Receiving VA Benefits After You’ve Been Diagnosed With Ischemic Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, causing one in every four deaths. It’s also a condition faced by some veterans returning home from military duty. Service-related heart conditions, specifically ischemic heart disease—also known as coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease—are recognized by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you meet the requirements set by the VA’s rating schedule, and you can prove a link between your condition and military service, you may be eligible for disability compensation. However, ischemic heart disease is presumptively service connected for veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

To qualify for financial benefits from the VA, your condition must be proven with the proper medical evidence, and you must meet certain other criteria. Because filing for VA disability benefits due to ischemic heart disease can be a long and challenging process, consider hiring a disability attorney to work with you on a claim. It’s helpful to have an attorney who understands the VA application and appeal process and offers you a real chance for getting your claim accepted.

What Is Ischemic Heart Disease?

When a person has ischemic heart disease, he usually suffers bouts of recurring chest discomfort or pain that happen when the heart isn’t getting enough blood. As cholesterol particles in the blood build up on the artery walls that supply blood to the heart, deposits called plaque can form. This plaque causes a narrowing of the arteries and eventually cuts off the blood flow to the heart, reducing the amount of oxygen the heart muscle receives.

Ischemic heart disease may come on right away or develop slowly, depending on how quickly the arteries become blocked. Some people who live with this condition never show symptoms, which can include irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue.

Certain characteristics put some people more at risk for ischemic heart disease, including:  

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • A family history of heart disease
  • Not exercising
  • Advanced age

How the VA Evaluates Ischemic Heart Disease
fatigues and stethoscope

To be eligible for disability benefits, a veteran must be diagnosed with a heart condition through a valid method recognized by the VA. There are generally three types of tests that help provide the VA with the necessary medical evidence to validate your heart condition:

  • Metabolic equivalents (METS) test. Also known as a stress test, the METS evaluation is
    used most often to determine a heart condition and is taken while exercising. Often performed while on a treadmill, this test evaluates your heart’s ability to provide oxygen while you exercise and is considered an indication of how well your heart is functioning. The METS rating is higher if you have more symptoms such as fatigue or dizziness as you exercise at higher levels.
  • Ventricular dysfunction. To measure the severity of your heart condition, a doctor needs to look for left ventricular dysfunction—how your heart’s ventricle releases blood from the heart with each beat. A test called a multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan is used to measure your heart’s ability to pump blood.
  • Episodes of heart failure. If you’ve experienced episodes of congestive heart failure, you need medical evidence to show the frequency and severity of those episodes. If you have can prove that you suffer from these episodes often, you’ll receive a VA higher rating.

The VA evaluates heart disease under several codes in the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities. For each code, there are different fixed ratings, and your symptoms or episodes will be evaluated against these ratings. To obtain a direct service connection for your ischemic heart disease,  you have to be diagnosed with a heart condition, have evidence that a service incident led to the condition, and supply additional medical evidence that connects the incident with your condition.

It’s important to note that even if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, you must be evaluated using one of the methods defined by the VA; otherwise, you will not be awarded benefits.

We Can Help

If you have ischemic heart disease and want to apply for VA disability, or you’ve applied and your claim was denied, contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits.

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