You served your country in uniform but now are you dealing with the aftermath of a service-connected neck disability? If your neck pain arose from an aVA Neck Painccident or event during your time in service or was worsened by it, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. But navigating the path to winning the benefits you rightfully have earned is not simple or easy. Here’s what you need to know about how the VA rates neck disabilities.

The Mayo Clinic notes that these are some common causes of neck pain and stiffness:

  • “Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a computer or a smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed, can strain neck muscles.
  • Worn joints. As with other joints in the body, neck joints tend to wear with age. In response to this wear and tear, the body often forms bone spurs that can affect joint motion and cause pain.
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Injuries. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury. This occurs when the head jerks backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
  • Diseases. Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.”

If you have symptoms of neck pain from certain service-connected disorders your condition is referenced under specific VA diagnostic codes, like Diagnostic Code 5238 for spinal stenosis or Diagnostic Code 5003 for arthritis. However, even if your neck pain is not connected to a diagnosed condition, you still may be eligible for VA disability benefits under the regulations on painful motion and functional loss. Similar to VA disability ratings for back pain, the VA uses the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine under 38 CFR § 4.71a to evaluate the majority of neck pain conditions.  The severity of your neck pain can be rated from 10% to 100%, depending on the limitation in your range of motion (ROM). ROM testing includes accounting for painful motion. The most common rating for neck pain is 40%.

Most likely, the VA will schedule you for a compensation and pension exam to evaluate your condition and the connection to your time in service. Typically, the examiner will use a goniometer, an instrument used to measure angles, to assess your range of motion. (For in-depth advice on how to prepare for you C&P exam—which may be the most important examination of your life—download our free booklet “VA Disability and C&P Exams— What You Need to Know Before Your Exam.”)

Oftentimes mental and physical conditions can be the cause of other mental and physical conditions. Under VA disability rules a service-connected illness or injury which is caused by or aggravated by another illness or injury can qualify for a higher level of disability benefits. If you are a disabled Veteran, you can file a secondary claim for a new disability that’s linked to a service-connected disability you already have. This is known as a secondary service connection.  There are a variety of secondary conditions that can develop from back and neck pain which may grow into serious medical complications that require ongoing treatment. One example of a secondary condition to neck pain is radiculopathy, also known as a pinched nerve.

If your neck condition prevents you from being able to maintain gainful employment you may be able to have your rating increased to 100% under the provisions of Total Disability Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).

If you have been turned down by the VA for benefits related to your neck pain and you believe the denial was unfair, you have the right to appeal and you have the right to have an attorney represent you. Contact our VA disability attorneys by phone or email for a free evaluation of your case. At Cuddigan Law you have a dedicated team of professionals in your corner who understand the system and who will fight for your rights.

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