VA Disability Rating for CRPS
Veterans with chronic regional pain syndrome often face significant difficulties in their daily lives. Their impairments may entitle them to disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. However, because there is no separate CRPS disability rating, getting benefits can be more complicated. It’s important to make a strong case supported by compelling medical evidence. Veterans Guide offers expert guidance for former service members seeking VA disability benefits for CRPS and other disabling conditions.
Living with chronic pain is a tremendous burden, physically, emotionally, and financially. Complex regional pain syndrome is a particularly debilitating chronic pain disorder that can impair your ability to earn a living, diminish your quality of life, and result in many other physical and mental health problems.
Veterans suffering from CRPS may be eligible for disability benefits through the VA if their condition was caused or aggravated by their military service. At Veterans Guide, we provide valuable information for former service members seeking VA disability benefits for CRPS and related conditions.
What Is CRPS?
CRPS is a rare and serious neurological condition characterized by severe, long-term pain lasting six months or more. Formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, the disorder often starts with a triggering injury affecting the arms, legs, hands, or feet. It can also result from surgery or casting. In rare cases, it can even stem from superficial wounds and needle sticks.
While the condition isn’t fully understood, it’s thought to result from nerve damage or dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system. However, it’s not always possible to pinpoint the damaged nerve.
The primary symptom of CRPS is chronic pain that feels disproportionate to the initial injury and lasts much longer than the injury itself. The pain may feel like burning, a raking sensation, or pins and needles. It might be constant, or it might come and go. The affected area might be hypersensitive to touch, and the slightest pressure might intensify the pain.
Other symptoms may accompany the pain, including the following:
- Stiffness in the affected area
- Reduced mobility or partial paralysis due to the pain
- Chronic inflammation
- Changes to the skin texture and temperature
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut diagnostic tool for assessing whether someone has CRPS. A diagnosis is based on the patient’s symptoms and history. Doctors will rule out other possible conditions before making a CRPS diagnosis.
Veterans and CRPS
Veterans may develop CRPS during or after their military service. Risk factors for CRPS include:
- Trauma to the arms or legs
- Prolonged casting
- Prior nerve damage
- A history of peripheral neuralgia
- Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis
Additionally, women are more at-risk for CRPS, particularly around age 40.
To get disability benefits through the VA, you must show a link between your military service and your CRPS—for example, by showing that the triggering injury occurred while you served. Even if the injury occurred beforehand, if your military service worsened your injury and contributed to the CRPS, then you may still be eligible for VA disability benefits.
How Does the VA Rate CRPS?
The VA establishes disability ratings for various medical conditions that are considered disabling. These ratings range from 10 to 100 percent depending on their severity and the level of impairment. Your overall disability rating determines the amount of your monthly benefit payments.
In each case, the VA considers the evidence you submit with your disability claim and your military records to determine the disability rating. The VA doesn’t have a disability rating for CRPS. But that doesn’t mean veterans with debilitating CRPS are out of luck.
Since a 2018 federal appellate court decision, Saunders v. Wilkie, veterans can get benefits for chronic pain alone. The court determined that chronic pain can be a disabling condition if it causes impairments, regardless of whether it’s tied to another diagnosis. That decision is a major victory for veterans with CRPS.
Because there is no CRPS disability rating, the VA will look at disability ratings for the impairments caused by CRPS in each case, which may include the following:
- Partial paralysis
- Muscular atrophy
- Limited range of motion in the knees, arms, wrists, elbows, or ankles
- Peripheral nerve damage
The ratings for these conditions depend on their diagnostic code, the specific body part impacted, and the severity of the impairment.
CRPS as a Secondary Disability
CRPS often arises as a secondary condition to an injury. Veterans may be entitled to additional disability benefits for the underlying injury if it hasn’t been resolved fully. Furthermore, CRPS often causes other conditions, mental and physical, that have separate VA disability ratings. Those conditions might include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Gastrointestinal disorders
When you have multiple conditions that qualify as service-related disabilities, even if they’re all related to CRPS, you can combine the disability ratings to obtain a higher overall rating and higher monthly payment. The maximum rating is 100 percent. The VA will not simply add the ratings together. Instead, it uses a table of combined ratings to create a score and then rounds that to the nearest 10 percent.
However, the secondary conditions must arise from a service-connected disability, which is why it’s so important to show your CRPS resulted from your military service.
TDIU and CRPS
TDIU stands for “total disability based on individual unemployability.” It allows qualified veterans to get benefits for a 100-percent disability rating even if the disabling conditions don’t add up to a 100-percent rating.
To get TDIU benefits for CRPS, you must show that your chronic pain and other service-related disabling conditions prevent you from supporting yourself financially. Medical test results or a doctor’s report may serve as evidence of your inability to work. The VA also reviews your work and education history before making a TDIU decision to determine if you cannot hold gainful employment.
You must also have the following:
- One disability with a rating of 60 percent or higher, or
- Two or more disabilities with a combined rating of 70 percent or higher
If you are combining two or more disabilities to qualify for TDIU, one of those disabilities must have a rating of at least 40 percent.
How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for CRPS?
Getting disability compensation for CRPS through the VA can be daunting. You will have to go through a rigorous application process that involves submitting meticulous documentation and thorough medical records. To get started with the application, check the VA’s website.
One of the biggest challenges facing veterans with CRPS is proving their condition is linked to military service. If the original injury happened during your service, you can readily obtain records of that injury and your treatment. However, if the origin of the pain is unclear, or if your military service worsened a preexisting injury that led to your CRPS, you may have a tougher case.
Seeking a written medical opinion from a CRPS expert can help your case tremendously. Additionally, you must provide credible evidence of how the condition causes specific impairments.
You may need to undergo an exam at a VA Medical Center as part of the application process. This exam—called a C&P exam—is conducted by a military doctor who may not understand the complexities of such a rare disorder as CRPS. Because the VA requires C&P exams when they need more information about the disabling condition, the more information you can provide in your disability application, the stronger your case will be.
At Veterans Guide, you will find expert guidance on all aspects of the VA disability benefits process. Learn more by contacting us today.
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