Veterans frequently experience back conditions after their time in service, from an injury or wear and tear due to the physical demands of their time in service. Back conditions, depending on their severity, can greatly impact a veteran’s ability to perform activities of daily living, or perform work responsibilities.
These are the three common back conditions that veterans experience.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), also known as osteoarthritis of the spine, usually occurs in the lower back or neck. DDD is a condition where the discs between vertebrae lose cushioning, fragment, and herniate. This condition does not always result in pain, but pain can frequently occur with DDD. In some cases, DDD can result in numbness and tingling in the upper or lower extremities.
VA rates DDD under diagnostic code 5003, and the criteria is based on how many major and minor joints are impacted, and the frequency of incapacitating episodes. Based on severity of symptoms, DDD can be assigned a 10 or 20 percent rating.
Lumbosacral or Cervical Strain
Lumbosacral or cervical strain is an injury of the ligaments, tendons and/or muscles of the low back or neck, respectively. The injury usually results from stretching that causes a small tear in these tissues. Lumbosacral and cervical strain are typically caused by overuse and trauma. Pain is a very common symptom of lumbosacral and cervical strain, as well as trouble bending or having limited range of motion.
VA rates lumbosacral and cervical strain under Diagnostic Code 5237, with ratings ranging from 10 to 100 percent. The ratings from 10 to 40 are based, at least in part, on forward flexion and range of motion. The ratings from 50 to 100 percent are based on the amount of unfavorable ankyloses present.
Intervertebral Disc Syndrome
Intervertebral Disc Syndrome (IVDS), also known as a bulging or herniated disc, is a back condition that involves the irritation of the nerve root and causes sharp, chronic pain. Additional symptoms of IVDS can include numbness or tingling in the lower extremities, and weakness.VA rates IVDS under Diagnostic Code 5243, and each rating is based on how frequently, and for how long, a veteran is prescribed bed rest for their IVDS.
At present, physicians generally agree that the practice of prescribing bed rest for IVDS can actually be harmful for a veteran’s recovery. Bed rest can lead to stiffening of the joints and weaken muscles. As a result, physicians generally do not prescribe bed rest for IVDS; Instead physical therapy and medication for pain are considered common treatments.
Other VA Benefits for Back Conditions
Veterans who are unable to work due to their service-connected back condition can apply for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). TDIU allows for veterans to be paid at the 100 percent disability rate if their service-connected condition(s) prevent them from obtaining and maintaining substantially gainful employment.
Veterans with severe service-connected back conditions may also be entitled to a VA benefit called Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) based on the need for aid and attendance (A&A). A&A benefits are for veterans who need regular aid and attendance due to their service-connected condition(s). Regular aid and attendance is generally seen as needing help with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, cooking, eating, etc. The aid and attendance need not be constant, only regular.