VA Disability Rating for Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause numbness and tingling and limit the use of your hands, fingers, and thumbs. It can even interfere with your ability to work. If you are a veteran who developed carpal tunnel syndrome because of your service, you may be entitled to disability benefits from the VA. Veteran’s Guide can help you understand VA ratings for carpal tunnel, provide supporting evidence of your disability, and assist you with filing a claim.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve condition in the hand that causes chronic discomfort and symptoms affecting many everyday activities. People with carpal tunnel syndrome may feel weakness, numbness, or tingling in their forearms and hands. These symptoms can worsen with time. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, you may eventually experience symptoms all day and even lose control of the muscles in your hands, fingers, and thumbs.

If you are a military veteran who developed carpal tunnel syndrome because of activities performed during your service, you may qualify for disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA uses a system of disability ratings to determine the value of your benefits. The rating for your condition depends on how severely your carpal tunnel syndrome affects your hands. Filing a VA disability claim is complex, but the team at Veteran’s Guide can counsel you through this process.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a chronic condition affecting one or both hands and forearms. The condition results from compression of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand via a passage known as the carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome typically affects the index, middle, and ring fingers and the thumb but not the pinky finger. Some people experience tingling or numbness in the fingers or hand, and this sensation may extend up the arm. Others experience weakness and a lack of muscle control in their hands, which may cause them to drop items. 

Some people with carpal tunnel feel symptoms only when performing certain activities. For example, they might feel a numbing sensation travel up their arms while driving. Over time, the symptoms can increase in frequency. Eventually, people with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience symptoms all day, which may even interfere with their sleep.

Does Military Service Cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

While no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome exists, military service can contribute to this condition. It results from a combination of risk factors and activities that inflame and irritate the median nerve.

Some risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome are based on your gender, anatomy, and inherited conditions. Females and people with small carpal tunnels have a higher-than-usual risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, are also at high risk.

Your military service can also increase your carpal tunnel risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain repetitive activities may be linked to carpal tunnel syndrome, especially when performed in the cold. These activities include:

  • Working with vibrating tools
  • Repetitively or prolongedly flexing the wrist
  • Long-term computer keyboard or mouse use

According to the United States Army Public Health Command, everyday military tasks can increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. These tasks include the following:

  • Typing
  • Data entry
  • Stapling
  • Painting
  • Operating power tools that vibrate, such as drills
  • Operating power tools that require the operator to grip the tool with heavy pressure for an extended time

Certain military occupations also increase the risk. A 2020 study published in the journal Military Medicine found that military flight officers and aviation support technicians have higher rates of carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly because of the constant manipulation of motor controls and exposure to whole-body vibrations.

How Does the VA Rate Carpal Tunnel?

The VA rates disabilities using percentages based on how they affect your overall health and ability to function. For people with multiple disabilities, the VA will combine the percentages of each to determine the total disability rating. However, the percentage can never add up to more than 100 percent because no one can be more than 100 percent disabled.

For patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, the VA uses diagnostic code 8515, which is the median nerve paralysis VA rating. The VA awards the greatest disability percentage for complete paralysis of the median nerve due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Patients with complete paralysis cannot make a fist, cannot effectively move the thumb, cannot flex the index finger, can only weakly flex the middle finger and wrist, and experience pain, among many other symptoms.

When determining the extent of your disability, the VA will consider whether this condition affects one or both of your hands and how it affects your dominant hand and non-dominant hand. These are the potential carpal tunnel VA ratings:

  • Mild paralysis: 10 percent for the dominant hand and 10 percent non-dominant hand
  • Moderate paralysis: 30 percent for the dominant hand and 20 percent non-dominant hand
  • Severe paralysis: 50 percent for the dominant hand and 40 percent non-dominant hand
  • Complete paralysis: 70 percent disability for the dominant hand and 60 percent for the non-dominant hand

TDIU and Carpal Tunnel

Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, is a VA benefit for veterans who cannot work because of a service-related disability. Veterans do not have a 100 percent disability rating to qualify. You must not be able to stay substantially gainfully employed because of your service-related disability and must meet the following criteria to qualify for TDIU:

  • You have at least one service-related disability with a 60 percent or greater rating.
  • You have multiple service-related disabilities with a combined rating of 70 percent or greater and one rated at least 40 percent.

Working part-time or piecing together odd jobs does not count as substantially gainful employment, so you may qualify for TDIU even if you work a little. Veteran’s Guide can help you determine whether you meet the criteria for TDIU because of your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel as a Secondary Disability

The VA will consider carpal tunnel as a secondary disability or a new disability linked to another service-related disability. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai describes several service-related disabilities that can trigger or worsen carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Diabetes: Many patients with diabetes develop carpal tunnel syndrome due to the nerve damage diabetes causes. The VA considers diabetespresumptive condition, which means you do not have to prove it is connected to your service. If you develop diabetes within one year of release from active duty or were exposed to Agent Orange during service in Vietnam, the VA presumes it is service-related. 
  • Arthritis: According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis can cause carpal tunnel syndrome if a bone spur or overall inflammation in the wrist compresses the median nerve. Arthritis is a presumptive condition, so you do not need to link your arthritis to your military service. 
  • Amyloidosis: According to a 2019 report from Case Reports in Orthopedics, amyloidosis is a condition in which deposits of amyloid proteins build up in the body. When these deposits build up in and around the carpal tunnel, they cause it to narrow, compressing the median nerve and leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. Amyloidosis is also a VA presumptive condition
  • Musculoskeletal diseases: Several musculoskeletal conditions related to carpal tunnel syndrome, including rheumatoid arthritis and gout, are considered disabilities by the VA.
  • Hypothyroidism: 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that hypothyroidism can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Hypothyroidism is also a VA presumptive condition. 

These conditions are just a few examples of secondary conditions that might be linked to your carpal tunnel syndrome and may qualify you for additional disability benefits. We can help you get the most out of your VA disability benefits by identifying other medical conditions you have that may be related to carpal tunnel.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Carpal Tunnel

You can file for VA benefits online, in person, or through the mail. You must provide the following:

  • Medical evidence of your carpal tunnel diagnosis
  • Information linking your carpal tunnel to your time in service
  • Supporting statements about your carpal tunnel and how it happened or got worse

The VA may require you to take a compensation and pension, or C&P, exam for your carpal tunnel VA rating. Do not miss the appointment if the VA asks you to take a C&P exam, or you risk having your claim denied.

While not required, you can also submit a nexus letter, which is a letter from a doctor directly linking your military service to your disability. Veteran’s Guide can help you find an independent doctor to examine you and write a nexus letter.

If you are a veteran suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome because of your military service, you may be entitled to disability benefits from Veteran Affairs. Veterans Guide is ready to help you file a claim and get the benefits you deserve.

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