VA Disability Rating for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common ailment suffered by military veterans. When you can show a link between your condition and your military service, you can receive a rheumatoid arthritis VA rating entitling you to monthly compensation. You could also be eligible for other VA programs, such as Total Disability Individual Unemployability. You can apply for a disability rating for your rheumatoid arthritis alone or secondary to other related conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition often connected to genetics. However, environmental factors, such as exposure to bacteria, viruses, fibers, and dust, can trigger it. It may also develop from physical or emotional stress. The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes rheumatoid arthritis as a disabling condition. You can receive a VA disability rating for it as a single condition or linked to others, such as cataracts.
Your disability rating for rheumatoid arthritis depends on how it affects your overall health. For example, some people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience weight loss or anemia that impacts their ability to perform daily activities. Your rating also depends on how often your condition flares up and how long those flare-ups last.
To get a rheumatoid arthritis VA rating and the associated disability benefits, you need strong evidence of a connection to your military service. Establish this connection through your service and medical records, including letters from your doctors detailing how your service led to your condition.
Veterans and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of your joints. The painful swelling of rheumatoid arthritis often leads to joint deformity and bone erosion. It can also affect your heart, lungs, blood vessels, eyes, and skin.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
- Swollen, tender joints
- Stiffness, particularly after inactivity
- Loss of appetite, fever, and fatigue
Symptoms usually start in the hands and feet but often spread to the hips, knees, wrists, ankles, and other areas. While the symptoms sometimes go into remission, flare-ups can last for days or months.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence points to genetic factors activated by triggers, such as bacteria, viruses, physical or emotional stress, fibers or dust, or other factors. Service members are frequently exposed to these triggers during their time in the military. There is also recent research linking rheumatoid arthritis to military burn pits.
To receive a rheumatoid arthritis VA rating, you must show through medical evidence that your rheumatoid arthritis is connected to your service. Ask your doctor to fill out the VA Public Disability Benefits Questionnaire, or DBQ, for rheumatoid arthritis. The VA does not require it, but it specifically asks for the information that goes into your disability rating, such as which joints are affected, whether it causes other health problems, and your level of incapacitation.
Combined with your medical records and other supporting evidence, the DBQ can help you get the proper rating and speed up processing.
How Does the VA Rate Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The VA rates disabilities between zero and 100 percent in 10-percent increments. The VA bases its rating on how much your rheumatoid arthritis affects your health and your ability to perform daily activities. To receive VA disability benefits, you must show that your service caused your arthritis.
Your discharge must be under conditions other than dishonorable. Those with discharges other than honorable—but not dishonorable—may be eligible for benefits on a case-by-case basis. You can challenge your discharge status if you believe it is unfair.
The VA rates rheumatoid arthritis under Diagnostic Code 5002 based on your incapacitation level and the number of flare-ups you experience during a year. The VA also considers whether you have other health problems related to your rheumatoid arthritis.
VA Disability Ratings for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Manifestations of active joint involvement that is totally incapacitating
Less than criteria for 100 percent, but with anemia and weight loss that severely impact health or four or more incapacitating flare-ups per year, or fewer flare-ups but over prolonged periods
Symptom combinations that show impairment of health evidenced through examinations, or incapacitating flare-ups three or more times a year
A well-established diagnosis with one or two flare-ups per year
To help get a rheumatoid arthritis VA rating that matches your condition, keep a journal with the dates of your flare-ups and how long they last. If you believe that specific activities or exposures during your service led to your rheumatoid arthritis, ask the military for incident reports or other records to support your claim.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, is a VA program for veterans who cannot get substantially gainful employment due to their disabilities. If your TDIU claim is successful, you receive 100 percent disability benefits even if your rheumatoid arthritis VA rating is less than 100 percent.
To be eligible, you must meet one of two criteria:
- One service related-disability rated at 60 percent or higher
- Multiple service-related disabilities with one rated at least 40 percent and a combined rating of at least 70 percent
To apply, fill out the TDIU benefits application and the request for employment information. Submit these along with your medical evidence that you cannot work due to your rheumatoid arthritis or your arthritis combined with other disabilities.
Rheumatoid Arthritis as a Secondary Disability
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that doesn’t result from other health problems. However, your arthritis could lead to other conditions that, when combined, raise your VA disability rating.
People with rheumatoid arthritis may develop cataracts due to the medications they take. Veterans may also experience depression or anxiety due to the stress of dealing with arthritis pain and their inability to complete daily tasks. The VA recognizes these conditions in its disability rating systems.
If you can show that your rheumatoid arthritis is service-related and that your other condition is tied to your arthritis, you may receive a higher combined rating. The VA uses a table of combined ratings to determine your final disability score.
Service Connection For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Proving your service connection for rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult because it is an autoimmune disorder often passed down through families. However, your service may have brought on your condition through exposure to dust or fibers, particulates from burn pits, or viral or bacterial infections you experienced while serving.
Notably, rheumatoid arthritis is not currently on the VA’s list of presumptive conditions for exposure to burn pits, so you must establish the connection with medical records and other evidence.
The strength of your medical evidence is always essential in VA disability claims, particularly in the case of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. It may be easy to establish that a service-related broken hand led to other forms of arthritis, while it is harder to show that exposure to environmental elements led to rheumatoid arthritis.
If possible, get opinions from more than one doctor that clearly show they believe your condition is related to your service. Detail every exposure you had during your service that led to your condition. You do not have to prove beyond all doubt that your arthritis is due to your service, but you must prove that it is at least as likely as not to be connected to your service.
How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are three ways to submit a VA claim for disability based on your rheumatoid arthritis:
- Fill out an online application
- Complete VA Form 21-526EZ and mail it to the VA Claims Intake Center
- Bring your completed form to the nearest VA regional office.
Include all your VA and private medical records, nexus letters from your doctors showing a service connection, and the DBQ specific to rheumatoid arthritis. Add any supporting documentation to bolster your claim that your disability is related to your service, such as a list of other veterans you served with.
The VA may require a Compensation and Pension, or C&P, exam before granting you a disability rating. The VA asks for these exams when it needs more information. You may also have ongoing review exams to determine the extent of your disability due to your arthritis.
To learn more or get help with VA disability ratings, contact the experts at Veterans Guide.