VA Disability Rating for Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer may be connected to your military service, especially if you were exposed to radiation, Agent Orange, or burn pits, or lived at Camp Lejeune during your service. A recent federal law has added it as a presumptive condition resulting from toxic exposure. The VA disability rating for esophageal cancer is 100 percent, meaning you receive maximum compensation. Veterans Guide can help you navigate the entire VA claims process so you can focus on recovery.

Key Takeaways
  • Veterans diagnosed with esophageal cancer are eligible for a 100% VA disability rating, reflecting the severe impact of the condition.
  • The VA recognizes the link between esophageal cancer and service-related exposures such as radiation, Agent Orange, and burn pits, as well as residency at Camp Lejeune.
  • This 100% rating is automatic upon diagnosis, emphasizing the critical nature of esophageal cancer and its treatment challenges.
  • Post-treatment, if a veteran experiences residuals like strictures or chronic dysphagia, these can also be rated, potentially leading to additional compensation based on severity.

When you first receive an esophageal cancer diagnosis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frightened, especially if it interferes with your ability to work and provide for your family. Fortunately, if you are a veteran and can prove your cancer is related to your service, you may be entitled to VA benefits. These benefits can help your family cover expenses while you focus on your recovery. 

Learn everything you need to know about esophageal cancer and the esophageal cancer VA rating schedule to prepare your VA claim.

Veterans and Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the esophagus—the hollow tube connecting your mouth to your stomach. When you swallow, the esophageal muscles force the food into your stomach.

The five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is about 20 percent, but like any cancer, your survival odds increase the earlier the cancer is discovered.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Symptoms of esophageal cancer often overlap with other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Increased indigestion
  • A feeling of pressure along the esophagus
  • Chest pain
  • Hiccups
  • Vomit or mucus containing blood

Service Connection for Esophageal Cancer

A service connection means that an illness directly results from some element of a soldier’s military service. Toxic exposure during military service includes exposure to harmful or toxic chemicals such as asbestos, chemical weapons agents, nuclear radiation, and other environmental hazards, which may cause immediate or delayed onset of illnesses such as esophageal cancer.

The VA presumes that esophageal cancer can result from exposure to any of the following:

  • Radiation: Servicemembers may have been exposed to radiation during duty by handling nuclear weapons or cleanup at a nuclear disaster site.
  • Agent Orange: Agent Orange was a defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to clear vegetation and destroy crops. 
  • Burn pits: Burn pits were used on military sites to dispose of waste through 2009 and exposed servicemembers to toxic fumes.
  • Camp Lejeune: Servicemembers and their families living at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were exposed to contaminated drinking water.

How Does the VA Rate Esophageal Cancer?

The VA rates conditions to determine compensation rates using their rating schedule. The VA bases the rating for your condition on the following: 

  • The evidence you present with your claim
  • The results of your VA Claims and Pensions Exam, also called a C&P exam
  • Information from other sources such as federal agencies, military records, court cases, etc.
  • The degree of your disability

The higher your disability rating, the more benefits you receive. 

The VA rates esophageal cancer under code 7343 at 100 percent. In 2023, that entitles you to $3737.85 monthly if you are single without any dependents.

The 100 percent rating continues even after you receive surgical, antineoplastic chemotherapy, X-ray, and other therapeutic procedures. Six months after the treatments have ended, the VA will conduct a mandatory follow-up examination to determine the appropriate disability rating based on any problems resulting from your esophageal cancer. The VA refers to these problems as residuals and assigns separate ratings based on them.

Total Disability Individual Unemployability and Esophageal Cancer

If you can’t maintain substantially gainful employment due to your disability, you may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU. This program offers full benefits to veterans with a disability rating of less than 100 percent who cannot work. 

While your esophageal cancer is active, you already receive 100 percent benefits and don’t need TDIU. However, your rating may change after treatment. You could qualify for the program based on the residual problems caused by your esophageal cancer.

To qualify for TDIU, you must meet one of two rating criteria:

  • One disability rated at 60 percent or higher
  • Multiple disabilities with one rated at least 40 percent and a combined rating of at least 70 percent

The VA will use a table of combined ratings to determine whether you meet the combined disabilities threshold.

Esophageal Cancer as a Secondary Disability

Esophageal cancer may also be a secondary disability that results from a previous condition. If you have both conditions, you may increase your overall disability rating with the VA. 

Two primary conditions can lead to esophageal cancer:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD: GERD occurs when stomach acid repeatedly backwashes into your esophagus, irritating the lining. This can lead to the formation of adenocarcinoma cells in the lower esophagus. GERD is often linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the medications used to treat them.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the esophagus lining is damaged and then heals improperly. It’s often a result of GERD, with 5 percent of patients also developing Barrett’s esophagus. People with Barrett’s esophagus may also develop esophageal cancer.

Because they share similar symptoms and often appear interconnectedly, it can be difficult to determine whether you have GERD, Barrett’s esophagus, or esophageal cancer, so your doctor will probably order additional testing.

PACT Act and Toxic Exposure

Congress passed the PACT Act in 2022 to:

  • Increase eligibility for VA health care for veterans who experienced toxic exposure from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, or post-9/11
  • Add more presumptive conditions from burn pits, Agent Orange, or radiation
  • Extend toxic exposure screenings to every veteran participating in VA health care

The law added esophageal cancer to the list of presumptive conditions for the following dates and locations of service:

  • Camp Lejeune from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987 – for at least 30 consecutive days
  • North Carolina Marine Corps Air Station New River from April 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987 – for at least 30 consecutive days
  • Active duty from Aug. 2, 1990, to the present in any of the following areas or the airspace above them:
    • Persian Gulf
    • Red Sea
    • Arabian Sea
    • Gulf of Oman
    • Gulf of Aden
    • Qatar
    • Oman
    • The neutral zone between Iraq and Suadi Arabia
    • Kuwait
    • Iraq
    • Bahrain
  • Cleanup teams or nuclear response teams at any of the following:
  • Enewetak Atoil from Jan. 1, 1977, to Dec. 31, 1980
  • Palomares, Spain B-52 plane crash from Jan. 17, 1966, to March 31, 1967
  • Greenland, Thule Air Force Base B-52 plane crash from Jan. 21, 1968, to Sep. 25, 1968
  • Additional Agent Orange and radiation exposure locations

If the VA intially denied your esophageal cancer claim, the PACT Act may give you grounds to try again by filing a Supplemental Claim.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Esophageal Cancer

If you believe you qualify for VA disability compensation for esophageal cancer, you must file a claim. Follow the steps below to complete the process.

  • Gather evidence to establish a direct service connection. You’ll need the following:
    • A current diagnosis
    • Evidence of a service-related diagnosis, symptoms, event, or injury
    • A nexus letter from a medical professional connecting your service to your diagnosis
  • For a more thorough claim, gather additional evidence, such as
    • VA medical and hospital records
    • Private medical and hospital records
    • Supporting statements that show how your condition has progressed over time from family, friends, clergy, coworkers, etc.
  • File your claim. You can do this in one of two ways:
    • By Mail: Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center, PO Box 4444, Janesville, WI 53547-4444
    • In person at your regional office 

After you file your claim, the VA may request a C&P exam to determine if your condition is service-connected or if they need more information to accurately rate your disability. Not every case requires a C&P exam.

The process for filing a VA disability claim can be long and overwhelming, especially when you aren’t feeling the best. The experts at Veterans Guide can help. Contact us today.

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