VA Disability Rating for Scoliosis

The VA disability rating for scoliosis ranges between 10 percent and 100 percent disability, depending on the limitations imposed by the condition and how military service worsened it. Veterans with scoliosis need to understand the condition, how it impacts their daily lives, and what benefits they can receive. Veterans Guide walks veterans through the claim process and helps them understand their next steps.

Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to curve, potentially leading to substantial pain and lifelong limitations. Many duties required by military service can cause scoliosis or exacerbate the condition. If you developed scoliosis due to military service or had symptoms of scoliosis worsen due to military service, you might be eligible to apply for a VA disability rating for scoliosis and receive benefits.

Veterans and Scoliosis

Veterans face back pain for numerous reasons, including trauma, carrying heavy loads, intense physical demands, and injuries. One of the conditions that can cause disabling back pain is scoliosis.

What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is marked by a sideways curve of the spine. While it is most often diagnosed in children, scoliosis also results from injury to the spine, which can occur in service members. Scoliosis increases the risk of many complications, including:

Veterans with scoliosis may have their future careers limited or leisure activities impacted by scoliosis.

How Can Military Service Cause Scoliosis?

Service members face an increased risk of developing scoliosis as adults due to the increased potential for spinal injury during service. Service members suffer spinal injuries due to the following:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Explosives
  • Physical attack
  • Gunshots

Service members who suffer spinal injuries may also develop scoliosis from repetitive stress on the spine and surrounding muscles. This can happen through physical exertion, such as frequently lifting and carrying heavy loads.

How Can Military Service Worsen Scoliosis?

Service members who enter the armed forces with preexisting scoliosis risk worsening the condition. Service members carry heavy loads, engage in dangerous activities, or can suffer spinal injuries, all of which can exacerbate the condition. Conditions like degenerative disc disease, also caused by time in service, increase the odds of developing scoliosis.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

In addition to a visible curve of the spine, scoliosis symptoms include an uneven appearance in the shoulders or waist or one side of the rib cage appearing to stick out more than the other. Scoliosis frequently causes chronic back pain. It limits mobility for some patients, especially in cases where the spine freezes due to the severity of the curve. 

Some other symptoms of scoliosis include uneven posture, numbness in the legs, and breathing difficulties.

Types of Scoliosis

Scoliosis has three main types. They are:

  • Congenital: Scoliosis that occurs due to in-utero malformation
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: Scoliosis that occurs as a result of disease or trauma.
  • Idiopathic scoliosis: A diagnosis of scoliosis with no obvious cause

Neuromuscular scoliosis is the type that most often results directly from military service.

How Does the VA Rate Scoliosis?

The VA rating for scoliosis depends on the severity of the disorder. The VA uses its general formula for diseases and injuries of the spine for rating scoliosis. The system grades the severity of the curve as well as its impact on the veteran’s overall mobility: 

  • A 100 percent disability rating is assigned for ankylosis, or stiffness and immobility, of the entire spine due to scoliosis.
  • A 50 percent disability rating is assigned when scoliosis causes the entire thoracolumbar spine, or the area between the thoracic cage and the lumbar spine, to freeze or remain immobile. 
  • A 40 percent disability rating for scoliosis is assigned when the patient has 30 degrees or less of forward movement in the thoracolumbar spine or stiffness and immobility in the entire area. 
  • A 30 percent disability rating is assigned when the patient has 15 degrees or less of forward flexion in the cervical spine or stiffness and immobility in the entire cervical spine area.
  • A 20 percent disability rating is assigned when the patient has guarding, or tensing of the back muscles, that results in scoliosis secondary to other injuries. At a 20 percent disability rating, the patient may have an abnormal gait or movement style caused by scoliosis or a range of motion of no more than 120 degrees in the thoracolumbar spine area.
  • A 10 percent disability rating for spinal disorders is assigned when patients see reduced mobility, guarding, or tenderness that does not result in obvious scoliosis or changes in gait. A 10 percent disability rating can also encompass a range of motion between 120 and 235 degrees in the thoracolumbar spine region or muscle spasms and tenderness in the back. 

VA disability ratings are determined by how much your scoliosis impacts activities of daily living. You must submit your doctor’s reports, medical test results, and VA claim exam findings to receive your disability rating. Other musculoskeletal disorders also may impact VA disability ratings and may have their own ratings for determining the extent of your disability.

TDIU and Scoliosis

Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, benefits may be available to veterans who cannot work due to scoliosis. These benefits provide a veteran the same compensation as that provided for a 100 percent disability rating.

To qualify, you must prove you have one disability caused by your military service with a 60 percent rating or higher, making steady work impossible. Alternatively, you may qualify if you have multiple disabilities with a combined rating of 70 percent or more—with at least one rated at 40 percent or more.

To establish a TDIU rating, you need to produce the following:

  • Proof of income from jobs post-service
  • Work history
  • Medical records establishing the extent of your condition, including statements about your inability to work

These documents serve to establish your inability to work due to scoliosis.

Scoliosis as a Secondary Disability

Scoliosis is often tied to other conditions, including degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosisarthritis, and spinal trauma. If you have already received a disability rating for these other conditions, you can apply for a secondary disability rating with the VA for scoliosis. A secondary disability rating can increase the disability compensation you have coming in each month.

When you have multiple conditions, the VA does not simply add the ratings to get a combined rating. Instead, it uses a table of combined ratings, preventing the total from exceeding 100 percent. If you have more than two disabilities, the VA combines all your scores to determine a final disability rating.

Scoliosis Aggravated by Service

If you went into the armed forces with scoliosis, your service may have aggravated that condition. If so, you must present evidence establishing how your service worsened your scoliosis. Such evidence includes doctors’ statements, medical evaluations, and X-rays from before and after your service showing the differences in the condition worsened over time.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Scoliosis?

If you have scoliosis related to your time in the service, follow the following steps.

  • Get a full medical diagnosis of your condition. Make sure you know the severity of your scoliosis so you can move forward with the disability rating process. 
  • Collect your evidence. You may need medical records and doctors’ statements that establish the extent of your disability. 
  • Fill out the disability form online and attach evidence, including private medical records, medical treatments for your condition, and any military personnel records documenting your condition. Furthermore, you may submit letters from witnesses about your condition, how it happened, and how it impacts you. 
  • If needed, attend a Compensation and Pension exam. A C&P exam provides the VA with evidence about the severity of your disability. Usually, a C&P exam is only necessary when the VA needs more evidence to decide the claim. 
  • If you need additional assistance filing a VA disability claim for scoliosis, Veterans Guide can help. Contact us for more information about how to establish the extent of your scoliosis-related disability and receive the disability benefits you deserve.
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