VA Disability Rating for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer with risk factors including sun exposure and exposure to toxins, such as those veterans have faced due to burn pits and service-related events. You can receive a 100 percent squamous cell carcinoma VA rating if your cancer is active and affects more than your skin and benefits after your treatment if you suffer significant or painful scarring or a limited range of motion. Veterans Guide can help you learn more about VA benefits.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that affects the skin and sensitive areas around mucus membranes, such as the throat. People who serve in the military are often exposed to toxins that can lead to various forms of cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, their duties often require long periods of sun exposure, sometimes in tropical environments, which can lead to the condition. You are entitled to VA benefits if your exposure caused you to develop squamous cell carcinoma. You may also be entitled to benefits for problems resulting from your cancer, such as painful scarring.
To receive a squamous cell carcinoma VA rating, you must show that your service likely caused your cancer. You can do this with military and medical records and a letter from your doctor detailing how your service is connected to your diagnosis. For some Gulf War-era and post-9/11 veterans, the VA presumes the connection between military service in specific areas and some types of squamous cell carcinoma.
Veterans and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a skin cancer that starts in the skin’s epidermis, or outer layer. Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma affects only the top layer or other parts of the skin. Metastatic squamous carcinoma occurs when the cancer has spread to other parts of your body besides the skin.
Symptoms include skin changes such as the following:
- A bump or growth that feels rough and might bleed and crust over
- A growth above your skin that sinks in the middle
- A sore that heals and comes back or won’t heal
- A larger flat, scaly, red patch of skin
You can also develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas of the body with mucus membranes, such as your mouth, throat, and lungs. In these cases, you may experience lumps, trouble swallowing, weight loss, and a persistent sore throat. Veterans exposed to sun or toxins are at risk for squamous cell carcinoma.
Service Connection for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
To get a squamous cell carcinoma VA rating, you must show that your cancer is connected to your time in the service. This time can include active, inactive, or active duty training. The VA will examine your medical and military service records and letters from your doctors explaining why they believe your cancer and service are connected.
Recent changes to VA disability laws allow some veterans to have a presumed connection between their cancer and their service. The 2022 Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT Act, expanded the list of conditions the VA assumes are connected to service. Two conditions added for Gulf War-era and post-9/11 veterans were squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx and trachea.
You may also get a presumed head and neck cancer VA rating depending on the location of your squamous cell carcinoma.
How Does the VA Rate Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
The VA assesses squamous cell carcinoma using diagnostic code 7818, Malignant Skin Neoplasms. If you require systemic chemotherapy, X-ray therapy beyond the skin, or surgery more extensive than a local incision, you can qualify for a 100 percent VA disability rating. This rating starts at the onset of your treatment and continues until six months after your treatment ends.
After the six months pass, you must undergo a Compensation and Pension, or C&P, exam. If there is no recurrence or your cancer hasn’t spread, your disability rating changes. The rating could fall to zero percent if you have no other conditions, or you may receive a new rating for a condition resulting from your cancer, such as painful scarring.
You are not entitled to a 100 percent squamous cell carcinoma or head and neck cancer VA rating if your treatment was confined only to your skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Secondary Disabilities
Following your treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, you may develop secondary conditions called residuals for VA purposes. You can receive separate disability ratings for these conditions. Some common VA disability ratings for skin conditions include the following:
- Diagnostic code 7800 for scars or disfigurement of the head, face, and neck, rated between 10 percent and 80 percent
- Diagnostic code 7801 for scars not of the head, neck, or face that include tissue damage, rated between 10 percent and 40 percent
- Diagnostic code 7802 for scars not of the head, neck, or face that do not include tissue damage, rated at 10 percent if larger than 144 square inches
- Diagnostic code 7804 for unstable or painful scars, rated between 10 percent and 30 percent
You may also receive an impairment of function disability rating if the treatment for your squamous cell carcinoma limited your motion or a chronic laryngitis rating if your cancer affected your throat.
Following your treatment, discuss any problems you may have that could result in VA disability with your doctor. The VA’s Alphabetical Index of Disabilities can help you find conditions that are covered and what your rating might be.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Some veterans cannot hold substantially gainful employment following their treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, but they may no longer have a 100 percent disability rating. If you can’t work but your rating doesn’t reflect that, you can apply for 100 percent benefits through the Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, program.
You are eligible for TDIU through one of two criteria:
- One disability rated 60 percent or higher
- Multiple disabilities with a combined rating of at least 70 percent and one rated at least 40 percent
For example, you may have a 50 percent rating for scarring with four or five characteristics of disfigurement and a 30 percent rating for five or more unstable or painful scars. The VA allows you to add these two conditions. Based on the VA table of combined ratings, these would result in a score of 65 percent. This number is rounded up to the nearest 10 percent, giving you a disability rating of 70 percent.
To get TDIU benefits, you must have strong evidence from your doctor that your disabilities don’t allow you to do anything other than piecemeal work.
How To Obtain VA Benefits for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
You can apply for VA benefits yourself or with the help of a VA-approved advocate. Collect your military records that show incidents or places you served that led to your cancer. Collect medical records from VA physicians, private doctors, and hospitals showing your squamous cell carcinoma.
If you do not have a presumed service connection, ask your doctor for a Nexus letter to connect your military service and diagnosis. You can also submit statements from laypeople, such as those you served with, who can attest to your condition.
Once you have your information, you can apply through three avenues:
- Fill out the online application.
- Print and complete VA Form 21-526EZ and mail it to the VA Claims Intake Center indicated on the form.
- Complete your form and bring it and your evidence to the nearest VA regional office.
The VA may require further exams beyond the C&P exam required six months after your cancer treatment ends. For example, if you have a limited motion disability rating, that could improve with physical therapy and affect your rating. You might also develop other conditions resulting from your squamous cell carcinoma that merit additional ratings that could raise your overall rating.
If you need more help understanding squamous cell carcinoma, head and neck cancer, or other VA disabilities, contact the experts at Veterans Guide.