VA Disability Rating for Bulging Disc

Dealing with a bulging disc causes immense complications for many veterans, reducing their quality of life and causing pain with even normal or familiar activities. A herniated disc disability rating can help veterans with the financial struggles that arise when they cannot work due to bulging disc pain. Veterans Guide offers a look at the challenges caused by herniated discs and the disability rating a veteran can expect.

The vertebrae, or the bones that make up the spine, have rubbery cushions, also known as discs, that sit between them and protect the spine during movement. When the outer, rubbery exterior of the disc is punctured or ripped, some of the jellylike substance in the center of the disc can push out through the tear and put pressure on the nerves. This herniated disc pain can interfere with normal activities, preventing patients from moving freely and interfering with their ability to work and engage in self-care. Herniated discs usually improve with time. However, some veterans experience symptoms long after the initial injury.

Bulging discs occur when the outer disc sags, or bulges outward, but does not actually have a tear in the outer layer. While a herniated disc can cause more severe pain and limitations than a bulging disc, both can cause significant challenges for the patient.

Veterans and Bulging or Herniated Discs

Herniated discs cause pain in the back near the site of the injury that can radiate to the arm or leg. Veterans with herniated discs in the lower back, for example, experience pain in the buttocks, thighs, and leg. Pain can radiate down to the foot. Patients with herniated discs also experience numbness or tingling and muscle weakness. 

Veterans have a high risk of developing bulging or herniated discs due to their time in service. Risk factors for bulging or herniated discs include:

  • Jobs that involve repetitive movements
  • Jobs that require heavy lifting
  • Frequent driving
  • Long periods of remaining sedentary

Service members face the risks associated with a herniated disc throughout their service, depending on what type of job they perform. For example, service members who often work in the field carry heavy packs that can put considerable pressure on the spine, while service members who spend most of their days at a desk may struggle with the impact of their sedentary lifestyles.

How Does the VA Rate Bulging or Herniated Discs?

VA disability ratings lay out the percentage of disability a veteran experiences due to service-related injuries and conditions. A high disability rating implies a greater impact on the veteran’s life. The VA rates herniated discs based on their impact on the veteran, including how they impact activities of daily living and how much pain, weakness, and numbness the veteran experiences. The herniated disc disability rating falls under 38 § CFR 4.71a, which takes a look at the musculoskeletal system. The rating system is as follows:

  • 60% disability rating when the veteran is incapacitated for at least 6 weeks out of the past 12 months
  • 40% disability rating when the veteran has incapacitating episodes that last for at least 4 weeks, but not 6 weeks, out of a 12-month period
  • 20% disability rating when incapacitating episodes are at least 2 weeks, but less than 4 weeks, out of the past 12 months
  • 10% disability rating when the incapacitating episodes last for at least one week, but less than 2 weeks, out of a 12-month period. 

TDIU and Bulging or Herniated Discs

If your bulging or herniated discs prevent you from working due to ongoing pain or weakness, you can file for TDIU, or Total Disability Individual Unemployability. A TDIU rating provides you with additional compensation through the VA for your herniated discs. For a TDIU rating, you will need to submit:

  • Evidence of the jobs you have held since leaving the service
  • Doctors’ notes
  • Medical test results
  • Educational background, which shows what types of jobs you have the potential to hold

In order to receive a TDIU rating, you need to have a disability rating of at least 60%. A TDIU rating can be permanent. However, if your condition resolves, as in the case of a bulging or herniated disc healing over time, the VA can remove that rating.

Bulging Discs as a Secondary Disability

Bulging discs can occur on their own. They also connect to a number of other common conditions faced by service members.

Veterans can develop bulging or herniated discs because of the other conditions they have to deal with. If you suffer bulging discs due to another service-related condition, you can add herniated or bulging discs as a secondary disability. A secondary disability increases your overall disability rating and the financial assistance you receive from the VA because of your injuries. 

If you have multiple disabilities, the VA will not simply add your ratings together to equal a total rating. They will calculate your total rating using their Combined Ratings Table. Our VA disability calculator can assist in doing the math to combine multiple ratings.

Service Connection by Aggravation for a Herniated Disc

If you suffered a herniated disc before your time in service, but your service made it worse, you can apply for a service aggravation for your herniated disc. A service connection by aggravation means that the duties you faced during service made the herniated or bulging disc worse. Heavy lifting, long periods of inactivity, or heavy wear and tear on the body can all aggravate herniated discs and make it difficult for them to heal. You will need to:

  • Show a previous diagnosis of a herniated disc
  • Submit medical evidence that your condition worsened because of your time in the Armed Forces, not because of the natural progression of a condition like degenerative disc disease
  • Submit a Nexus Letter that links your service to the worsening symptoms

You can then receive VA benefits for your aggravated condition.

How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for a Bulging or Herniated Disc?

You can file a VA disability claim online. You will need:

  • A complete claim form. Make sure that you include all the information the VA asks for, since failure to include all relevant information could delay your claim. 
  • Any VA medical records or military hospital records that show your disability or how your disability has progressed throughout your time in service.
  • Private medical records. If you sought medical care from a non-military provider, you need to provide those records as part of your VA claim.

In addition, provide any supporting statements that show how your bulging or herniated discs have impacted your quality of life and ability to work. Ask friends and family members, clergy members, or people you served with to provide information about how you sustained your injuries and what influence they have had on you. A Nexus Letter helps establish the service-related connection between your herniated disc and your military service, which can help build your claim and increase the odds of fast approval. 

The VA may require you to go through a C&P, or Compensation & Pension, exam to establish the extent of your disability. A C&P exam occurs when the VA cannot make a determination about the extent of your disability based on the evidence provided. The exam will assess your mobility, your capabilities, and your pain as well as offering insight into your specific injuries.

Filing a claim with the VA can prove complicated. You want to maximize your disability rating to increase your monthly payments, but you also want to provide accurate information. Contact Veterans Guide to learn how we can help you throughout the process.

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