VA Disability Rating for Sciatica
Sciatica causes severe lower back and leg pain that can keep veterans from living their daily lives as civilians. If sciatic nerve damage stands in the way of your professional, social, and physical opportunities, you may be due compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A sciatica VA rating of your condition’s severity between zero and 80% will determine your benefit amounts, along with the number of dependents in your household.
Caused either suddenly by back injuries or slowly by nerve irritation over time, sciatica is a general term that covers many symptoms of chronic lower back and leg pain. It can range from mild irritation all the way to complete paralysis.
Veterans can develop sciatica from the overactivity required of them during service, the inactivity caused by a severe injury or paralysis after service, or directly from a combat injury. Regardless of how it develops, if your sciatica can be linked to your time in service, the VA provides both monthly compensation and healthcare options to ease your civilian life.
Veterans and Sciatica
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve starts at the lower back and runs down the back of both thighs. As the largest nerve in your body and the main nerve in your legs, it is often the culprit of lower back pain. Injury or long-term irritation that causes lasting pain in this area is generally called sciatica.
The most common symptom of sciatica is recurrent pain in hyper-specific areas, such as the lower back and continuing down the back of one thigh, or from the buttock down to the foot on one side. In severe cases, you may also experience numbness or muscle weakness in these areas.
What are the medical risks of sciatica?
Pressure on your sciatic nerve at your spine can cause a myriad of other injuries and medical problems, such as:
- Debilitating pain that increases with time and age
- A slipped or herniated disk
- Numbness, weakness, or tingling in the affected leg
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Chronic nerve damage
With these risks in mind, it’s important to contact your doctor if your pain worsens, you experience new symptoms such as numbness or weakness, or you start to experience bladder or bowel problems. Catching new developments in your condition early can prevent permanent or worsening damage.
How can time in service cause sciatica?
A wide variety of events and environmental conditions can cause or inflame sciatica. Causes that may be connected to your service include:
- A back injury from combat or training, such as a ruptured intervertebral disk, that causes continuing pressure on the sciatic nerve
- Becoming overweight or being forced to sit for long periods of time due to a severe combat or training disability, which can lead to problems with the sciatic nerve in the long term
- Too much activity — such as lifting heavy objects frequently — which may be necessary during your time in service
- Not having proper posture or form during your strength training for the military
How does the VA rate sciatica?
The VA will give you a disability rating for each service-connected medical problem that ranks the severity of your condition from zero to 100% in increments of 10. The scores of all of your disabilities will be combined and weighed against the number of dependents you support to decide the monthly compensation you’re due.
Since sciatica is a general term encompassing pain and paralysis in the area of the sciatic nerve to varying degrees, there are three different categories of sciatica that the VA evaluates under the schedule for neurological conditions. These are neuritis of the sciatic nerve, neuralgia of the sciatic nerve, and paralysis of the sciatic nerve.
Diagnostic code 8620 covers neuritis, or inflammation causing pain and loss of function along the sciatic nerve. It follows these rating rules:
- 60%: Severe symptoms
- 40%: Moderately severe symptoms
- 20%: Moderate symptoms
- 10%: Mild symptoms
Diagnostic code 8720 indicates neuralgia, or intense, intermittent pain along the sciatic nerve. Effects from neuralgia are considered moderate at worst by VA standards. The condition uses these sciatica VA rating guidelines:
- 20%: Moderate symptoms
- 10%: Mild symptoms
Diagnostic code 8520, or paralysis of the sciatic nerve, has more extensive rating rules, including:
- 80%: Complete paralysis as evidenced by the foot dangling and dropping, no possible active movement in any muscles below the knee, and weakening — or loss — of the knee’s ability to bend and straighten
- 60%: Incomplete but severe paralysis with noticeable muscular atrophy, or severe decrease in weight and muscle tissue in the affected area
- 40%: Moderately severe paralysis
- 20%: Moderate paralysis
- 10%: Mild paralysis
Since the rating of sciatica among all three diagnoses is usually nonspecific, using generalized ratings of severity, you will need to lean on your doctor to help evaluate which rating you may be eligible for. Especially for more subjectively rated disabilities like sciatica, the VA may also request a compensation and pension (C&P) exam after you submit your disability claim. This is a medical exam completed by a VA-contracted doctor to corroborate your diagnosis and your condition’s direct connection to your time in service.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) and Sciatica
If you can no longer work due to sciatica pain or paralysis caused by your time in service, you may be eligible for further compensation from the VA under a total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) rating. This is meant to subsidize and protect veterans whose time in service has significantly impacted their employability.
A TDIU rating allows you access to the top-rated benefits for your condition regardless of the rating that the VA assigns you based on symptom severity. In order to prove TDIU, you must have evidence from your doctor that advises a break or early retirement from work due to worsening symptoms.
For instance, if you start to experience numbness that affects your ability to move your lower body and your pain worsens to the point of distracting you constantly, you may be deemed unable to work. With further sciatic pain and worsening symptoms, you risk permanent damage if you continue to work at your current job, and you don’t have other work experience that would make you employable in another field. Your doctor and current employer provide letters to evidence why this has caused you to become unable to perform your job, which you submit alongside your renewed claim for a TDIU rating.
Sciatica as a Secondary Disability
The causes for sciatica can link back to combat injuries or other long-term back conditions caused by your time in service. In this case, you can file for sciatica as a secondary disability on top of the originating condition for a higher combined disability rating and more monthly compensation.
The conditions often linked to the development of sciatica are:
- Spinal injuries
- Paralysis or any injury causing daily inactivity
- Back tumor
If you have developed sciatica as a result of another condition from your time in the military, then you are eligible to apply for sciatica as a secondary disability. If proven, the VA will combine your ratings to achieve a total overall rating. To see how the VA calculates your rating and multiple ratings see our VA disability calculator.
When applying for a secondary disability, then it is beneficial to also submit a nexus letter. A nexus letter is written by a doctor and clearly shows how a diagnosis is related to a service-connected condition.
How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Sciatica?
The process for obtaining VA disability compensation for sciatica includes:
- Filling out and submitting an intent to file form
- Gathering evidence from your doctor about your condition, including your diagnosis and a letter, called a nexus letter, explaining how the sciatica links to your time in service
- Filling out and submitting the official VA disability claim form online or mail
- Filing any additional or specialty claims for all of your service-connected disabilities and individual circumstances
- Waiting potentially 100 days or more for the VA to respond, depending on the volume of claims currently being processed
If you are having any trouble with the claims filing process, contact us. The knowledgeable Veterans Guide team is happy to help you get the compensation you need and deserve.
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