VA Disability Rating for Spinal Stenosis

If you served in the military and were injured or exacerbated an existing condition, you may be eligible for disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the conditions approved for disability benefits is spinal stenosis, a disorder in which the spaces in the spine narrow and put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. The benefits you receive will depend on your cervical spinal stenosis disability rating. Veterans Guide provides information about these benefits.

Suffering from spinal stenosis can negatively impact your daily life, and you may be eligible for compensation. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses a disability ratings scale to determine the monthly tax-free disability payments paid to disabled veterans. The cervical spinal stenosis disability rating assigned to your case will determine the monthly disability payment you receive.

You must file a claim to initiate the process for these benefits. The steps include filling out a claim form, providing supporting evidence, and in some cases, undergoing a physical exam. Veterans Guide can assist you with any questions you have about VA disability benefits.

Veterans and Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis happens when the spacing in the spine narrows, causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. It can be congenital or caused by an injury or aging. It can occur in any region of the spine. Since the spinal cord sends messages throughout the body, the symptoms will depend on where in the spinal column the stenosis occurs.

Common symptoms include pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the lower extremities. Other symptoms may include difficulty with bowel or bladder control. Spinal stenosis can also cause difficulty walking and getting in and out of vehicles.

The most common types are cervical and lumbar stenosis. Cervical stenosis is in the neck area, and lumbar stenosis is in the lower back. Cervical stenosis typically presents with pain radiating from the neck, while lumbar stenosis usually comes with pain radiating from the lower back into the lower extremities.

If you are a veteran suffering from spinal stenosis, it could have been caused by a service-related injury. Repetitive movements such as carrying heavy loads, marching, or lifting and moving equipment can put stress on the spine. During combat or training, an injury resulting in a fracture of the vertebrae can also cause spinal stenosis.

How Does the VA Rate Spinal Stenosis?

The VA has disability ratings to determine the amount of tax-free monthly disability payments you qualify for. The more severe an injury or condition, the higher the monthly disability payment. 

If you suffer from multiple injuries or conditions, you can use a calculator to calculate your combined disability rating. The VA uses a “whole person” theory, so the scores for multiple conditions are cumulative. Also, if you had a pre-existing injury or condition, the VA considers that and will possibly lower your disability rating. 

There is a schedule of ratings to calculate disability based on spinal diseases and injuries. The ratings are determined by the severity of ankylosis, which is a stiffening of the spine or immobility of the spine, and the degree of forward flexion of the spine. The VA assigns ratings according to the following criteria: 

  • 10% – Requires one of the following 
    • Thoracolumbar spine forward flexion between 60 and 85 degrees
    • Cervical spine forward flexion between 30 and 40 degrees 
    • Combined thoracolumbar range of motion between 120 and 235 degrees
    • Combined cervical spine range of motion between 170 and 335 degrees
    • Muscles spasms, guarding, or tenderness in the affected area but with no impacts on the veteran’s gait or spinal contour 
    • Vertebral body fracture causing a height loss of 50% or more 
  • 20% – Requires one of the following: 
    • Thoracolumbar spine forward flexion between 30 and 60 degrees
    • Cervical spine forward flexion between 15 and 30 degrees
    • No more than 120 degrees combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine
    • No more than 170 degrees combined range of motion of the cervical spine
    • Muscle spasming or guarding resulting in abnormal gait or spinal contours
  • 30%  Favorable ankylosis, or rigidity, afflicting the entire cervical spine or 15 degrees or less of cervical spine forward flexion 
  • 40% Favorable ankylosis of the thoracolumbar spine, unfavorable ankylosis of the whole cervical spine, or 30 degrees or less of thoracolumbar spine forward flexion
  • 50%  Unfavorable ankylosis afflicting the whole thoracolumbar spine
  • 100% Unfavorable ankylosis afflicting the entire spine

These criteria can be applied whether or not a veteran is also experiencing pain, stiffness, or aches in the affected area of the spine. Generally, the greater the spine’s range of motion, the lower the disability rating will likely be. The lower the disability rating, the lower the monthly payment.

The VA can also require a reexamination of the disability rating between two and five years after the initial board decision. This happens if the VA believes it’s likely the disability has improved, there has been a significant change in the disability, or the current rating is incorrect. Cooperating with this reexamination is mandatory.

Total Disability Individual Unemployment (TDIU)

If you can’t work due to your injury or condition, including spinal stenosis, you may be eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployment benefits. A veteran whose service-connected condition prevents them from working but doesn’t qualify for a 100% disability rating may be eligible for TDIU benefits. Certain conditions must be met, including the following: 

  • You must have at least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% or multiple conditions with a combined rating of at least 70% or more, with at least one rated at 40% or higher.
  • You cannot substantially support yourself with a job.
  • You did not receive a dishonorable discharge.

To apply for TDIU, you must file a claim with the VA and provide evidence that shows you meet the requirements. The VA will decide if you qualify to receive compensation.

Spinal Stenosis as a Secondary Disability

Spinal stenosis is one of many conditions and injuries that are eligible for disability compensation. The VA will review all of the conditions or injuries that you might have to determine a total disability rating. Multiple injuries or condition ratings are measured cumulatively by the VA, up to a maximum of 100%. The VA combines ratings to determine the total disability rating. The total disability rating is calculated and then rounded to the nearest 10%.

Spinal stenosis is sometimes considered a secondary disability. For example, if you are suffering from spinal stenosis that was caused by a fractured vertebra, then spinal stenosis would be considered a secondary condition.

If the fractured vertebra injury did not affect the spinal cord but includes abnormal mobility requiring a neck brace, the disability is rated at 60%. Based on your range of motion, if the secondary condition of spinal stenosis is rated at 20%, then the total from the combined ratings scale would be 68%, which would be rounded up to a 70% total disability rating. The total disability rating will determine the monthly benefits you are eligible to receive.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Spinal Stenosis?

You can file a disability claim for spinal stenosis online, by mail, in person, or with the assistance of a trained professional. Your first step is to submit an intent to file a claim as soon as possible. If approved for benefits, you may receive back pay retroactive to the filing date.

Although not required, you can include evidence supporting your injury. The VA allows you to submit supplemental documentation up to a year after you file the claim. You should submit medical records, including visit notes, surgical records, and imaging results from X-rays and MRIs. 

You should also provide evidence of the injury if it occurred while you served in the military, including medical records from your time in service and any other records regarding the injury and your time in service. Additionally, it will help to include statements from physicians, family, friends, and co-workers to describe how spinal stenosis affects your daily life.  

Once you’ve filed a claim, you may be asked to undergo a Compensation and Pension exam. A C&P exam helps the VA determine your level of disability, whether the condition has worsened and the rating should be higher, and confirm that the disability is related to your time in the military.

You have one year to collect your medical evidence and submit the application. The VA will confirm that it has received your claim and notify you if it requires additional documentation. You will then receive a notification of approval with your disability rating or a denial.

If your claim is denied or you believe you should have received a higher disability rating, you can appeal the decision. There is no limit on the number of times a veteran can appeal a VA disability claim.

For questions or assistance with determining your eligibility and filing a claim, contact Veterans Guide.

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