While on active duty, military personnel face dangerous situations that not only put their lives at risk but their future health as well. Although many soldiers survive combat, they may still face serious medical conditions after they return home. These service-connected conditions can include cancers caused by direct exposure to radiation or a lost limb due to an improvised explosive device (IED). Service-connected illnesses, diseases, and medical problems qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); however, you must show proof that your medical condition was caused by an event or incident that took place during active duty, or it was aggravated or worsened by the event.
Sometimes the link between the event and your injury is easy to prove, but it’s possible that your disability is a secondary medical condition that occurs later. This may be the case with such conditions as hypertension, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some eye disorders, including scleritis—a disease that can cause blindness if not treated.
The white part of the eye is called the sclera. It is a layer of tough, fibrous tissue that protects the eye and gives it its shape. Scleritis is diagnosed when the sclera is swollen and inflamed. Most often, people suffer scleritis due to an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus; however, scleritis can also be infectious, and service personnel can contract it from co-workers with whom they share equipment or spend time. It’s also possible for scleritis to be caused by a fungus or parasite or an injury to your eye.
For example, if during service you were treated for an injury after battery acid splashed into your eye, you may be later diagnosed with conjunctival scarring and/or scleritis in that eye. Or, if you suffered a trauma to the head, it’s possible to be diagnosed with scleritis. The effects of an IED or a bomb can be delayed and cause symptoms much later—sometimes months after the incident occurs. After service, soldiers may return to their normal lives, not realizing that a head or eye injury has caused vision trauma.
There are two main types of scleritis: anterior and posterior.
- Anterior. If the anterior is affected, there is inflammation to the front of your sclera. This type of scleritis is the most common.
- Posterior. If the posterior is affected, there is inflammation to the back of your sclera. This type of scleritis is not as common but can lead to glaucoma or other severe eye problems.
Typically, scleritis comes on slowly, so a veteran won’t suddenly “get” this eye disorder. There are signs and symptoms that develop gradually, including:
- Eye ache. This is the most common symptom that can be felt in your jaw or near your brow. Eye movements often will make the pain worse, and the eyeball can be sensitive to the touch.
- Redness. The white of your eye may appear severely inflamed and red.
- Sensitivity to light. You may find that your eyes are more sensitive to light—also known as photophobia.
- Blurry vision. You may find that your vision is blurred and/or notice that you have unexplained tears.
The primary symptoms of scleritis are pain and redness in the sclera, and this redness can become a deep purple color. Often, patients feel pain radiating from the eye to other areas of the face and head, and they may lose some vision.
Obtaining VA Disability for Scleritis: What Benefits Can You Get?
VA disability for scleritits, and eye disorders in general, are rated by the VA based on the number of “incapacitating episodes” and required treatments a veteran has during a 12-month period. They use the 38 CFR § 4.79 rating schedule, as well as the following rating formula:
- 60% rating. You must have “documented incapacitating episodes requiring seven or more treatment visits for an eye condition during the past 12 months.”
- 40% rating. You must have “documented incapacitating episodes requiring at least five but less than seven treatment visits for an eye condition during the past 12 months.”
- 20% rating. You must have “documented incapacitating episodes requiring at least three but less than five treatment visits for an eye condition during the past 12 months.”
- 10% rating. You must have “documented incapacitating episodes requiring at least one but less than three treatment visits for an eye condition during the past 12 months.”
Contact Cuddigan Law for Help Getting VA Disability for Scleritis
If you suffer from a service-connected eye injury or condition, you may qualify for disability benefits. Let Cuddigan Law assist you in determining if you’re eligible. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we will help you document your eye injury or eye disorder and work with your treating medical providers to describe the full extent of your limitations. We 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 an eye injury you received during military service is making it impossible for you to work, contact Cuddigan Law to speak with an intake specialist for free.