VA Disability Rating for GERD

A VA disability rating for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, ranges from 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, or 80% based on how severe your condition is and how much it affects your ability to hold down steady work. You can receive a disability for GERD on its own or secondary to another condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or certain respiratory conditions.

Key Takeaways
  • Veterans with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) can qualify for VA disability benefits with ratings ranging from 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, or 80% based on the severity of their symptoms and their impact on employment.
  • GERD can be claimed as a primary condition or as secondary to another service-connected condition, enhancing overall disability compensation.
  • The VA uses criteria similar to those for hiatal hernias to rate GERD, focusing on symptoms like epigastric distress, heartburn, and regurgitation.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, as one of the disabling digestive system conditions for veterans. A VA disability rating for GERD results in monthly compensation and access to VA disability programs, depending on the severity of the condition.

You can submit a claim for GERD as a stand-alone condition or as secondary to one for which you already have a VA rating. GERD is commonly associated with conditions such as anxiety and stress disorders, hiatal hernias, and the use of some medications to treat other conditions.

The most extreme cases of GERD, or GERD combined with another disability, could result in a rating high enough for the VA to determine you can’t hold steady employment. In this case, you may receive a 100 percent disability rating for purposes of compensation, even if your actual overall rating is lower.

Veterans and GERD

GERD is a condition in which stomach acid flows back from your stomach into your esophagus. This backwash of fluid is called acid reflux, which is normal if it happens occasionally. However, if it repeatedly occurs over time, you may have GERD.

Some common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Upper chest or abdominal pain
  • Burning feeling in your chest, usually after eating, that may worsen when lying down or at night
  • Backwash of sour-tasting liquid or food
  • Trouble swallowing, also called dysphagia
  • Ongoing cough when your GERD symptoms occur at night
  • New or worse asthma

A muscle band called the esophageal sphincter opens to allow food to pass to the stomach. It is supposed to stay otherwise closed. If that muscle is weak or feels too much pressure, it opens and lets the acid into the esophagus.

Veterans might experience GERD connected to their service-related conditions, such as tissue damage to the esophagus or stomach, co-occurring hiatal hernia, or excessive acid production associated with PTSD or other mental health problems.

The VA recognizes that GERD can cause significant quality-of-life issues greater than coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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How Does the VA Rate GERD?

The VA does not have a diagnostic code for GERD in its disability ratings. For digestive system diseases, especially in the abdomen, the VA lumps together conditions with similar symptoms of pain, anemia, and nutritional disturbances. For GERD, the VA uses its schedule of disability ratings for hiatal hernias, as the symptoms are similar, and a hiatal hernia is a common cause of GERD.

VA Disability Ratings for GERD

80% Recurrent or refractory esophageal stricture(s) which causes dysphagia and at least one of the following symptoms (1) aspiration, (2) undernutrition, or (3) substantial weight loss and treatment with either surgical correction or PEG tube
50% Recurrent or refractory esophageal stricture(s) which causes dysphagia and requires at least one of the following (1) dilatation 3 or more times a year, (2) dilatation using steroids at once a year, or (3) esophageal stent placement
30% Recurrent or refractory esophageal stricture(s) which causes dysphagia and requires dilatation no more than 2 times a year
10% History of esophageal stricture(s) where daily medications are needed for dysphagia
0% No daily symptoms or need for daily medications

For cases of GERD, it is important you ask your doctor to fill out a Public Disability Benefits Questionnaire, or DBQ. This form helps identify your symptoms and allows your doctor to check off GERD specifically as a diagnosis.

Having the DBQ for GERD is unnecessary to get a VA disability rating. However, it can help speed up the process because it contains detailed information the VA uses to determine disability ratings.

Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability and GERD

Veterans who cannot hold down substantially gainful employment due to their disability may qualify for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability, or TDIU. This VA program treats veterans with lower disability ratings the same as veterans with 100 percent disability in recognition of their condition’s effect on holding anything other than odd jobs.

There are two categories of eligibility for TDIU. They are:

  • One service-connected disability rated at least 60 percent or more disabling
  • Two or more service-connected disabilities with one rated at least 40 percent and combined to 70 percent or more

For the VA to consider you for TDIU benefits, you must file a separate application with your disability claim. You must also file a Request For Employment Information that allows the VA to ask questions about your recent employers.

GERD as a Secondary Disability

GERD, or acid reflux can be caused by mental health conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. In addition, respiratory conditions, hernias, and some medications used to treat pain and heart conditions can cause acid reflux. For this reason, GERD, or acid reflux can often be a secondary condition. If you can prove that your acid reflux is a result of another service-connected disability, then you can also receive a disability rating for your acid reflux. The combination of this with your primary service-connected disability will increase your overall VA disability compensation.

GERD, or acid reflux can be caused by mental health conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. In addition, respiratory conditions, hernias, and some medications used to treat pain and heart conditions can cause acid reflux. For this reason, GERD, or acid reflux can often be a secondary condition. If you can prove that your acid reflux is a result of another service-connected disability, then you can also receive a disability rating for your acid reflux. The combination of this with your primary service-connected disability will increase your overall VA disability compensation.

GERD is often associated with other disorders, such as mental health conditions, respiratory conditions, and hiatal hernias. GERD is also linked to certain drugs, such as pain medications, muscle relaxants, and high blood pressure and heart disease medications. Because there are so many risk factors for GERD, it can be a secondary condition to one for which you have another rating.

To have the VA consider GERD as a secondary disability, you must submit evidence of the following:

  • A GERD diagnosis from a medical professional or layperson
  • A link between your GERD and the disability for which you already receive benefits.

The VA usually requires medical records or opinions from health care providers to support the connection between your conditions.

While the VA does not use the term “nexus letter” or require one for a disability claim, it is commonly seen as helpful in getting VA disability benefits. Your physician writes a nexus letter to show a connection between your service and your condition or an existing condition and another one, such as GERD. It serves as evidence, in addition to your medical records, that you deserve compensation.

If the VA accepts your claim for GERD as a secondary disability, your combined overall rating may be higher. For example, if you have PTSD with a rating of 50 percent disability and a connected GERD rating of 30 percent, your overall disability score is 65. The VA rounds combined ratings to the nearest 10 percent, so your final rating would be 70 percent.

How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for GERD?

You can claim VA disability compensation for GERD by filling out a form on the VA website. You can also print VA Form 21-526EZ and mail it to the VA or bring it to your regional VA office. To support your application, you must include the following:

  • Medical records from your VA doctor or hospital
  • Medical records from private doctors or hospitals
  • Supporting statements from people you served with, family members, friends, and others who witnessed the effects of your GERD

A DBQ for GERD and a nexus letter from your physician can help you make a case for disability compensation. They can also speed up the claims process, as both are geared toward helping VA claims adjustors understand your condition more easily than medical records on their own.

The VA will also review your discharge papers to ensure you did not have a less-than-honorable discharge. This would bar you from obtaining VA benefits unless you successfully apply for a discharge upgrade. They will also look at any medical records from your service years.

To get help understanding how to get a VA disability rating for GERD or if you have other questions about veterans and disability, contact Veterans Guide.

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