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VA Disability Benefits for Carpal Tunnel

November 27, 2019
person holding wrist due to carpal tunnel pain

What is Carpal Tunnel?

Carpal tunnel is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in a person’s hand and arm.  The condition occurs when the median nerve, one of the major nerves to the hand, is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.  Carpal tunnel tends to get worse over time, so early diagnosis and treatment are important.

Treatment options for carpal tunnel may involve wearing a wrist splint, avoiding certain activities, and surgery to take pressure off the median nerve.  Most cases of carpal tunnel are caused by a combination of factors; however, certain risk factors can include the following:

  • Heredity –there may be anatomic differences that change the amount of space for the median nerve, resulting in a higher chance of compression. These traits can run in families.
  • Repetitive hand use – repeating the same hand and wrist motions or activities over a prolonged period of time may aggravate the tendons in the wrist, causing swelling that puts pressure on the nerve.
  • Hand and wrist position – doing activities that involve extreme flexion or extension of the hand and wrist for a prolonged period of time can increase pressure on the nerve
  • Health conditions – diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid gland imbalance are conditions that are associated with carpal tunnel.

Importantly, carpal tunnel can also be related to your military service.  If this is the case, you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits.

Service Connection for Carpal Tunnel

In order to receive VA disability benefits for carpal tunnel, you have to first prove to VA that your carpal tunnel is a result of your time in service by establishing service connection.  To establish direct service connection, you must demonstrate the following:

  • A current diagnosis of carpal tunnel
  • An in-service event, injury, or illness
  • A medical nexus (i.e. link) between the current diagnosis and the in-service event, injury, or illness

The third element of direct service connection related to a medical nexus may require obtaining an opinion from a VA healthcare professional or private physician.  Ideally, the medical opinion would state that your carpal tunnel is “at least as likely as not” related to your military service.  However, service connection can also be established on a secondary basis.

Specifically, if you have an already service-connected condition that caused or aggravated your carpal tunnel, you may still qualify for VA disability benefits.  Here, you must provide medical evidence demonstrating that causal relationship between the primary and secondary conditions.

How VA Rates Carpal Tunnel

VA rates carpal tunnel under 38 CFR § 4.124a, Schedule of Ratings – Neurological conditions and convulsive disorders, Diagnostic Code 8515.  The rating criteria is as follows based on paralysis of the median nerve:

  • 70/60% – complete paralysis; marked by the absence of flexion of index finger and feeble flexion of middle finger, inability to make a fist, index and middle fingers remain extended, inability to flex distal phalanx of thumb, weakened flexion of etc.
  • 50/40% – incomplete paralysis; severe
  • 30/20% – incomplete paralysis; moderate
  • 10/10% – incomplete paralysis; mild

Importantly, the higher percentage is applied when the carpal tunnel affects your dominant hand, whereas the lower percentage is applied when your non-dominant hand is affected.  Your VA disability rating may warrant an increase if symptoms consistent with “trigger finger” are present.

“Trigger finger” is a condition associated with carpal tunnel that causes pain, stiffness, and a sensation of locking or catching when you bend and straighten your finger.  The ring finger and thumb are most often affected by trigger finger, but it can occur in the other fingers, as well.  It is important to inform VA if you experience this issue as it may affect the evaluation you receive.

Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability

Carpal tunnel can affect your ability to lift, carry, reach, or grasp – all activities that are typically required in a workplace setting.  For example, if you lack dexterity or the ability to grasp, you cannot perform duties as an administrative assistant or office secretary.  Furthermore, your inability to lift or carry things can keep you from being employed in a warehouse, shipping department, or any occupation involving manual labor.  Overall, if you are unable to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of your service-connected carpal tunnel, you may be entitled to total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).  For help applying for TDIU benefits, contact a veterans service organization, VA accredited agent, or VA accredited attorney.