VA Disability For Migraines

Those who suffer from migraine headaches know just how debilitating they can be. Even worse, migraine headaches can be unpredictable, making it hard to know just when and how long they will disrupt your day-to-day and workplace activities.

The causes of migraine headaches are multi-faceted and have been linked to a variety of environmental, psychological, and physical factors. Unfortunately, Veterans are at an increased risk of suffering from migraine headaches. As the VA reports, studies have demonstrated that up to 36 percent of Veterans who completed a 12-month deployment in Iraq were later diagnosed with or showed symptoms of migraines. By comparison, only 12% of people in general exhibit migraine symptoms.

With a documented increase in this condition for Veterans, it seems clear that VA disability should apply to migraine headaches. It may be frustrating, then, to find out that your claim for VA disability benefits has been denied.

WAS YOUR VA DISABILITY CLAIM FOR MIGRAINE HEADACHES DENIED?

If you made a claim for VA disability based on symptoms of migraine headaches and were denied, you likely have questions about this decision and what to do next. Some injuries and conditions are obviously service-related, and the act of filing a claim for these is much more straightforward. Migraine headaches, however, are not as simple.

In order to receive a VA disability rating for migraines, you must prove that your symptoms are part of a diagnosed condition and that the condition is service-related. Doing so can require some extra steps in the diagnosis stage.

HOW DOES THE VA RATE MIGRAINE HEADACHES?

First, it’s useful to understand how the VA rates migraine headaches. A migraine headache diagnosis has a maximum VA rating of 50%, which means that a veteran suffering from migraines may be eligible for up to 50% disability benefits because of the condition. This is not an automatic rating, however, and there are multiple stages of migraine headaches under consideration:

  • 0% Disability Rating– Someone who has only occasional migraines or symptoms that do not include prostrating attacks may only be eligible for a noncompensable, or 0% disability rating.
  • 10% Disability Rating– If a veteran suffers from migraines with prostrating attacks that occur on average every 2 months over a period of several months, a 10% disability rating is likely appropriate.
  • 30% Disability Rating– If a veteran suffers from migraines with prostrating attacks that occur on average once a month over a period of several months, a 30% disability rating is likely appropriate.
  • 50% Disability Rating– The maximum VA disability rating for migraine headaches requires very frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability. You are probably left wondering what this convoluted language means, and you’re not alone. This language is broken down more below.

The disability rating for migraine headaches contains language that is not clearly defined. These terms have been extensively litigated at the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and much of this litigation is still ongoing. The current understanding of the meaning of these terms falls into three categories:

  • Necessity of Prostration– “Prostration” generally refers to being in a fully reclined position. VA generally accepts the definition for prostrating headaches as those migraines which require you to lie down in a dark room for the duration of the prostrating attack. There is no requirement that the prostrating attack lasts for any specific amount of time, but if the attack is severe enough to require you to lie down in order to manage the symptoms, then VA is likely to concede that your migraine headaches are prostrating.
  • Prolonged Period of Symptoms– Another aspect that is taken into consideration while making the most severe disability rating is the prolonged nature of the individual migraine attack period. There is no specific amount of time defined by the VA, so there is some subjectivity in this regard. We recommend keeping a headache journal to document the onset of prostrating attacks and how long it takes to recover. This documentation can be very helpful in proving that your migraines are “prolonged” to qualify for the highest disability rating.
  • Severe Economic Inadaptability- The final condition that is required to receive the highest disability rating has to do with the impact on your ability to work and earn financial compensation. The definition of this phrase is still being litigated in the Courts, but if your migraines happen with enough frequency and severity to make you absent from work more than one day per month, you may meet the criteria to demonstrate that your prostrating migraine headaches cause severe economic inadaptability.

COMMON CAUSES OF SERVICE-RELATED MIGRAINE HEADACHES

While migraine headaches have many potential causes, there are service-related incidents that make them more likely for Veterans. For one thing, migraine headaches have been associated with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), concussion, and neck injuries. Veterans are at an increased risk for these traumatic injuries because of the nature of the work they do. Falls, explosions, and other incidents faced during deployments can increase the risk of sustaining an injury that may lead to migraines in the future.

Research has also pointed to a cumulative effect when it comes to TBI, concussions, and neck injuries. A single mild concussion may not produce migraines on its own, but the impact of multiple such injuries over time could have a snowball effect and ultimately lead to a migraine headache condition.

Veterans were often exposed to toxic chemicals during active duty service which may play a role in the development of migraine headaches. Other common issues faced by servicemembers include increased stress and chronic sleep deprivation or disruption of sleep patterns. Sometimes migraines can also develop secondary to conditions that are already service-connected, such as PTSD or tinnitus. In sum, many veterans are exposed to a variety of events and exposures which may lead to the development of migraine headaches.

HOW IS SERVICE CONNECTION ESTABLISHED FOR MIGRAINE HEADACHES?

One of the most challenging parts of receiving VA disability benefits for migraine headaches is establishing a clear connection between service and the condition. The first step to establishing this relationship is to make sure that you’ve gotten a thorough and meaningful diagnosis for the condition. Be sure not to downplay your symptoms. Keep a record of every time migraine symptoms occur, and document the duration, severity, and impact. Be sure to bring up these symptoms with your doctor so that patterns can be identified over time.

As far as demonstrating that migraine headaches are connected to your service, the primary method is by establishing a line between a service-related incident (such as a TBI or concussion) and the onset of the migraine symptoms.

In addition, migraines can also be part of a medical “nexus.” This means that the condition could be connected to other diagnosed conditions — such as TBI, mental health, tinnitus, or a musculoskeletal injury such as neck pain. If you have questions about whether your migraine headaches are related to your active duty service or secondary to a service-connected condition, you should speak with a VA accredited attorney about the potential for obtaining a medical nexus opinion and exploring whether your headaches are at least as likely as not service-related.

Matthew  White

Experience

Appellate Attorney Matthew White represents veterans before the Board of Veterans Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Brendan Garcia

Experience

Owner and Lead Attorney Brendan Garcia represents veterans in all 50 states with their VA Disability Appeals, in all stages of the VA Appeals process.

Contact a VA Disability Lawyer Today

A VA Disability Lawyer’s role is to assist you throughout the confusing and often frustrating appeals process if you have been denied benefits for your service-connected migraines. 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 migraines 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.

Yes. Migraine headaches are eligible for VA disability benefits if you can show they either began in service or are otherwise related to an in-service event. Many veterans also establish service connection for migraine headaches as secondary to another service-connected condition, such as tinnitus, neck pain, or a mental health condition such as PTSD.

Typically, VA compensation for migraine headaches is rated based on severity and frequency. It can be as low as 0% and as high as 50%. Migraine headaches frequently cause problems with maintaining employment, and many veterans seek entitlement to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU), resulting in compensation at the 100% rate, particularly if they suffer from a combination of migraines and other service-connected conditions.

Proving that migraine headaches are service-related is often one of the most challenging parts of the process. Keeping careful documentation of your symptoms, speaking with your doctor frequently about your condition, and getting a thorough diagnosis can help establish the link between an event in service and the onset of migraine headaches.

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