More than 52.5 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from arthritis, which is roughly one out of every five adults in the nation. While there are many things that can cause this condition, some causes are related to the sufferer’s military service and are eligible for VA benefits. However, because of the way the VA rates the most common form of arthritis to affect service members, disability claims for this type of condition are often rejected. If you have been diagnosed with arthritis that was the result of overuse or a traumatic injury that occurred while you were in the service, an experienced veteran benefits lawyer can assist you in appealing a claim denial and ensuring that you have the documentation that is necessary to prove that your arthritis was a result of service-related activities.
The VA rates arthritis differently, depending on whether the veteran has been diagnosed with the degenerative form of the disease that often results from overuse or traumatic injury and is the most common form of arthritis to affect veterans, or rheumatoid arthritis, which is an inflammatory condition that is the result of an autoimmune disorder. While autoimmune disorders are generally not service-related, the difference with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is that the cartilage breakdown associated with the rheumatoid form of this disease tends to happen suddenly within a year or two post-injury.
The VA considers rheumatoid arthritis to be a disabling condition. If you are diagnosed with this disease and are incapacitated as a result, you are generally provided with 100 percent disability, regardless of how many joints are affected. If you have experienced at least 2 episodes of incapacitation in a year, you will receive at least 20 percent disability. Three or more incapacitating episodes in a year will result in at least 40 percent disability, and four or more episodes or evidence of other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as loss of appetite or anemia, will result in 60 percent disability.
Degenerative arthritis, however, is rated based on the loss of motion in each affected joint. To be rated at 10 percent, the sufferer must have X-ray evidence showing that two or more major joints or two or more minor joint groups are affected. To obtain a 20 percent disability rating, the sufferer must also be able to prove that the condition causes him or her to experience occasional incapacitating episodes. Some of the factors that must be present in order for disability compensation to be provided include:
There are many service-related activities that can result in arthritis, including:
To establish a service connection for arthritis, a veteran must prove that the condition was a result of an event that occurred during service, such as an in-service injury or overuse of a joint during a service-related task that caused the condition to develop. It is important to note that the event that resulted in the condition does not have to be traumatic. It does, however, require a doctor’s opinion that the condition developed as a result of service-related activities.
There are two main types of arthritis that veterans can obtain disability compensation for: degenerative and rheumatoid.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, this form of arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, is the most common primary reason for individuals to be discharged from active duty military service. Degenerative arthritis of the spine is the most common service-connected disability for which veterans receive disability compensation. Degenerative arthritis is a natural wearing down of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones. The condition results in pain, stiffness, limitation of motion, painful motion, and a grinding or clicking sound when the sufferer moves the affected joint.
This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints. This creates inflammation that causes the joints to swell, resulting in pain around the joints. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, tenderness, or swelling lasting six weeks or more; morning stiffness lasting at least 30 minutes; fatigue; loss of appetite; and a low-grade fever. If the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis go unchecked, the condition can result in damage to the joints and bones that can cause the joint to become unstable and result in loss of mobility.
Yes, the VA does consider arthritis to be a disability that would qualify for benefits as long as the arthritis is directly related to your service. The amount you can receive for arthritis will depend on the type of arthritis as well as the severity.
If your arthritis is due to a single injury, documentation of that injury will likely be enough to establish the connection. If the arthritis is degenerative, however, you will need to show a continuation of reported symptoms.
Your chances of winning a VA appeal after your claim has been denied depends on your case and how well your appeal is handled. In order to have the best chance at winning your appeal, it is always in your best interest to work with an experienced VA disability lawyer.
A Veteran Disability Lawyer’s role is to assist you throughout the confusing and often frustrating claim appeals process if you have received a denial of benefits for your service-connected arthritis. Generally, you need to be denied at least once before an attorney can assist, but once a lawyer is involved they will often be able to quickly determine what needs to be done in order to prove entitlement.
If your VA disability claim for arthritis has been denied, be sure to contact the VA Accredited Attorneys at VetLaw right away to help make sure you get the entitlement you deserve.