U.S. soldiers and veterans have been significantly affected by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage—the connective, structural tissue in the body—breaks down. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the lining of the joints. Both types of arthritis are painful and sometimes debilitating.
Soldiers are at an increased risk for osteoarthritis because the wear and tear on their joints can be extreme and excessive. Those on active duty face rigorous training, multiple deployments, and carry heavy equipment and body armor that can create intense pressure on joints and contribute to arthritis. In the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, service personnel carried between 80 and 120 pounds of gear. Additionally, combat wounds such as joint injuries from shrapnel and broken bones from roadside bombs can eventually lead to osteoarthritis.
In active service personnel under 40, osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability and medical discharge, and those on active duty as well as veterans are two times more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than civilians.
Because arthritis is so prevalent in soldiers and veterans, the VA has determined that this condition is service-connected if diagnosed within a year of discharge. However, if symptoms of arthritis present themselves in later years, you may still be eligible for VA disability.
If you have service-connected arthritis, a VA rating specialist will look at the following factors when determining your rating: functional loss, instability and pain. . If you have service-connected arthritis, a VA rating specialist will look at the three main factors when determining your rating.
The first is functional loss. This factor focuses on the limitations of the joint’s range of motion. For example, the VA rating specialist will evaluate an arthritic knee by its ability to perform normal, working movements.
The second factor the VA will look at is instability. The VA rating specialist will categorize instability of the joint in three ways: slight (10%), moderate (20%), or severe (30%).
And the last factor is pain. Most veterans with arthritis experience pain. While the VA rating system doesn’t usually recognize pain as a disability, it may be factored in for arthritis—especially if it affects the knee. The VA may recognize that the pain is impacting your ability to use that joint
If you suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, and your symptoms make it difficult or impossible to sustain gainful employment, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits.
Call us at Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your situation. And if you have applied and were denied benefits, don’t give up. We can also review your case to see if you have grounds to appeal the denial.