VA Disability Rating for Cancer

The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes several types of cancer in its disability ratings, and some veterans are granted a presumed connection between their service and their illness depending on their type of cancer and when and where they served. A veteran with service-connected cancer will receive a 100% rating while the cancer is active and 6 months after being cancer-free

Key Takeaways
  • Veterans with active cancer cases are generally assigned a temporary 100% disability rating, which is reassessed six months after treatment to adjust for remission and related conditions.
  • Veterans must prove their cancer is linked to military service, often due to exposure to toxins like Agent Orange or radiation, to qualify for disability benefits.
  • A 100% disability rating grants veterans maximum compensation, priority VA healthcare access, and other potential benefits such as CHAMPVA, depending on post-treatment status.
  • Veterans receive a temporary 100% rating during cancer treatment, transitioning to a permanent rating based on a post-treatment medical examination to evaluate ongoing needs.

Veterans diagnosed with cancer were often exposed to hazardous conditions while serving. Toxins such as Agent Orange, burn pits, asbestos, and radiation can cause cancer and resulting health problems. Veterans who show that their cancer is related to their service are entitled to disability benefits.

Veterans with active cases generally receive a 100 percent cancer VA rating and full disability benefits for up to six months following their treatment. Once the six months expire, they must take a mandatory medical exam to determine if the cancer is in remission and if other conditions, such as disfigurement, merit new ratings. Veterans Guide provides more information on how to get the most from VA benefits.

Veterans and Cancer

Genes in your body tell cells how to act, including when to start and stop growing. If one or more genes mutate, they create cancerous cells that multiply uncontrollably and can move around the body. These cells can form tumors. In some cases, cells break off these tumors and spread even further.

Some cancers result from genetics, but exposure to toxins and radiation can also lead to cancer. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pitsasbestos, radiation, and other toxins have an increased cancer risk. Veterans with cancer may experience symptoms such as the following:

  • Lumps or bumps that don’t go away
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Persistent pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Moles that change shape or size
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever

If you are diagnosed with any form of cancer, talk to your doctor immediately about your military service and any incidents or exposures you may have had that put you at higher risk.

Service Connection for Cancer

To receive disability benefits, veterans must show that their cancer is related to their time in the military. Medical and service records and doctors’ opinions must show that it is at least 50 percent likely that your service caused the cancer. Doctors make this connection through a nexus letter that explains your case for disability benefits in detail.

If you successfully show a service connection, you receive a cancer VA rating between 0 percent and 100 percent. The rating is a VA decision regarding how much your illness or injury affects your ability to carry out daily tasks and your overall health. For example, a 60 percent disability rating means you are 60 percent disabled.

For many veterans, making a service connection means linking their cancer to toxic exposure. Successful disability claims may be based on exposure to burn pits, Agent Orange, radiation, or contaminated water, such as at Camp Lejeune.

The 2022 PACT Act added conditions for which the VA presumes a service connection. It added diagnoses such as colon cancer that the VA presumes were caused by exposure to toxins for Vietnam War-era, Gulf War-era, and post-9/11 veterans who served in specific areas.

How Does the VA Rate Cancer?

The VA generally grants veterans with active service-connected cancer a 100 percent disability rating. You hold that rating until six months after your treatment stops. You must then undergo a mandatory Compensation and Pension, or C&P exam. If you are cancer-free, your doctor can help you determine if you have other conditions as a result of your cancer that also qualify you for VA disability benefits.

The Code of Federal Regulations includes a searchable Schedule for Rating Disabilities. Some of the more common cancers experienced by veterans and their VA diagnostic codes include:

  • Breast – 7630
  • Digestive System – 7343
  • Ear – 6208
  • Endocrine – 7914
  • Genitourinary – 7528
  • Gynecological – 7627
  • Oral hard and soft tissue – 9918
  • Muscle – 5327
  • Respiratory – 6819
  • Skin – 7818

The rating schedule for each type of cancer includes information on how doctors rate secondary or residual conditions. For example, for breast cancer, it explicitly mentions impairment due to scars or disfigurement.

Total Disability Individual Unemployability and Cancer

Six months after your cancer treatment stops and you receive a mandatory C&P exam, your disability ratings for your residual disabilities dictate your new benefits level. Under the VA’s Total Disability Individual Unemployability program, or TDIU, you may still qualify for benefits at the 100 percent level, even if your rating is lower.

TDIU helps veterans who cannot hold substantially gainful employment due to their disabilities. To be eligible, you must meet one of two criteria:

  • A service-connected disability rated at 60 percent or higher
  • Multiple conditions with a combined rating of at least 70 percent, with at least one disability rated at 40 percent

You need strong medical evidence and a letter from your doctor to prove you cannot work.

Cancer and Secondary Disabilities

Conditions that occur secondary to your cancer or its treatments are called residuals by the VA. If you already receive disability benefits for your cancer diagnosis, you have already shown your service connection. You do not have to show that connection again. You only have to show the relationship between your secondary disabilities and your cancer.

Some common problems that occur following cancer and its treatment that the VA rates include the following:

  • Scars
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of motion
  • Incontinence
  • Anxiety 

Following your mandatory C&P exam, the VA will assign new ratings based on your current conditions. You may receive a single rating or multiple ratings combined to determine your new disability level. For example, you may receive a 100 percent rating for prostate cancer. Following your treatment, you could receive diagnoses of incontinence and bowel obstruction. Your new rating level will depend on the seriousness of those conditions.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Cancer

You need several pieces of evidence to get a cancer VA rating with maximum benefits. Your application must include private and VA doctor and hospital records and service records demonstrating that your cancer is related to your service. If you do not qualify for a presumptive finding through the PACT Act, you need a strong nexus letter from your doctor.

Once you have your evidence, you can apply for benefits in one of three ways:

  1. Fill out the application online
  2. Complete VA Form 21-526EZ and mail it to your nearest VA Claims Intake Center
  3. Complete your form and bring it and your evidence to the closest VA regional office

Following the mandatory C&P exam six months after your cancer treatment, you may need more follow-up exams if the residual effects of your cancer might change. Your rating may decrease if your situation improves, or you may develop another problem due to your cancer, increasing your disability rating.

To learn more about cancer VA ratings or about how to get disability benefits, contact Veterans Guide.

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