What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a common condition that medical providers describe as a dysfunction of one or more peripheral nerves or stated in layman’s terms it is nerve damage commonly affecting the arms, hands, legs or feet that make everyday tasks more painful and difficult. Many veterans who are service-connected for other disabilities also suffer from peripheral neuropathy.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

The list of the possible symptoms of peripheral neuropathy is fairly lengthy and can include:

  • Constipation or bladder problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stabbing or burning pain
  • Tingling sensation
  • Vision problems
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and atrophy

How Does the VA Rate Peripheral Neuropathy?

As a veteran, if you have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy that was caused or made worse by your time in service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits.

The VA does not have a diagnostic code for peripheral neuropathy, so it rates it analogously.  Typically, lower extremity peripheral neuropathy is rated analogous to paralysis of the sciatic nerve under diagnostic code 8520.  The ratings under diagnostic code 8520 range from 80% to 10%:

  • 80% – Complete paralysis meaning that “the foot dangles or drops, no active movement possible of muscles below the knee flexion of knee weakened or…lost”
  • 60% – Incomplete paralysis, severe with “marked muscular atrophy”
  • 40% – Incomplete paralysis, moderately severe
  • 20% – Incomplete paralysis, moderate
  • 10% – Incomplete paralysis, mild

The veteran may also have upper extremity peripheral neuropathy that will entitle them to a separate rating.

Unfortunately, these terms in the rating schedule are vaguely defined and highly subjective. Ratings are usually determined through Compensation and Pension examinations (C&P exams) where an examiner will note the extent and severity of your condition. It is also important to tell your personal doctor of all symptoms and impairments associated with your peripheral neuropathy, so your doctor can accurately document the severity of your condition which you can present as evidence of your impairment.

What Does the VA Require?

To qualify for VA disability benefits you will need to provide proof of three things:

  • An in-service event, injury, or illness;
  • A current diagnosis by a medical professional; and
  • A medical nexus, or link, between your in-service event, injury, or illness and your current diagnosis.

However, in the case of peripheral neuropathy a direct service-connection linking the condition to military service can be difficult. A more common way to service-connect peripheral neuropathy is on a secondary basis.

What is a Secondary Service-connection?

Secondary service-connection means that a service-connected illness or injury directly caused another illness or injury. A secondary service condition is eligible for benefits starting when the primary disease first occurs.

Regrettably many veterans suffer from Type 2 diabetes—sometimes called “adult onset diabetes”—which often causes peripheral neuropathy, a secondary service condition.  To establish a secondary service-connection for peripheral neuropathy (and thus qualify for compensation for that impairment) means that you would have to first establish service-connection for your diabetes.  

For Vietnam era veterans type 2 diabetes is considered to be presumptively service-connected for disability compensation for veterans exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange. Due to the association between exposure to Agent Orange and the development of a number of medical conditions, the PACT Act of 2022 and prior VA legislation establishes a presumptive service-connection for a number of medical condtions. This means that for VA disability cases the VA must assume that veterans who served in certain locations and during certain time periods were exposed to toxic chemicals like Agent Orange. If a veteran served in one of the locations develops a medical condtion(s) on the VA’s presumptive disability list, the veteran will not have to prove  an in-service event, injury, or illness that led to their disabilities (like diabetes). This  removes some of the obstacles associated with filing a VA disability claim.

We’re in Your Corner to Fight for Your Rights

At Cuddigan Law our accredited VA disability attorneys are here for you. If are living with peripheral neuropathy, type 2 diabetes, or any other impairment caused by or made worse by your time in service, and are considering applying for disability benefits contact us for a free evaluation of your situation. Or if you believe the VA has not properly rated your disabilities, we can advise you on the best course of action for a ratings appeal, as well.


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