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How Will the VA Calculate My Disability Rating for Back Pain?

Published on November 18th, 2019

Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions that veterans experience after their military service. It could result from a single incident, or from weeks of patrolling with heavy gear. Whatever the reason, it can severely affect your quality of life and earning ability after your discharge. The VA has a complex mechanism for determining your disability rating if you have back pain, based on your range of movement and the amount of pain you report. The more these factors affect your earning ability, the higher your disability rating will be.

At Jackson & MacNichol, we’ve helped many injured veterans get the compensation they deserve from the VA. In many of these cases, the VA was unwilling to give an adequate rating percentage, or even to admit that the back pain was caused by military service at all. By gathering additional medical evidence and leading your case through the appeals process, we can usually reverse a bad VA ratings decision and get you the monthly compensation you deserve. Call us today at 1-800-524-3339 for a free case consultation.

The VA Factors Range of Motion, Pain, and Other Injuries in Determining Your Rating

When you apply for veterans disability compensation, you will usually need to attend a compensation and pension (a C&P) exam, during which a VA examiner will look you over and ask questions about your functioning. The goal of this exam is to determine the extent of your medical conditions, and how they affect your ability to support yourself. The examiner doctor will write a report based on the exam, and forward it to VA staff who will assign you a disability rating if they are convinced that the reported medical conditions were caused or made worse by your military service.

The VA starts by assuming that you have a 100% efficiency rating, meaning that you are fully able to work, and your medical conditions do not affect your abiity to work and earn. Then they look at each medical issue described in the exam report.  They first determine whether the condition is related to service and, if so, they then assign each condition a disability rating. Next, they add them together in a special combined rating formula to determine your overall disability rating. The higher the disability rating, the more monthly compensation you’ll get.

If back pain is one of your conditions, the rating assigning process is particularly complex. Your back is divided into two zones: the cervical spine (neck and shoulders) and your thoracolumbar spine (mid and lower back). The doctor will measure your range of motion in three directions for each area. If both areas of your back are frozen in an unfavorable position, then the VA will likely give you a 100 percent disability rating, but if only one area is frozen, your rating drops down to 50 percent.

What’s essential is that the VA doctor must use a goniometer to precisely measure the range of motion of your back. Another essential factor is that your pain is taken into account. Even if you have a good range of motion, the VA knows that debilitating pain can severely impact your earning ability. For example, if you have a total of two weeks of incapacitating episodes per year, you may receive a 20 percent disability rating–not considering range of motion. An incapacitating episode means a period where the pain is so severe that your doctor says that you must stay in bed.

How a Disability Compensation Lawyer Can Help

With so many factors to consider, the C&P exam sometimes does not give the VA enough information to assign the appropriate disability rating. Unfortunately, the VA now frequently uses nurse practitioners and physicians assistants who do not have as much training and expertise to do exams.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to appeal the rating decision and provide the VA with additional evidence that demonstrates how your back pain affects your ability to support yourself and your family. If your claim was denied or you think you are entitled to more disability compensation they you are currently receiving, call Jackson & MacNichol today at 1-800-524-3339.


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