Arthritis is a common condition that can cause pain and difficulty moving. If you are able to connect your arthritis with your military service, you may be able to receive disability benefits for arthritis. The VA will consider the severity of your arthritis, its effects on your daily life, and any medical treatments you have been prescribed. You may also be able to receive benefits if you are unable to work because of your arthritis.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) Disability Claims Process can be complicated, but it’s worth filing a claim to get the benefits you deserve.
Types of Arthritis
There are many types of arthritis, but the three most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.
Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative arthritis) is a degenerative joint disease that results in the deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the joints. The disease typically affects the elderly and can cause severe pain and limited mobility. There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments are available to help manage the symptoms. These treatments may include medications, physical therapy, and surgery.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and swelling. It can also affect other organs in the body. There is also no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are treatments that can help reduce symptoms.
Gout is a type of arthritis caused by the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints. The condition is often accompanied by severe pain, swelling, and redness in the affected joint. Treatment for gout typically involves medications to help reduce inflammation and pain, as well as lifestyle changes to help prevent future attacks. Specifically, eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit meat, fish, and poultry.
Causes of Arthritis Among Veterans
There are many causes of arthritis among Veterans, but the most common are injuries and infections. Arthritis can be caused by a joint being overused, such as in athletes, or by a traumatic injury to the joint, such as a car accident. Frequently during the course of service, a serviceman or woman may overuse their joints and/or have been affected by traumatic injuries to their joints.
Infections that can cause arthritis include Lyme disease, transmitted by ticks, and Reiter’s syndrome, a complication of certain sexually transmitted infections.
Other causes of arthritis that may be linked to military service include exposure to chemicals and pollutants, such as asbestos, silica, and benzene.
What Are the VA Disability Ratings for Arthritis
A frequent kind of arthritis in Veterans is degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis), which is classified under Diagnostic Code 5003 as the result of joint overuse or injury. Depending on the symptoms and the number of joints affected, Veterans are mostly given a 10% or 20% grade.
Rheumatoid arthritis is covered under Diagnostic Code 5002. A Veteran may receive a rating of 100% if their rheumatoid arthritis is completely incapacitating. In comparison, a grade of 60% will be given if their ailment causes them to lose weight, anemia, or a reduction in their general health on more than four occasions each year. There is a 40% rating for three or more incapacitating episodes per year and a 20% rating for two or more incapacitating episodes per year. The number of joints affected is irrelevant.
As you may have noted, degenerative arthritis is rated lower than rheumatoid arthritis.
Gout also falls under the diagnostic code 5002 (38 CFR § 4.71a). In the most severe cases of gout, a Veteran might get a maximum VA disability rating of 100 percent. In any case, a lower-ranking for Veterans is not uncommon.
How To Apply for VA Disability Benefits for Arthritis
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a variety of benefits for Veterans with arthritis. To apply for these benefits, Veterans must submit a claim to the VA. The claim will be reviewed by a claims processor, who will determine whether the Veteran is eligible for benefits. If the Veteran is eligible, the processor will award a rating based on the severity of the arthritis. This rating will determine the amount of benefits that the Veteran receives.
How To Connect Arthritis to Military Service
The first stage in every VA disability claim is demonstrating a link to military service. A claim for service connection for arthritis may be established by documented indications of repeated stress on your joints during service. One just should show that the reported symptoms of joint problems continued after they returned to civilian life. This is defined as a demonstration of service connection through continuity of symptomatology, as stated in 38 CFR 3.09(a) of the Code of Military Regulations.
Presumptive service-related arthritis is also possible. The assumption of service connection applies if your symptoms of arthritis occur within one year after release from service and meet the VA’s 10% disability level.
Arthritis as a secondary disability can also be used to get a service connection. In this case, a different disability that is now service-connected would have to be the cause of your arthritis.
Regardless of how serious their symptoms may be at the time of diagnosis, Veterans are advised to apply for benefits as soon as possible. It is often easier to apply for an upgrade in rating than to create service connection after a long length of time.