How Does VA Rate Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is categorized by patterns of abnormal bowel movements or changes in bowel movements. Although IBS causes intense discomfort to the large intestine, it does not damage the intestine. The three types of irritable bowel syndrome are:
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C) – During days with abnormal bowel movements, more than 25 percent of stools are hard or lumpy and less than 25 percent are loose or watery.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) – During days with abnormal bowel movements, more than 25 percent of stools are loose or watery and less than 25 percent are hard or lumpy.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M) – During days with abnormal bowel movements, more than 25 percent of stools are hard and lumpy and more than 25 percent are loose or watery.
The exact causes of IBS are not known, but certain factors can increase an individual’s chances of having the condition, such as having a family member with IBS, a history of stress or traumatic experiences, or a severe infection in the digestive tract.
IBS symptoms can vary day to day, depending on changes in bowel movements, and can be triggered by stress and eating certain foods. Some common symptoms include:
- Stomach cramping
- Pain in the abdomen
Diagnosing and Treating IBS
To determine if a person has IBS, doctors will usually first rule out other possible diseases by running tests, including stool sampling, blood tests, and x-rays. They will also review the patient’s symptoms, medical and family history, and perform a physical exam. Identifying the correct type of IBS can also help a person better know how to treat it.
Doctors may suggest lifestyle and diet changes to treat a person’s IBS. Other recommendations for treatments can include medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies.
Service Connection for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
To receive IBS VA disability benefits, veterans must first establish service connection. There are typically three things VA requires before granting service connection:
- Proof of an in-service event, injury, or illness;
- A current diagnosis by a medical professional; and
- A medical nexus, or link, between the in-service event and the current diagnosis.
If a veteran developed IBS as a result of another service-connected condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they may qualify for disability benefits based on secondary service connection. To establish secondary service connection for IBS, veterans typically need to submit:
- A diagnosis for the secondary IBS by a medical professional; and
- Medical evidence (i.e., a nexus) linking the service-connected condition to the secondary IBS.
To submit a claim for either direct or secondary service connection, veterans can fill out VA Form 21-526EZ. This form can be submitted online, via mail, or directly to VA in person.
Presumptive Service Connection for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
While VA does not consider IBS a VA presumptive condition, under its regulation for qualifying disabilities for Persian Gulf War veterans, IBS is considered a medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness, or MUCMI.
MUCMIs are covered under VA’s statute and regulation, 38 U.S.C. § 1117 and 38 C.F.R. § 3.317 respectively, authorizing presumptive service connection for Persian Gulf War veterans. This means that VA may grant presumptive service connection for a Persian Gulf War veteran with irritable bowel syndrome, provided they meet certain requirements.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) VA Ratings
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rates irritable bowel syndrome under 38 CFR § 4.114, diagnostic code 7319 for Irritable Colon Syndrome. VA disability ratings for IBS range from 0 to 10 to 30 percent, depending on the severity of symptoms. The criteria for each VA IBS rating are as follows:
- 0 percent (noncompensable) – VA assigns veterans a 0 percent rating if they exhibit mild symptoms of IBS, such as “disturbances of bowel function with occasional episodes of abdominal distress.” Although this rating is noncompensable, veterans may still qualify for other VA benefits, such as VA health care.
- 10 percent – VA assigns veterans a 10 percent rating if they exhibit moderate symptoms of IBS, such as “frequent episodes of bowel disturbance with abdominal distress.” Examples of bowel disturbance include episodes of diarrhea, severe gas, and bloating.
- 30 percent – VA assigns veterans a 30 percent rating, the highest rating for IBS, if they exhibit severe symptoms, such as “diarrhea, or alternating diarrhea and constipation, with more or less constant abdominal distress.” To receive this rating, veterans must show that their IBS causes them to be almost constantly in pain. This is an appropriate rating for veterans with daily IBS episodes.
Severity and frequency of IBS symptoms vary from person to person, so veterans should always report their symptoms to VA. Irritable bowel syndrome can be severe at times and then disappear completely at other times, so it is important to clearly outline symptoms and frequency of episodes when applying for service connection or an increased rating.
Was Your IBS VA Disability Claim Denied?
If you were denied IBS VA disability benefits, you have the option to appeal VA’s decision. Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD has decades of experience helping veterans successfully secure retroactive and future benefits on appeal and may be able to assist you. To schedule a free consultation, reach out to CCK today.
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