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Veterans Law

30% VA Disability Rating for Migraine Headaches

June 10, 2020
African american man man holding hand over face with migraine outdoors

What are Migraine Headaches?

Migraine headaches are a type of headache characterized by intense pain that can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, lightheadedness, and blurred vision.  Migraines can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe and debilitating that it interferes with a person’s daily activities.

Warning Signs of Migraines

Some people experience warning signs or symptoms before a migraine attack occurs, including constipation, mood changes, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning.  Furthermore, some individuals report experiencing an “aura” similar to individuals who have seizures.  Examples of migraine aura include visual phenomena, such as seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light, vision loss, pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg, weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body, and difficulty speaking.

Consequences of Migraines

After experiencing a migraine, people may feel drained, tired, or confused.  A combination of medications and lifestyle changes might help treat migraine headaches.

Veterans and Migraine Headaches

According to VA, veterans who deploy are more likely to develop migraine headaches as compared to their civilian counterparts.  In fact, one study showed that 36 percent of veterans who had completed a 12-month deployment to Iraq were either diagnosed with or exhibited symptoms of migraine headaches.  In comparison, it has been estimated that migraines affect approximately 12 percent of the general population.

Although there have been broad genetic links to migraines, many researchers believe veterans are likely to develop the condition as a result of their service in the military.  In addition to increased exposure to stressful combat situations, servicemembers have higher rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion (mild TBI), or neck trauma.  These injuries may be caused by explosions, falls, or other accidents.  The post-traumatic headache that often follows these kinds of injuries may dissipate within a few months; however, in some cases it can persist longer or become chronic, especially if multiple traumas have occurred.  According to a report by the Department of Defense, migraine diagnoses increased by 27 percent among all branches of the armed forces from 2001-2007.

Service Connection for Migraine Headaches

Most often, veterans will pursue direct service connection when seeking VA disability benefits for their migraine headaches.  In order to establish direct service connection, veterans must satisfy the following three elements:

  • A current diagnosis of migraine headaches
  • An in-service event, injury, or illness
  • A medical nexus linking their migraine headaches to their in-service occurrence

After service connection is established, VA will assign a disability rating based on the severity of the veteran’s condition.

How VA Rates Migraine Headaches

VA rates migraine headaches under 38 CFR § 4.124a, Schedule of Ratings – Neurological Condition and Convulsive Disorders, Diagnostic Code 8100.  The diagnostic code includes disability ratings from 0 to 50 percent disabling, with criteria based on the severity and frequency of the migraines:

  • 50% – with very frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability
  • 30% – with characteristic prostrating attacks occurring on an average of once a month over the last several months
  • 10% – with characteristic prostrating attacks averaging one in two months over the last several months
  • 0% – with less frequent attacks

Generally speaking, the term “prostrating” means that the veteran’s migraine headaches are so severe and debilitating that he or she is required to lay down for an extended period of time due to complete exhaustion and physical weakness.  Typically, prostrating migraines may also require veterans to stop all activity and possibly take medication or seek medical attention.

Breakdown of the 30% for Migraine Headaches Rating Criteria

In order to prove your service-connected condition warrants a 30% disability rating for migraine headaches, you must understand all aspects of the rating criteria.  Specifically, the 30 percent disability rating for migraine headaches can be broken down into three main components: (1) characteristic; (2) prostrating; and (3) average of once a month over the last several months.  In this case, characteristic essentially means “typical”.  A veteran’s migraine headaches must involve typical prostrating attacks.  In other words, a veteran’s migraine headaches are represented by these prostrating attacks and without which, the veteran would not have a migraine disorder.  As mentioned above, prostrating means that the veteran’s migraine headaches are so debilitating that they require a long period of rest.  Finally, the 30 percent migraine rating criteria states that a veteran’s migraine headaches must occur an average of once a month over the last several months.  Here, the period of time VA uses to make this determination can effect whether a veteran qualifies for a 10 or 30% migraine rating.  For example, a veteran had the following number of headaches over the past few months:

  • Two in April
  • Zero in May
  • One in June
  • One in July

In this case, the veteran averages at least one per month, which would warrant a 30% rating.  However, if VA only looked at three of those months, then the veteran would fall short of the once per month average.  As a result, they would only qualify for the 10 percent rating.  This is something to be mindful of when explaining the frequency of your migraine headaches to VA.

Importantly, the 30% rating criteria does not require that the migraine headaches have to last a certain length of time.  At the 50 percent level, VA requires migraine headaches to be “prolonged”.  Since “prolonged” is not included in the 30% rating criteria, it is presumed that veterans’ migraine headaches can be shorter in duration.

VA Disability ratings for migraine headaches infographic