It is a little known fact that veterans are more prone to suffer from heart disease than non-veterans. If you’re a veteran and can prove that your heart problems are related to the work you did in the military, you may qualify for VA disability benefits. The first step contact Veterans' Affairs to schedule your VA heart C&P exam.
Most Common Heart Diseases That Qualify for VA Disability Benefits
Heart disease is a broad umbrella term for a number of cardiovascular health conditions. There are several heart conditions which will qualify for VA disability compensation. The two major conditions which are the most common among veterans and are recognized by the VA as potential service-connected impairments are:
- Ischemic heart disease (IHD) [also known as coronary artery disease (CAD / CHD)]
Ischemic heart disease is caused by narrowed heart arteries. When arteries are narrowed, less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle.
- Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart doesn't pump blood as efficiently as it should.
Symptoms of heart disease can include recurring chest pains, tightness and pressure in the chest, and shortness of breath that may be so severe that it is impossible to hold onto a job and even live a normal life.
What is a “Presumptive Condition” and How Might it Affect Your Disability Case
According to our VA disability lawyers, there are certain diseases that the VA labels as presumptive conditions. It means that the VA presumes that specific disabilities diagnosed in certain veterans were caused by their military service. Veterans with these illnesses don’t need the usual amount of evidence to file a claim.
Ischemic heart disease is a presumptive condition of Agent Orange exposure. Agent Orange is a herbicide which was used in Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea during the 60s and 70s. The VA has established that herbicide exposure is associated with heart conditions. As a Vietnam era veteran you can still win disability benefits for illnesses caused by herbicides like Agent Orange—even if you are retired. Read our free, in-depth booklet Exposed to Agent Orange? How Vietnam Era Veterans Can Still Win VA Compensation.
Even if you are not eligible for service-connection for heart disease on a presumptive basis, you may still be entitled to VA disability compensation. You will have to establish a service-connection by providing proof that your heart disease was caused or made worse by your military service. Potential proof can include treatment records, or a letter written by a qualified medical professional which explains the extent to which your medical condition is connected to your military service. This is known as a nexus letter.
What to Expect at a VA Heart C&P Exam
A Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam is an appointment that allows a VA medical examiner to evaluate your physical or psychological condition and determine the level of impairment caused by your disability. For many veterans the VA heart C&P exam may be the most important medical examination of their lives. The VA says, “This exam will help us rate your disability. Your rating will be based on how severe your disability is—and will affect how much disability compensation you’ll receive. Compensation may include things like monthly payments and enrollment in the VA health care program.” It is obvious, then, that you should take the VA heart C&P exam very seriously.
Unlike an appointment with your regular doctor, you won’t receive treatment or medication at a C&P exam. Instead the C&P doctor (or a nurse or a physician’s assistant) will likely examine you, ask you questions, order lab work, and do standard tests to assess your situation. They can’t provide any information about the status of your claim. The examiner will either work for the VA or be a third-party medical professional. It is important to keep in mind that the VA almost always gives more weight to the evaluation of a C&P examiner than your own doctor.
(For more insider information regarding all C&P exams download our booklet VA Disability and C&P Exams— What You Need to Know Before Your Exam and you’ll want to watch this video: “Tips for Your Compensation and Pension Exam”.)
What is a METs Test?
To be eligible for disability benefits, you must be diagnosed with a heart condition through a valid method recognized by the VA. One of those methods is a metabolic equivalents of task test or METs test. This is also known as a stress test, used to determine someone's heart condition while exercising. You will be asked to ride a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill, and medical professionals will record your how your heart is functioning and your heart’s ability to provide oxygen during exercise.
The METs test provides critical evidence of a heart condition. If there is evidence of a heart condition the VA will assign a rating from 10 percent up to 100 percent based on the METs test results.
How the METs Test Results Affect Your Disability Rating
The VA stipulates that veterans will be assigned a disability rating of 10, 30, 60, or 100 percent based on the following criteria:
- “100% – chronic congestive heart failure, or; workload of 3 METs or less results in dyspnea, fatigue, angina, dizziness, or syncope, or; left ventricular dysfunction with an ejection fraction of less than 30 percent
- 60% – more than one episode of acute congestive heart failure in the past year, or; workload of greater than 3 METs but not greater than 5 METs results in dyspnea, fatigue, angina, dizziness, or syncope, or; left ventricular dysfunction with an ejection fraction of 30 to 50 percent
- 30% – workload of greater than 5 METs but not greater than 7 METs results in dyspnea, fatigue, angina, dizziness, or syncope, or; evidence of cardiac hypertrophy or dilatation on electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, or X-ray
- 10% – workload of greater than 7 METs but not greater than 10 METs results in dyspnea, fatigue, angina, dizziness, or syncope, or; continuous medication required”
What These Medical Terms Mean
The VA Heart Disease Rating Schedule includes several specific medical terms and it is helpful to known what they mean in everyday language:
- Dyspnea: difficult or labored breathing
- Angina: a condition marked by severe pain in the chest, often also spreading to the shoulders, arms, and neck
- Syncope: temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure
For more helpful information, download our free White Paper Your C&P Exam for Heart Disease: What to Expect and How to Make the Most of it.
Contact Our VA Disability Lawyers for a Free Consultation
If you are suffering from heart problems or facing any other adverse medical condition related to your time in uniform, you deserve the disability compensation you have earned. And, if your case has been denied, don’t give up hope. Instead, contact our VA disability lawyers at 402-933-5405 for a free evaluation of your case. At Cuddigan Law you have team of professionals in your corner who know how to get the most benefits from your VA heart C&P exam and will fight for your rights.