Veterans and Skin Conditions
If you are a veteran with disfiguring or painful skin conditions and scars, the VA may owe you disability compensation. Common service-related skin conditions include dermatitis, psoriasis, skin cancer, urticaria, chloracne, immune disorders, scars, and burns. These conditions may be treated with topical treatments or systemic medication. If you can prove a connection between your diagnosis and a service event that may have caused the skin condition, the VA will rate your skin condition to determine compensation.
Due to the dangerous nature of military service, you expect your return home will include a scar or two. But military service can also cause skin conditions that cause disfigurement, pain, and irritation, negatively impacting your life.
If you have a skin condition you believe may be connected to your military service, you may be entitled to compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What Are Service-Related Skin Conditions?
Veterans often experience service-related skin conditions. While the list of skin conditions potentially caused by military service is virtually endless, there are several that are more common than others.
Dermatitis is an overarching term for skin inflammation. If you have dermatitis, you will experience general irritation of the skin, usually presenting as:
- Thickening or hardening skin
Eczema and dandruff are common forms of dermatitis.
Like dermatitis, psoriasis is a form of skin inflammation, but it is caused by skin cells that grow too quickly. Before the older cells can shed, new skin cells are formed, creating raised plaques that can itch or burn.
Multiple studies show an increased risk of skin cancer for people who serve in the U.S. military. This may be due to exposure to harmful chemicals and increased sun exposure during military service, especially in tropical climates or if you’ve served in the Air Force.
Urticaria, also known as hives, presents as raised, itchy, red welts, usually associated with allergies. However, some cases can be chronic, with welts frequently disappearing and reappearing for months or years.
While the condition is not life-threatening, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Chloracne is more extreme than the typical acne seen in teenagers. It consists of pimples, cysts, and blackheads and has been linked to military service-related toxic exposure to chemicals and other herbicides.
Severe cases can last for years and lead to other problems, including scarring, skin thickening, peeling, flaking, and open sores.
Many autoimmune disorders can cause your body’s immune system to attack healthy skin cells. In some cases, as with scleroderma, your skin may harden and tighten, while your skin may blister in others.
Scars and Disfigurement
Many military service members experience injuries in the line of duty that result in permanent scars. People with extensive scarring — especially when the scarring is on the face — can experience emotional effects, including depression and shame. Physically, scar tissue can also interfere with day-to-day life, causing pain, itching, or stiffness that limits movement.
Burns are a form of tissue damage caused by extreme heat, chemicals, electricity, or sunlight. Their severity is determined by the cause and how deep into the tissue the damage reaches. You may experience them in isolation (for example, from a chemical spill) or as part of other injuries.
Long-term effects of burns include:
- Nerve damage
- Muscular damage
- Tissue damage
You may also experience flashbacks, depression, or nightmares since burns frequently occur in traumatizing situations, including explosions.
Why Do Veterans Experience Skin Conditions?
Unfortunately, you can experience skin conditions as a direct result of your service.
You may have been exposed to toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange and other herbicides, airborne hazards from burn pits, or traumatic injuries from combat.
How Are Veteran Skin Conditions Treated?
There are several treatment options for veteran skin conditions. Because each skin condition affects everyone differently, finding the correct therapy for you may take some trial and error.
The first type of treatment for skin conditions is topical therapy, which is any treatment applied directly to your skin.
The second type of treatment is systemic therapy, which is any treatment administered by mouth, nose, anus, intravenously, or injection. Common systemic treatments include:
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Psoralen with long-wave ultraviolent-A light (PUVA)
Are Skin Conditions Eligible for VA Disability?
Veterans with skin diseases are eligible for VA disability if a service connection is present and the condition is chronic (6+ months).
How Does a Veteran Qualify for Skin Condition Disability Benefits?
There are two ways to qualify for skin condition disability benefits: a direct service connection or a presumptive service connection.
To establish a direct service connection, you must have all three of the following:
In the case of a presumptive service connection, the VA assumes there is a medical link between your service and your condition. For example, if you were exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and have chloracne, the VA does not need a medical nexus proving the link. But you still need a current diagnosis and evidence you experienced a causation event during your service.
VA Skin Condition Disability Rating
The VA skin condition rating system determines how much you can be compensated for your skin condition.
Compensation for skin condition VA disability is based on calculations (the surface area of the affected skin tissue in inches squared) or estimations (the percentage of skin tissue impacted).
If your skin condition is rated 20 percent or less, you qualify for a single separation payment and a monthly payment. If your skin condition is rated at 30 percent or higher, you qualify for full retirement benefits and medical care from the VA.
Skin Condition Rating System
Skin conditions are rated based on how much of the entire body is affected or how much of the entirety of the exposed area is affected. The type and duration of treatment are also considered in the rating system.
A 100 percent rating involves hospitalization resulting from the skin condition or recovery from a procedure to treat skin cancer (radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery).
A 60 percent rating includes at least one of the following:
- Skin conditions affecting more than 40 percent of the entire body or exposed area
- Continual or near continual treatment over the past year
A 30 percent rating includes at least one of the following:
- Skin conditions affecting 20 to 40 percent of the entire body or exposed area
- Systemic therapies for a total of six weeks over the previous year
A 10 percent rating includes at least one of the following:
- Skin conditions affecting five to 20 percent of the entire body or exposed area
- Systemic therapies for less than six weeks over the previous year
A 0 percent rating includes topical therapy only over the past year and at least one of the following:
- Skin conditions affecting less than five percent of the entire body or exposed area
- Disfigurement of head, face, neck, or scars
Scar and Skin Cancer Ratings
Scars and skin cancer are rated differently from other skin conditions. They both follow these guidelines:
- Scars on the face, head, or neck are rated based on the estimated amount of skin loss and level of facial feature disfigurement.
- Scars everywhere else on the body are rated based on calculations.
- Deep scars that are not connected are rated separately.
- Superficial scars that are not permanent earn a 10 percent rating.
- Scars considered unstable (continual or frequent skin loss) add 10 percent to their rating.
If you have multiple skin conditions, multiple ratings can be given if you have clear, separate diagnoses of conditions impacting different areas.
If your condition worsens after your initial claim, you can file again as long as you repeat the qualification process.