Service-Related Arthritis and How to Get Veterans Disability

Military personnel on active duty face physically taxing work and environments that put their bodies under extreme stress. As a result, they often develop arthritis at a younger age and at a higher rate than civilians, according to a 2011 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, there are other types, including psoriatic arthritis, related autoimmune diseases, and septic arthritis caused by joint infection. OA is characterized by body pain and stiffness, as well as swollen hands, knees, or shoulders. RA is an autoimmune disease where your immune systems attack the tissues of your body. There is often inflammation of the tissue lining and joints. Considered a chronic inflammatory disorder, RA may damage the skin, eyes, blood vessels, heart, and lungs.

If you’re a veteran who suffers from arthritis, you may be eligible for disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While it may be possible to make a service connection for your condition, you may want an accredited veteran's attorney to help with your claim

Why Veterans Are More Likely to Suffer From Arthritis

Uniforms and body armor of soldiers can weigh between 50 and 60 pounds—and for those who served at the beginning of the Afghanistan War, the weight was even greater. Service members on multiple deployments may lift or carry heavy equipment for many years and may have driven or been passengers in military motor vehicles, which can be rough and damaging. It’s not uncommon for a soldier to ride in the same position for miles, leaning out a window looking for roadside bombs.

Additionally, soldiers perform extremely strenuous work and train very hard to pass necessary fitness exams. The rigor of both can cause injuries such as sprained or torn ligaments that are more likely to become arthritic years later.

In the 2011 study, which looked at records from 1998 to 2008, there were important findings about arthritis and veterans:

  • There were over 108,000 cases of OA diagnosed by military doctors.
  • Veterans and soldiers aged 20 to 24 were over 25 percent more likely to have OA.
  • After the completion of their military service, veterans over 40 were two times more likely to develop arthritis.
  • Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed were discharged from service due to arthritis.
  • Military personnel injured by blasts and roadside bombs were often diagnosed with arthritis within two years of injury.

One reason veterans suffer arthritis sooner and more often than civilians is that bomb blasts produce shock waves that impact the body’s cartilage cells. This causes damage that is impossible for the body to fix. For civilians, the cartilage breakdown is gradual; for soldiers, the breakdown is often sudden—occurring within one or two years after an injury.

Eligibility for VA Disability

If you’re a veteran suffering from arthritis, there are a number of ways you may be eligible for VA disability. Most specifically, if you were diagnosed with arthritis within a year of being discharged from service, you are presumed to have an impairment that is service-connected. The VA “presumes” that your military service caused the arthritis, and you don’t have to provide evidence that your condition is service related.

If you develop arthritis years after you were discharged, a successful claim for benefits requires that you provide current medical evidence showing you’ve been diagnosed with this disability. This evidence can be submitted as a doctor’s report or a report from a hospital showing your arthritis diagnosis. Once the evidence is received, the VA will proceed in the following ways:

  1. The VA will review your service medical records to determine if you were seen or treated for arthritis during your active duty.
  2. The VA will schedule a VA exam to evaluate the severity of your symptoms and your condition.
  3. A VA doctor will review your claim file during the exam and ask specific questions about your disability.
  4. The doctor will conduct necessary testing.
  5. The doctor will summarize his findings in a report.
  6. A VA Rating Specialist (RVSR) at the regional office will assign a rating percentage for each disability that meets the VA criteria.
  7. The VA will notify you in writing of the determination.

If you suffer from OA or RA and are unable to work, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. If you’ve applied and were denied benefits, call Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405.  Be sure to ask for a copy of our free book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska