Cervical Strain VA Disability
Back injuries are very frequent and common medical ailment in the veteran population. Service injuries often translate to military veterans later suffering chronic back pain. Often, these injuries can be debilitating and limiting enough to affect your ability to work and even perform daily functions of life.
Cervical (neck) injuries are a very common disability claim. In fact, cervical strain VA disability accounted for over 80,000 veteran claims in 2015 alone. The key to obtaining disability payments for any back injury is that the injury must have a connection to your military service.
Any type of back injury, including cervical strain VA disability, is rated based on your current spine range of motion (ROM) in the spine. While ROM is the typical criteria, the Veterans Administration does use other factors for certain conditions. For cervical spine injuries, ROM is the standard. You will be given a cervical strain VA disability rating from 0 to 100,you’re your disability benefits will be calculated accordingly.
Some of the common maladies that qualify for cervical strain VA disability are as follows:
• Lumbosacral strain
• Cervical strain
• Vertebral fracture: compression or dislocation of cervical vertebrae due to fracture or head/neck trauma. These fractures usually limit spinal mobility, and standing/walking will make the pain worse while lying down on the back makes the pain better.
• Spinal stenosis in the cervical region: a narrowing of the space between vertebrae that causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
• Spondylolisthesis (segmental instability): the sliding forward of one vertebra over the vertebra beneath it, resulting in impingement on nerve roots, causing pain , numbness or weakness
• Ankylosing spondylitis: a form of arthritis in the spine causing inflammation and severe, chronic pain.
• Spinal fusion surgery, cervical region: you will likely qualify for benefits if you have had a fusion surgery for two or more vertebrae in the cervical region
Cervical ratings are based almost entirely on ROM measurements. It’s important to go to a doctor who understands the ROM tests and performs them and records the results of the test accurately.
The VA requires that all ROM tests be measured with an instrument called a goniometer. This is an important point, because the VA will not accept the test result unless a goniometer is used. Ths device is widely used by physical therapists and other health professionals to measure range of motion in particular joints. The device has a stationary arm and a moveable arm, and there are specific positioning points to use for each joint in the body.
There are three measurements that are important to the VA:
• The first is flexion and extension, measuring your ability to tilt your head forward and back. Full range of motion is tilting forward 45 degrees and backwards 45 degrees. If you are able to tilt forward and back this full range, your disability rating is zero and you get no benefits. Inability to move your head forward or back at all, such as in the case of a cervical fusion surgery, means 100 percent disability rating and likely full benefit payout.
• The second measurement is called left and right rotation. If you are lying on your back, this measurement represents you ability to move your head from side to side (nose to shoulder). 80 degrees either way represents full ROM.
• The final measurement is called lateral flexion, the ability for you to move your head right and left (ear to shoulder). A 45 degree ROM either way represents full range.
If your cervical spine is frozen in position without any capability for flexion or extension, you will likely automatically qualify for benefits.
For most cervical cases, the ROM test and calculation make sense. There are some situations however in which a veteran can have sufficient range of motion but also have debilitating pain and other problems. Intervertebral disc disease and forms of arthritis are two examples that are based more on incapacitation levels than on mere ROM. Nerve issues that cause numbness, tingling, and pain also fall into this category.
Primary cervical spine injuries can cause secondary issues that qualify you for disability:
• Radiculopathy is one such condition that the VA may consider as a separate, independently ratable service-connected disability. Radiculopathy causes diseased nerve roots that result from a compressed nerve.
• A fractured or dislocated vertebra is another example. The fracture can often lead to weakness, numbness or pain in the arms, shoulders or other areas; this pain can be rated independently of the original primary condition of the fracture.
• Abnormal spine contours caused by conditions like scoliosis also qualify if they cause severe muscle spasms or abnormal walking.
Basically, any primary spinal condition that results in the development of a new disability—or a condition that makes the original disability worse—will generally be independently rated by the VA in a process called secondary service connection.
It’s an understatement to say that the VA disability application process is cumbersome and confusing. It’s unfortunate that it can’t be more straightforward, but it isn’t. For this reason, having an experienced attorney can really help, so give us a call.