VA Disability Rating for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, causes cramping, bloating, and increased urgency related to bathroom issues. It can prevent sufferers from eating certain foods, interfere with their favorite activities, and even make working difficult. Veterans with service-related IBS can apply for a VA disability rating and receive monthly compensation. Veterans Guide provides more information about how veterans can receive a disability rating for IBS.

IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, causes pain, bloating, and abdominal cramping. Sufferers may deal with symptoms such as increased urgency when going to the bathroom or chronic constipation. Dietary choices, including wheat and dairy products, worsen IBS symptoms for some patients, so they may restrict their diets to control them. Ultimately, IBS leads to decreased quality of life for many veterans. 

IBS also worsens with heightened stress levels. Veterans with IBS find that they need to avoid high-stress situations, which causes them to change their employment trajectories or look for other opportunities.

Veterans and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Doctors do not know for certain what causes IBS. However, they note several potential causes, many of which correlate to military service. As many as one-third of women in the Armed Forces have IBS. While the condition does not impact as many men as women, male service members still have higher rates of IBS than those in the general population. Below are some of the factors that may cause or contribute to IBS. 

  • Emotional stressors increase the risk of developing IBS. It also commonly occurs simultaneously with PTSD. Service members face a high risk of trauma and developing PTSD and related conditions. Furthermore, service members face high stress levels daily in the field and during training. 
  • Infections can disturb gut bacteria balance, triggering IBS. Service members face greater exposure to foreign viruses. Due to close quarters during deployments and on ships, service members also pass around viruses and infections at high rates. 
  • Nervous system damage changes the communication between the brain and intestines, leading to symptoms of IBS. Service members face an increased risk of nervous system damage and neurological symptoms due to chemical exposure during service. 
  • Veterans with sexual trauma have a higher likelihood of developing IBS. A high percentage of female service members face sexual trauma during service. 
  • Changes in gut bacteria balance occur due to the food options available to many service members. Service members who travel overseas are exposed to different bacteria and food. Changes in gut balance lead to both constipation and diarrhea. 

Service-related triggers increase the odds that patients will face symptoms of IBS during and after they leave the military. Even if symptoms show up months or years after their service ends, veterans can seek disability compensation.

How Does the VA Rate IBS?

The VA disability rating for IBS depends on how the condition impacts the patient’s daily functionality, including the ability to engage in daily living or work activities. The VA rates IBS at 30 percent, 10 percent, and 0 percent disabling, depending on those effects. 

A maximum 30 percent disability rating requires severe diarrhea or alternating diarrhea and constipation, with chronic and constant abdominal distress. For a 30 percent rating, the IBS must substantially impact their everyday lives. They must stay close to a bathroom, moderate their eating, and control stress levels constantly. A high disability rating for IBS means ongoing abdominal discomfort, including cramping and bloating. 

A 10 percent rating is for “moderate bowel disturbance.” Veterans with moderate IBS may control it. They need to avoid trigger foods, and they need to control stress in their lives. Moderate bowel disturbance includes periods of diarrhea and constipation, but it does not always impact daily life. 

The VA assigns a 0 percent disability rating for those who suffer from occasional episodes of abdominal distress related to IBS. Mild symptoms include infrequent diarrhea or constipation. These veterans do not need to constantly avoid trigger foods and can live normal lives.

Total Disability Individual Unemployability Benefits and IBS

Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, benefits are available to veterans who do not have a 100 percent rating but cannot work because of a service-related disability. TDIU provides the same compensation as a 100 percent disability rating.

The VA provides TDIU benefits to veterans with at least a 70 percent total disability rating across multiple disabilities, with at least one disability rated at 40 percent or higher. Because veterans cannot receive a greater than 30 percent disability rating for IBS, you must show that you have more than one condition that impacts your ability to work. 

To qualify for TDIU, you must submit evidence supporting your claim, including the following:

  • Documentation of jobs obtained after your time in service and how IBS impacted them
  • Medical statements about the impact of IBS on your daily ability to work
  • The Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability

Irritable Bowel Syndrome as a Secondary Disability

IBS often overlaps with other disabilities, including the following:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Dyspepsia
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Migraines
  • Temporomandibular Syndrome, or TMJ

If you have a primary condition related to your time in service and develop IBS, you can claim IBS as a secondary disability. Adding a secondary disability increases your VA disability payments and your overall disability rating. Other conditions carry a higher disability rating and have more impact on your life, but IBS continues to create a level of disruption. 

The VA does not simply add the ratings to get a combined rating for multiple conditions. Instead, it uses a table of combined ratings to prevent a total from being over 100 percent. If you have multiple disabilities, the VA combines all your scores to create a final disability rating.

Presumptive Service Connections for IBS

To receive a VA disability rating for IBS, you must show that your diagnosis relates in some way to your military service. The VA acknowledges a presumptive service connection for Gulf War veterans who have a high risk of developing IBS. Gulf War veterans have a higher incidence of increased gut permeability, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, including IBS. 

Veterans who did not serve in the Gulf War can demonstrate the connection between IBS and their military service by establishing trauma or infection. Medication a military doctor prescribed, including antibiotics for an infection, may also have triggered IBS. Your past medical records can establish the challenges and medical conditions you battled during your service.

How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for IBS?

Veterans who need to apply for disability benefits can do so online through the VA website. You will need to provide several pieces of information as part of your application:

  • Copies of service-related medical records for IBS, including records from VA hospitals or military hospitals
  • Copies of private medical records
  • Supporting statements providing additional information about your symptoms, when they started, and how they impacted your life

The VA may also ask for other evidence to support your case. A Nexus letter from an expert in the field, usually a doctor, can describe the connection between your IBS and your time in the Armed Forces.

In addition, the VA may request a Compensation and Pension, or C&P, exam. During that exam, a provider chosen by the VA will examine you to determine the extent of your disability and the limitations it causes.

If you need help filing for disability benefits for IBS, contact Veterans Guide for guidance and support.

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