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Veterans Law

Top 20 VA Disability Claims and Their Ratings

Zachary Stolz

December 14, 2021

Updated: November 20, 2023

Top 20 VA Claims

Veterans often experience certain medical conditions at higher rates than their civilian counterparts due to events occurring during military service.  Each fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs publishes an Annual Benefits Report listing the most common service-related disabilities among veterans for that year.

According to VA’s 2020 Annual Benefits Report, the following are the top 20 VA disability claims.

1. Tinnitus VA Claims

Generally, tinnitus refers to the perception of noise or ringing in the ears.  It is often a symptom of an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder.

Common symptoms of tinnitus include phantom noises in the ears such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, and humming.

Veterans do not need a specific diagnosis of tinnitus to be granted service connection.  They can provide a subjective report of their symptomatology, which is enough to show they meet the rating criteria.

VA rates tinnitus under 38 CFR § 4.87, Diagnostic Code 6260.  The highest schedular rating for tinnitus is 10 percent, which takes both ears into account.  It is rare that a veteran receives a higher rating on an extraschedular basis.

Tinnitus VA Disability Claims and Ratings

2. Hearing Loss VA Claims

Hearing loss involves muffling of speech and other sounds; difficulty understanding words, trouble hearing consonants; frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly; withdrawal from conversations; and avoidance of some social settings.  These symptoms can significantly impact a veteran’s quality of life and daily functioning.

Hearing loss is categorized into three main types: conductive (involves outer or middle ear), sensorineural (involves inner ear), and mixed (a combination of the two).  Common causes of hearing loss include damage to the inner ear, earwax buildup, ear infection, and ruptured eardrum.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans are 30 percent more likely than non-veterans to have severe hearing impairment.

Ratings for hearing loss are primarily based on two auditory tests, which VA requires to confirm a hearing loss diagnosis:

  • Speech discrimination (Maryland CNC Test)
  • Pure tone threshold (Puretone Audiometric Test)

Ratings can range from 0 to 100 percent; however, most veterans receive between 0 and 10 percent.

VA Claims for Hearing Loss & Tinnitus

3. Limitation of Flexion of the Knee VA Disability Claims

Limitation of flexion of the knee refers to the range of motion of the knee as the veteran moves it or curls it inward towards the body.

How VA Rates Limitation of Flexion of the Knee

Generally, VA rates this condition as a musculoskeletal condition based on the range of motion that exists as the veteran moves their knee in that direction.  VA looks at the range of motion in degrees rather than the pain caused by the motion.

Limitation of flexion of the knee is rated under 38 CFR § 4.71a, Diagnostic Code 5260, at 0, 10, 20, or 30 percent.  The most common rating VA assigns for this condition is 10 percent.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) VA Claims

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results from experiencing a distressing, shocking, or otherwise traumatic event.

The symptoms and severity of PTSD vary from person to person; however, the most common symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive, distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered

To establish service connection for PTSD, veterans must verify an in-service stressor that they believe caused their PTSD.  This must be corroborated through evidence, such as lay statements detailing the occurrence.

VA rates PTSD under the Schedule of Ratings for Mental Disorders, 38 CFR § 4.130, Diagnostic Code 9411, at 0, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent.  Ratings are based on the level of social and occupational impairment, as well as the frequency, duration, and severity of symptoms.

PTSD Rating Scale for VA Disability Claims Explained

5. Lumbosacral and Cervical Strain VA Claims

Veterans often suffer from back pain caused by a variety of back conditions, such as lumbosacral and cervical strains.

Veterans generally attend a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam to measure how far they can bend forwards, backwards, and side to side using a goniometer.  VA determines the severity of a veteran’s back condition based on the range of motion measurements provided by the examiner.

VA rates back conditions, such as lumbar and cervical strains, under 38 CFR § 4.71a, Schedule of Ratings, Musculoskeletal System, and the criteria is based largely on a veteran’s range of motion.  Ratings range from 0 to 100 percent.

VA disability ratings for back pain infographic

6. VA Disability Claims for Scars

Veterans can receive service connection for scars that result from their time in military service, or from service-connected conditions that required surgery.

Scar disabilities are rated under 38 CFR §4.118, Diagnostic Codes 7800-7805.  Scars are rated based on the number of scars or disfigurements a veteran has, the area of the body affected, their permanence, and the presence of pain or instability.

Scars on the head, face, or neck are rated based on skin loss and how many facial features have been disfigured.  Ratings for scars on areas of the body other than the head, face, or neck are generally based on the size of the scar.

Scars can be rated anywhere from 0 to 80 percent, depending on the diagnostic code.

7. VA Claims for Paralysis of the Sciatic Nerve

Sciatica is a nerve condition in which pain radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, traveling from the lower back down through the legs.  It occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed or pinched.

Common symptoms of sciatica include numbness, tingling, burning sensation, and muscle weakness.

Paralysis of the sciatic nerve, the most severe form of sciatica, is very common amongst veterans, primarily because it is linked to back and neck issues.

VA rates sciatica under 38 CFR § 4.124a, Schedule of Ratings, Neurological Conditions and Convulsive Disorders.  Specifically, paralysis of the sciatic nerve is rated under Diagnostic Code 8520 at 10, 20, 40, 60, or 80 percent.

Sciatica VA Disability Claims and Ratings

8. Limitation of Motion in the Ankle VA Claims

Limitation of motion in the ankle usually develops following an ankle sprain that did not adequately heal or was not rehabilitated completely.  Many veterans suffer from ankle injuries due to the physical demands of military training and service.

Limitation of motion in the ankle is usually rated under 38 CFR § 4.71, Schedule of Ratings, Musculoskeletal System, Diagnostic Code 5271, at 10 or 20 percent.

9. VA Claims for Migraines

Migraines are recurring, intense, and frequent headaches that can be completely debilitating.  Symptoms can include pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, lightheadedness, and blurred vision.

Some factors which may contribute to the higher rate of migraines among veterans include noise exposure, intense or stressful situations, and traumatic brain injury.

VA rates migraine headaches under 38 C.F.R. 4.124a, Neurological Conditions and Convulsive Disorders, Diagnostic Code 8100.  Migraines are rated at 0, 10, 30, or 50 percent depending on the severity and frequency of the migraines.

Migraines & Headaches at the VA

10. Limitation of Motion of the Arm Claims

Typically, limitation of motion of the arm develops when an injury in the arm or shoulder has not healed fully or not been rehabilitated adequately.  Repeated injuries can further increase instability in the shoulder or arm and limit the range of motion.

Common causes of arm conditions include:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Forms of physical training
  • Scar tissue in muscles
  • A fall, impact, or accident

VA uses 38 CFR § 4.71a, Diagnostic Code 5201, to rate limitation of the arm at a 20, 30, or 40 percent.  VA takes into consideration whether the veteran’s dominant or non-dominant arm is affected and how severely it is limited.

11. Sleep Apnea VA Claims

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during the course of the night.  There are three main types:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex (mixed) sleep apnea occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

For mild cases of sleep apnea, doctors may suggest lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking, if applicable.  In more serious cases, doctors may prescribe the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

To confirm a sleep apnea diagnosis for VA disability compensation purposes, VA requires that a sleep study be conducted.

Sleep apnea is rated under 38 CFR § 4.97, Diagnostic Code 6847 at 0, 30, 50, or 100 percent depending on the severity.

How Does VA Rate Sleep Apnea?

12. Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine VA Disability Claims

Degenerative arthritis occurs when the cartilage between joints erodes over time resulting in joint stiffness, limited mobility, and pain.  It usually occurs in weight-bearing joints, such as the back, hips, or knees.

Degenerative arthritis is rated based on the limitation of range of motion of the affected joint(s) under 38 CFR § 4.71a at 10 or 20 percent.

13. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) VA Claims

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by many factors – such as a blow to the head or an object penetrating the brain – and may result in brain dysfunction.  Common causes include motor vehicle accidents and combat exposure.

Symptoms of TBI may include short-term memory loss, inability to follow directions, headaches, and personality changes.

VA rates TBIs based on the residual symptoms a veteran is currently experiencing due to the trauma under 38 CFR § 4.124a.

Rating criteria for TBI residuals are divided into 10 subcategories to evaluate the condition based on the level of severity and impairment in each area.  Ratings range from 0 to 100 percent.

TBI VA Claims and Ratings: Traumatic Brain Injury

14. VA Claims for Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)

Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and acts.  Symptoms of depression may include feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness; lack of motivation or interest; sleep and concentration issues; change in appetite; irritability; and fatigue.

Depression is rated under 38 CFR § 4.130, the General Rating Formula for Mental Health Disorders, at 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent depending on the level of social and occupational impairment.

VA General-Ratings-for-Mental-Health-Disorders

15. VA Claims for Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory conditions – asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory cancers, and more – are common among veterans due to in-service exposure to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other airborne hazards.

VA presumptive service connection (i.e., Agent Orange presumptions or the new particulate matter presumption) does exist for some respiratory conditions if the veteran meets certain qualifying criteria.

How VA Rates Respiratory Conditions

VA rates respiratory conditions under 38 CFR § 4.97.  The range of possible ratings depends on the specific condition and the diagnostic code used.

Asthma, for example, is rated under Diagnostic Code 6602 from 0 to 100 percent.  Allergic rhinitis is rated under Diagnostic Code 6522 at 10 or 30 percent.

VA Disability Benefits for Respiratory Conditions

16. Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 Claims

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that causes a person to experience increased blood glucose levels due to insulin resistance or deficiency.

Diabetes mellitus type 2 is included in VA’s list of presumptive conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides.

Type 2 diabetes is rated under 38 CFR § 4.119, Diagnostic Code 7913 at 10, 20, 40, 60, or 100 percent.

17. VA Cancer Claims

There are a number of different types of cancers that veterans may develop as a result of their service, including lung cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, leukemias, and more.

One of the most common ways that cancer stems from a veteran’s service is due to toxic exposure.  Veterans who served during the Vietnam War Era may qualify for presumptive service connection based on Agent Orange exposure.  VA outlines the criteria for presumptive service connection for Agent Orange under 38 CFR § 3.309, which includes the following cancers as presumptive conditions:

  • Chronic B-cell leukemia
  • Soft-tissue sarcoma
  • Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Multiple Myeloma

If a veteran is service connected for an active cancer, VA should automatically assign a 100 percent disability rating.  This rating continues for as long as the cancer is active, and for another six months following the successful completion of a treatment program (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery).

After that, VA schedules a C&P exam to evaluate the current status of their condition.  If the cancer is in remission, VA evaluates its residuals and grants a disability rating accordingly.  Ratings range from 0 to 100 percent for residuals.

va disability ratings for cancer explained: agent orange, burn pits, camp lejeune, radiation, 100% VA disability for cancer

18. Pes Planus (Flat Feet) VA Claims

Pes planus, or flat feet, is a common foot deformity in which the arch of the foot is flattened to the point where it touches, or nearly touches, the ground.

Most of the time, those with flat feet do not experience serious symptoms and treatment may not be necessary.  However, those with more severe cases may experience symptoms such as:

  • Feet tiring out easily
  • Aches or pains in the areas of the arches or heels
  • Foot swelling
  • Difficulty performing certain foot movements, such as standing on your toes
  • Leg and back pain

VA rates veterans with flat feet under 38 CFR § 4.71a, Diagnostic Code 5276 at 0, 10, 20 30, or 50 percent.

19. Anxiety Claims

Anxiety is defined as intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.  Symptoms can include restlessness, trouble concentrating, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and more.

VA uses the General Rating Formula for Mental Health Disorders under 38 CFR § 4.130 to assign a rating at 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent based on social and occupational impairment.

20. Secondary Conditions for Service Connection

Many veterans are service-connected on a secondary basis for conditions stemming from an already service-connected condition.

Secondary conditions can include any number of conditions.  Some common secondary conditions are:

  • Radiculopathy secondary to back pain
  • Peripheral neuropathy secondary to diabetes mellitus type 2
  • Hypertension secondary to PTSD
  • Depression secondary to Parkinson’s disease or cancer
5 Ways to Establish VA Service Connection

Were Your VA Benefits Denied?

If you filed a claim for a service-related disability but VA denied you compensation, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help.  The experienced veterans’ advocates at CCK have helped many veterans secure rightfully earned benefits for their service-related injuries.

Reach out to CCK today to schedule a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Bio photo of Zachary Stolz

Zach is a Partner at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. He joined CCK in 2007 and since that time, his law practice has focused on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Zachary