severe pain, weakness, numbness, and/or tingling in the groin, genital region, and/or both legs.

Can degenerative disc disease affect your legs? ›

Degenerative disc disease may cause back and/or leg pain, as well as functional problems such as tingling or numbness in your legs or buttocks, or difficulty walking.

Is sciatica the same as degenerative disc disease? ›

If the sciatic nerve in the lower back is compressed, it can result in pain and numbness that runs down the hip and leg known as sciatica. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common source of back pain, and it may lead to sciatic nerve irritation in certain situations.

What is the VA rating for degenerative arthritis of the spine? ›

Arthritis of the back will be rated at 10 or 20 percent based upon the number of joints/joint groups affected and the level of incapacitation. VA requires that limitations of motion be confirmed by observations such as swelling, muscle spasms, or evidence of painful motion.

What is the VA rating for chronic pain? ›

The Veteran claims entitlement to an increased rating for chronic pain disorder associated with both psychological factors and general medical condition, rated 50 percent disabling effective from July 1992.

How do I increase my VA disability on my back? ›

How Do I Increase My VA Disability Rating?
  1. Filing an appeal within VA's deadlines.
  2. Filing a new claim for an increased rating.
  3. Filing for TDIU, or total disability based on individual unemployability.
  4. Filing for secondary service connection.

What are the symptoms of L4-L5 nerve damage? ›

Common Symptoms and Signs Stemming from L4-L5
  • Sharp pain, typically felt as a shooting and/or burning feeling that originates in the lower back and travels down the leg in the distribution of a specific nerve, sometimes affecting the foot.
  • Numbness in different parts of the thigh, leg, foot, and/or toes.

What nerves do L4 and L5 affect? ›

The L4 and L5 nerves (along with other sacral nerves) contribute to the formation of the large sciatic nerve that runs down from the rear pelvis into the back of the leg and terminates in the foot.

What are the symptoms of L5 nerve damage? ›

L5 NERVE ROOT DAMAGE

This pain can come in the form of numbness, tingling, weakness and shooting and is commonly felt in the big toe, inside of the foot, top of the foot and ankle. Radiculopathy of the L5 nerve may also cause loss of coordination in the foot and toes.

How quickly does degenerative disease progress? ›

The degenerative process of the spinal disc may start gradually or suddenly, but progresses over 2 to 3 decades from severe and at times even disabling bouts of pain to a state in which the spine is restabilized and the pain is diminished.

How long does it take for a disc to degenerate? ›

Once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, and a spiral of degeneration can set in with three stages that appear to occur over 20 to 30 years: Acute pain makes normal movement of the back difficult. The bone where the injury occurred becomes relatively unstable.

What age does your spine start to degenerate? ›

The spine starts degenerating somewhere between the ages of 20 and 25, explains Dr. Anand. But there's a reason you don't see most 20-somethings wincing from back pain: it takes a long time for spinal discs to wear down on their own. Normal aging isn't the only cause of disc degeneration.

What activities should you avoid with degenerative disc disease? ›

Skip movements that involve significant axial loading on the lower back, such as squats and leg presses. Avoid toe-touches, sit-ups, and yoga poses that worsen the pain and lead to significant bending of the back.

Does degenerative disc disease affect the hips? ›

Degenerative disc disease can cause muscle tension or spasms, as well as pain that grows through the shoulders, arms, or hands. If the degeneration is at the lumbar disc or lower back, pain may radiate down the backs of the legs or in the hips or buttocks.

Does degenerative disc disease cause neck pain? ›

The most common and obvious symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease are neck pain and a stiff neck. When one of these conditions presses on one or more of the many nerves running through the spinal cord, you also can develop pain, numbness, or weakness radiating down your shoulder, arm, and hand.

What conditions are secondary to degenerative disc disease? ›

It's important to look into worsening symptoms and secondary conditions that may have surfaced as a result of the degenerative disc disease. DDD can trigger other conditions including radiculopathy, herniated discs, neurological impairments, spinal stenosis, and more.

What is the difference between Ivds and DDD? ›

Intervertebral disk (IVD) degeneration is a natural progression of the aging process. Degenerative disk disease (DDD) is a pathologic condition associated with IVD that has been associated with chronic back pain.

Is degenerative disc disease a long term disability? ›

Patients who find themselves unable to work because of their degenerative disc disease may qualify for long term disability (LTD) benefits. The insurance company will review their claim to see if they qualify under the conditions of that plan.

Is degenerative disc disease permanent? ›

Answer: Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for degenerative disc disease, and once you're diagnosed with DDD, it's typically a lifelong journey of learning to live with back pain, neck pain, or other symptoms.

How common is mild degenerative disc disease? ›

Approximately 40% of adults over age 40 have at least one degenerated vertebral disc. By age 80, 80% of them do. Disc degeneration is considered a normal part of aging, just as skin wrinkles and gray hair are.

Is degenerative disc disease the same as spinal stenosis? ›

Discs often degenerate with age causing vertebrae to sit closer together. This is part of the reason we shrink with age. Degenerative discs can lead to pain via multiple pathways. Spinal stenosis is another condition of the spine where the central canal diameter is reduced much like a pipe that becomes clogged.

Can I still work with degenerative disc disease? ›

If you are living with degenerative disc disease in your neck, if it is severe enough, it may cause you to be out of work for at least 12 months.

What is the VA rating for degenerative arthritis of the spine? ›

Arthritis of the back will be rated at 10 or 20 percent based upon the number of joints/joint groups affected and the level of incapacitation. VA requires that limitations of motion be confirmed by observations such as swelling, muscle spasms, or evidence of painful motion.

What is the highest VA rating for back? ›

What is the average VA disability rating for back pain? VA disability ratings for back pain can range from 10% to 100%, depending on the severity of the pain, the range of motion the veteran is left with, and the frequency of the pain.

What is the VA rating for chronic osteoarthritis? ›

Degenerative arthritis, caused by overuse of the joints or an injury, is the most common form of arthritis in veterans and is rated under Diagnostic Code 5003. Veterans receive either a 10% or 20% rating depending on the severity of their symptoms and the number of joints affected.

What is the difference between Ivds and DDD? ›

Intervertebral disk (IVD) degeneration is a natural progression of the aging process. Degenerative disk disease (DDD) is a pathologic condition associated with IVD that has been associated with chronic back pain.

How do I get a higher VA rating for back pain? ›

Lower Back Pain and Flare-Ups

If you are service-connected for low back pain, the presence of flare-ups could impact your disability rating. Specifically, a higher rating may be awarded when there is additional loss or limitation of motion due to pain during flare-ups.

What is degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine? ›

Osteoarthritis (noninflammatory or degenerative arthritis) is the most common form of spinal arthritis. It usually affects the lower back and develops through wear and tear. As the cartilage between the joints slowly breaks down, it leads to inflammation and pain.

Is chronic back pain a VA disability? ›

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.

What is the VA rating for chronic pain? ›

The Veteran claims entitlement to an increased rating for chronic pain disorder associated with both psychological factors and general medical condition, rated 50 percent disabling effective from July 1992.

What is VA rating for lumbar spine? ›

A 40 percent rating is the maximum schedular rating for limitation of motion of the lumbosacral spine under Diagnostic Code 5292. The Board has considered rating the veteran's low back disability under all potentially applicable diagnostic codes to determine whether a more favorable rating is warranted.

What is the VA rating for hip pain? ›

VA disability rating for hip pain caused by hip replacement schedule is 100% for one year following the hip replacement surgery. A hip replacement surgery qualifies you for a minimum 30 percent VA disability rating for hip pain. As noted, the VA considers you totally disabled for one year after your hip replacement.

How do I get rid of mild degenerative disc disease from the VA? ›

Generally, to prove service connection and secure a degenerative disc disease VA rating, veterans need evidence of the following three things: An in-service event, injury, or illness; A current diagnosis of DDD by a medical professional; and. A medical nexus, or link, between the in-service event and current diagnosis.

How Much Does VA pay for joint pain? ›

Under the VA rating schedule, there is a standard 20% disability rating if there is x-ray evidence of involvement of two or more major joints, or minor joint groups, with occasional incapacitating exacerbations.

What is VA rating for insomnia? ›

VA Disability Ratings for Insomnia Disorder

So this means, insomnia could be rated like mental disorders which range from 0% to a 100% disability rating, per the Schedule of Ratings for Mental Disorders (38 CFR § 4.130) meaning it is possible to receive over $3,000 from the VA for service connected insomnia issues.

What is L4 L5 degenerative disc disease? ›

DISC DEGENRATIVE DISEASE L4-L5 CAUSES

Tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc – Pressure on the outer layer of a disc can result in the development of small tears. The jellylike material from inside the disc can then seep through these cracks – a condition known as a herniated disc.

What is L5 S1 degenerative disc disease? ›

Cauda equina syndrome may occur at L5-S1 due to an injury to the cauda equina nerves that descend from the spinal cord. This syndrome is a medical emergency and typically causes severe pain, weakness, numbness, and/or tingling in the groin, genital region, and/or both legs.

Can a back injury cause degenerative disc disease? ›

Degeneration occurs because of age-related wear-and-tear on a spinal disc, and may be accelerated by injury, health and lifestyle factors, and possibly by genetic predisposition to joint pain or musculoskeletal disorders. Degenerative disc disease rarely starts from a major trauma such as a car accident.

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