The physically rigorous nature of military duty increases the risk of lower back injuries, which may be very painful and debilitating. Veterans, both current and retired, are at increased risk for back pain, which may significantly impact their daily lives. Veterans who have had spinal fusion surgery, which may fix these problems, may be eligible for VA benefits. However, the procedure might be challenging to grasp since rules are often changing.
This article provides knowledge about the role of spinal fusions in VA disability ratings and the steps that veterans may take to get compensation for spinal fusion injuries that were caused by their service.
What is Spinal Fusion?
A surgical operation known as spinal fusion is performed to fuse two or more vertebrae in the spine together to relieve pain and suffering brought on by illnesses or traumas. Plates, rods, and screws are often used during spinal fusion to immobilize the afflicted regions, provide stability to the affected areas, and alleviate back discomfort. Spinal fusion can cause ankylosis, which impacts posture and general well-being positively or negatively.
Types of Spinal Fusion
- Favorable Ankylosis: Spinal fusion that doesn't lead to changes in posture or form.
- Unfavorable Ankylosis: Spinal fusion causing posture changes, such as a hunched back or leaning to the side, which can result in symptoms like difficulty walking, breathing problems, and neurological issues.
Common Causes of Spinal Fusion
Back pain is common among veterans and might have its origins in the military or in the years after release. The following are examples of frequent medical issues that might call for spinal fusion:
- Scoliosis and Spinal Deformities: Service-related tasks and injuries can lead to unnatural curvature or twisting of the spine, causing pain and discomfort.
- Herniated Discs: Stress on the spinal discs during strenuous activities or injuries can result in disc rupture, leading to pain.
- Arthritis: Repetitive back motion can lead to inflammation of facet joints in the spine or sacroiliac joints, exacerbating other back-related injuries.
Establishing a Service-related Connection to Spinal Fusion
Veterans may get VA benefits if they can prove that their spinal fusion was caused by an injury they had while serving their country. Only injuries sustained while serving in the military are eligible for benefits from the VA. This connection requires:
- A current diagnosis for a spinal condition necessitating spinal fusion.
- Evidence that the injury or accident causing the condition occurred during military duty.
- A documented medical nexus or link between the diagnosed condition and the service-related injury or event.
It is vital to have medical records that document the onset of symptoms and suffering. In order to strengthen your claim, it is advisable to collect details on the event that caused the injuries, as well as any supporting evidence and comments from your friends.
How VA Rates Spinal Fusions?
Spinal fusions are subject to the same VA disability ratings as other spinal conditions, with rates determined by the range of motion outlined in 38 CFR § 4.71a. Spinal cord injuries may be rated on a scale from 10% (very slight) to 100% (very severe). To find the range of motion, doctors measure the most excellent angle that may be moved in four directions before experiencing pain: forward, backward, left, and right.
VA Ratings Table for Spinal Fusions
- 10%: Limited range of motion with muscle spasms and pain.
- 20%: Further limitation in motion with muscle spasms or guarding causing abnormal gait or spinal contour.
- 30%: Forward flexion of cervical spine limited to 15° or less, or favorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine.
- 40%: Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine, or forward flexion of thoracolumbar spine limited to 30° or less, or favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine area.
- 50%: Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine.
- 100%: Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine.
Ratings are not permanent, so veterans are encouraged to have them re-evaluated regularly, especially if their condition worsens. A slight increase in the rating can significantly impact benefits.
Seeking Professional Assistance
There are many steps available to the VA disability claims procedure. If veterans need help crafting a comprehensive and convincing application, they may reach out to recognized representatives from the VA or veterans service groups for assistance.
There are many instances in which initial disability claims are rejected. Veterans can file an appeal against these rulings. Increasing the evidence presented and, if required, having legal counsel help improve the likelihood of a request being successful.