The men and women who serve in the United States military often suffer injuries during active duty, even in non-combat situations. One common injury is to the shoulder and/or arm. According to a 2018 article in Military Medicine, shoulder injuries account for up to “24% of musculoskeletal injuries in the military population, and service members are at a 5-18 times greater risk of shoulder instability compared to the general public.” Veterans who return home with shoulder injuries may need and qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
How Shoulder Injuries Occur
Eight ligaments and 15 muscles directly impact the movement of the shoulder. Injuries to the shoulder are in large part due to “dysfunction of the muscles that are responsible for the function and stabilization of the shoulder.” Many military personnel have jobs that place significant stress on the arms and shoulders. Due to the nature of their work, which very often requires repetitive actions and challenging upper body tasks, there are a variety of ways that military personnel suffer shoulder injuries. For example, “ruck marching” can contribute to shoulder injuries. An Army rucksack that a soldier carries for long distances places a damaging load on the shoulders. Other ways shoulder injuries occur include:
- Training exercises that require maximum shoulder motion such as press squats, pull-ups, and push-presses. A military training program may also require a 10-pound ball power throw and a spring-drag-carry workout using kettlebells and sleds.
- Lifting and moving heavy military supplies
- Carrying heavy equipment
- Experiencing a blow or forceful impact during combat
How the VA Rates Shoulder and Arm Injuries
Because veteran shoulder injuries are common and often cause long-term disabilities, the VA receives many claims for compensation. Generally, the VA rates arm and shoulder conditions on loss of function, and range of motion factors heavily in the determination of the benefits the veteran will receive. The VA wants to understand how the injury impacts the veteran’s day-to-day routine and disrupts and interferes with their daily life.
The VA rates shoulder and arm conditions under 38 CFR § 4.71a - Schedule of Ratings - Musculoskeletal System and § 4.73, Schedule of Ratings - Muscle Injuries. There are ratings for many shoulder/arm conditions, including:
- Shoulder replacement. If you need to have your shoulder replaced, you will likely receive 100% disability for one year after your surgery. After you’ve healed, the VA will give you a permanent disability rating based on your level of function. This rating could be 30% - 60%.
- Shoulder dislocation. Once you’ve suffered a shoulder dislocation, it’s possible that you’ll be prone to dislocating it repeatedly. If you experience frequent dislocations, you may receive a rating of 30% for the dominant arm and 20% for your non-dominant arm. If your dislocation occurs infrequently, your disability will be rated at 20%.
- Loss of shoulder use or amputation. If it’s necessary for your entire arm and shoulder to be amputated, the VA will give you a 90% disability rating. If the amputation is to the deltoid, the VA will give you 80%. If the amputation is below the deltoid, you’ll receive 70%.
- Frozen shoulder. Even if you did not lose your shoulder and/or arm, it’s still possible you can’t use them. Your disability rating will depend on how well you can move them. For example, if you can’t move your arm 25 degrees away from your side, the VA may give you a disability rating of 50%. Ratings are determined by how severe the limitation is for that arm.
Contact Cuddigan Law for Help With Your VA Disability Ratings for Shoulder Injuries
If you suffer from a service-connected shoulder injury, you may qualify for disability benefits. Let our VA lawyers assist you in determining if you’re eligible. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we will help you document your shoulder injury or arm condition and work with your treating medical providers to describe the full extent of your limitations.
Our VA lawyers know exactly how much these disability benefits mean to you. If we accept your case, we will take all steps within the law to help you get them. If your shoulder injury is making it impossible for you to work, contact Cuddigan Law to speak with an intake specialist for free.