Top 20 VA Disability Claims

Many military veterans sustain illnesses and injuries because of their service, and these conditions can last a lifetime. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers disability benefits for certain conditions, but obtaining these benefits can be challenging. Veterans Guide provides information about the top 20 VA disability claims, including which conditions qualify for benefits, how to file a claim, and how to appeal a denial.

While serving their country, veterans often sustain injuries and illnesses that can haunt them forever. Traumatic incidents can cause acute disabling injuries, while exposure to fumes, herbicides, and even noise can cause chronic conditions. These disabilities can make everyday life challenging, cause employment difficulties, and shorten veterans’ lifespans. 

If you are a veteran with a health condition caused or worsened by your military service, you may be entitled to disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Guide can provide you with information about the top 20 VA disability claims and assist you with filing for benefits and appealing a denial if necessary.

Veterans and Disability Claims

Because of the nature of military service, veterans are more likely to develop certain medical conditions that qualify for disability. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that veterans are more likely to be wounded and disabled than non-veteran civilians. These disabilities can present challenges in holding a job and performing everyday activities and can lead to other chronic conditions.

A VA disability claim requests compensation for an illness or injury caused or exacerbated by active duty military service or a separate service-related disability. Veterans can file a claim online or in person. Numeric disability ratings determine the amount of compensation. Here are the top 20 VA disability claims based on data from the Veterans Benefits Administration Annual Benefits Report for 2022.

Top 20 VA Disability Claims

1. Tinnitus

According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, tinnitus occurs when someone perceives sounds with no external source. People with tinnitus “hear” sounds such as ringing, buzzing, or whooshing. Noise exposure, including the loud sounds of gunfire, bombs, and machinery, can cause tinnitus. The VA considers tinnitus to have a presumptive service connection, meaning veterans do not need to establish a link between the condition and their service.

The VA diagnostic code for tinnitus is 6260 under rating 38 CFR § 4.87. Veterans with recurrent tinnitus qualify for a 10 percent disability rating, regardless of whether they experience tinnitus in one or both ears. Many veterans with tinnitus have secondary disabilities, including traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, according to the VA’s Office of Research and Development.

2. Limitation of Flexion, Knee

Limitation of flexion of the knee is a condition in which a person has a limited range of motion in the knee as they flex it toward the body. This condition can result from an incident such as a fall or develop as a secondary disability to a back injury. Military service can also worsen existing knee conditions.

The diagnostic code for knee flexion limitation is 5256 under 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating ranges from 30 percent for veterans who can almost completely extend their leg to 60 percent for veterans who cannot curl their leg inward at the knee more than 45 degrees.

3. Hearing Loss

People with hearing loss often have some ability to hear, but things may sound muffled, or they may have difficulty understanding others in crowded or noisy locations, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hearing loss can have many causes, some of which can be related to military service. Exposure to loud noises from firearms, jet engines, and machinery can all contribute to hearing loss. The VA considers hearing loss to be a presumptive service-connected condition. Many veterans with hearing loss also have tinnitus. To qualify for disability benefits for hearing loss, veterans must have their hearing tested by a state-licensed audiologist who conducts two hearing tests: a controlled speech discrimination test and a pure-tone audiometry test.

The VA diagnostic code for hearing loss is 6100 under rating 38 CFR § 4.85. Veterans may claim anywhere from 10 percent to 100 percent disability for hearing loss depending on the severity of their condition, with most veterans qualifying at the lower end of the scale.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health describes post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health disorder that develops in people who experience dangerous or frightening events. People with post-traumatic stress disorder may feel as if they are in danger or experience symptoms of the fight-or-flight response long after the event has passed. To qualify for a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, the veteran must have symptoms that continue for at least one month. Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder have secondary disabilities such as depression or anxiety.

Servicemembers may develop post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing violent events. The diagnostic code for post-traumatic stress disorder is 9411 under rating 38 CFR § 4.130. The disability rating ranges from zero percent to 100 percent, depending on how it affects the individual’s social and occupational functions.

5. Lumbosacral or Cervical Strain

Lumbosacral and cervical strain refers to pain, aching, stiffness, or reduced range of motion in the lumbar, sacral, and cervical regions of the spine. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that military service members often put repeated stress and trauma on their backs through service-related jumping, pivoting, and lifting heavy loads.

These conditions are covered by diagnostic codes 5235 to 5243 for spine diseases and injuries under rating 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating for lumbosacral and cervical strain ranges from zero percent to 100 percent, depending on the severity of the condition. Veterans may also have secondary disabilities, such as neurological conditions, including bowel and bladder impairment.

6. Sciatic Nerve Paralysis

According to MedlinePlus, the sciatic nerve is located in the back of the leg. It supplies motor innervation to the muscles of the back of the knee, the lower leg, and the sole of the foot. Damage to this nerve can cause sciatic nerve paralysis. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniated disk, bone spurs, diabetes, and tumors can all damage the sciatic nerve. Symptoms include muscle weakness of the knee and foot, loss of feeling, and abnormal reflexes. Veterans may develop sciatic nerve paralysis from traumatic accidents, sitting in trucks for prolonged periods, carrying heavy loads, and twisting their backs.

The diagnostic code for sciatic nerve paralysis is 8520 under rating 38 CFR § 4.124a. The disability rating for this condition ranges from 10 percent for mild paralysis to 80 percent for complete paralysis. People with complete sciatic nerve paralysis have a drop foot, no active movement of the muscles below the knee, and weak or absent knee flexion. This condition can also cause secondary disabilities such as loss of bowel or bladder control.

7. Scarring

Veterans can sustain scars in fires, accidents, surgeries, and other incidents during their military service. The VA rates scars based on their location on the body, whether there is damage to the underlying tissue, and whether they are painful or unstable, meaning that the skin covering the scar is frequently lost. Diagnostic codes 7800 through 7805 under rating 38 CFR § 4.118 apply to scarring.

The disability rating for scarring ranges from zero percent for scars that require only topical therapy to 80 percent for scarring that causes visible or palpable tissue loss and gross distortion of features, or six or more elements of disfigurement as defined by the VA. Scarring can also cause secondary disabilities. For example, neck scars may limit neck mobility, and facial scars can cause problems with opening or closing the eyes and breathing.

8. Limitation of Motion, Ankle

Limitation of motion in the ankle involves impaired movement in pointing and flexing the foot or moving it from side to side. Veterans may develop this condition after injuring the ankle in a jump, fall, vehicular accident, or other traumatic incident. People with an ankle injury may change their gait to compensate, which can lead to secondary disabilities such as knee, hip, and foot injuries.

The diagnostic codes for limitation of motion in the ankle are 5270 and 5271 under 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating ranges from 10 percent for moderate impairment of point-and-flex motion to 40 percent for more severe impairment of point-and-flex or side-to-side motion.

9. Limitation of Motion, Arm

Limitation of motion of the arm means a reduced range of motion when moving the arm from the side toward the shoulder. This condition can make it difficult to conduct everyday activities. Veterans may develop this condition from physical training, carrying heavy loads, or injuring the arm or shoulder in a traumatic incident. 

The diagnostic code for limitation of motion of the arm is 5201 under 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating ranges from 20 percent for injuries that still allow arm movement up to shoulder height to 40 percent for injuries that limit movement to 25 degrees away from the body. The VA rates each arm separately and considers whether the injured arm is dominant or non-dominant. Veterans with this condition may have secondary disabilities affecting their arms.

10. Migraines

The American Migraine Foundation describes a migraine as a disabling neurological disease that causes intense pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensory sensitivities. According to the VA News, veterans are more likely than others to develop migraines. Many veterans with migraines have secondary disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder, concussions, and neck trauma. Veterans may develop migraines after an accident, fall, explosion, or other incident.

The diagnostic code for migraines is 8100 under 38 CFR § 4.124a. The disability rating for migraines ranges from zero percent for mild or infrequent migraine attacks to 50 percent for frequent and prolonged attacks that make it hard for the patient to work.

11. Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, degenerative arthritis of the spine develops when cartilage on the facet joints between the vertebrae breaks down. It can cause stiffness, loss of flexibility, and back pain. Previous back injuries and degenerative disc disease can cause or worsen this condition. Some people with this condition experience secondary disabilities such as spinal bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and spinal radiculopathy.

The diagnostic code for degenerative arthritis of the spine is 5003 under 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating is 10 percent if it affects two or more major joints or minor joint groups and 20 percent if it affects two or more major joints or minor joint groups and causes occasional incapacitating exacerbations.

12. Respiratory Disorders

Respiratory disorders include any condition that affects the respiratory system. The American Lung Association describes many hazards that servicemembers face that can cause respiratory problems, including oil well fires, open-air burn pits, sand and dust particulates, asbestos, carbon monoxide, and other toxic air pollutants. Many respiratory disorders qualify as military disabilities, such as:

  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Chronic rhinitis 
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lung cancer

The diagnostic codes for each respiratory disorder can be found under rating 38 CFR § 4.97. The disability rating ranges from zero to 100 percent. For example, the disability rating for chronic sinusitis—code 6514—ranges from zero to 50 percent, and chronic bronchitis—code 6600—ranges from 10 to 100 percent. 

Some respiratory disorders, including certain respiratory cancers, COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, and rhinitis, are considered presumptive conditions for veterans who served in specific theaters at specific times, according to information from the VA.

13. Sleep Apnea

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines sleep apnea as a condition that causes people to stop and restart breathing during sleep. Some people with sleep apnea have an obstructed airway. For others, their brain does not properly signal their body to breathe. 

Sleep apnea can cause poor sleep quality, which can cause secondary disabilities such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are at high risk for sleep apnea.

The diagnostic code for sleep apnea is 6847 under rating 38 CFR § 4.97. The disability rating ranges from zero percent for documented but asymptomatic apnea to 100 percent for apnea that causes chronic respiratory failure or requires a tracheostomy.

14. Eczema

The Cleveland Clinic describes eczema as a dry and itchy skin condition that weakens the skin’s barrier. Some veterans develop eczema because of stress, severe climate changes, or environmental irritants. It can cause secondary conditions such as depression and anxiety.

The diagnostic code for eczema is 7806 under rating 38 CFR § 4.118. The disability rating ranges from zero percent for eczema that requires only topical treatment and affects less than 5 percent of the body to 60 percent for eczema that covers more than 40 percent of the body or exposed skin or eczema that requires systemic therapy.

15. Flatfoot

According to the Mayo Clinicflatfoot is a condition that causes the feet to have no visible arches and can cause foot pain and swelling in the ankles. Some people are born with flatfoot, while others develop it through a traumatic injury or from diabetes. Over time, flatfoot can cause arthritis in the feet. The VA provides benefits only for acquired flatfoot.

The diagnostic code for flatfoot is 5276 under 38 CFR § 4.71a. The disability rating ranges from zero percent for mild flatfoot that can be corrected with arch support to 50 percent for pronounced bilateral flatfoot that causes pronation, inward displacement, and tenderness of the soles of the feet and that cannot be treated with orthopedic shoes.

16. Erectile dysfunction

Healthline defines erectile dysfunction as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection. Diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, stress, depression, and anxiety can cause this condition, and the VA reports that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are at higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

The diagnostic code for erectile dysfunction, which includes any injury that causes scarring or penile deformity, is 7522 under rating 38 CFR § 4.115b. The disability rating for this condition is zero percent, but veterans may qualify for special monthly compensation under 38 CFR § 3.350. Other injuries that require the removal of part of the penis qualify for 20 percent or 30 percent disability.

17. Hiatal hernia

The Veterans Health Library describes a hiatal hernia as a condition in which part of the stomach bulges out of an opening in the diaphragm. It can cause heartburn, difficulty swallowing, feeling full in the chest after eating, or tasting acid. Veterans can link a hernia to their service if they developed it while on active duty or if they began experiencing symptoms while on active duty. Veterans may develop gastroesophageal reflux disease as a secondary disability to hiatal hernia. 

The diagnostic code for hiatal hernia is 7346 under rating 38 CFR § 4.114. The disability rating ranges from 10 percent for veterans with mild symptoms of epigastric distress and arm, shoulder, or substernal pain to 60 percent for symptoms including pain, vomiting, weight loss, anemia, and other severe health impairment.

18. Diabetes mellitus Type 2

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes mellitus type 2 develops when a person’s cells become insulin-resistant, meaning they no longer respond to the hormone insulin. Insulin normally shuttles sugar into cells from the blood. People with type 2 diabetes can have dangerously high blood sugar that can lead to vision loss and heart and kidney disease over time.

The VA considers type 2 diabetes a presumptive disorder for any veterans who develop it within one year of release from active duty or were exposed to Agent Orange during their service. Otherwise, veterans need to establish a connection to their service.

The diagnostic code for diabetes mellitus type 2 is 7913 under rating 38 CFR § 4.119. The disability rating ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on whether it can be managed by diet alone, requires insulin, or requires additional medical care or hospitalization.

19. Hemorrhoids

Harvard Medical School describes hemorrhoids as clusters of swollen veins in the lower rectum, known as internal hemorrhoids, or under the skin near the anus, known as external hemorrhoids. They can bleed and feel itchy and painful. Veterans may be able to link their diet, sleep habits, and stress while in the military to gut changes that caused the hemorrhoids.

The diagnostic code for hemorrhoids is 7336 under rating 38 CFR § 4.114. The disability rating ranges from zero percent for mild or moderate hemorrhoids to 20 percent for hemorrhoids that cause external bleeding, secondary anemia, or fissures.

20. Major Depression Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association describes major depressive disorder as a serious medical illness that causes symptoms such as the following:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies 
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits 
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

People must experience symptoms for at least two weeks to qualify for a depression diagnosis. The diagnostic code for major depressive disorder is 9434 under rating 38 CFR § 4.130. Veterans must show at least one of the following:

  • They had no history of depression before their active duty service.
  • They became depressed as a result of a service-related injury or illness.
  • Their depression worsened significantly because of their military service 

The disability range for depression is from zero percent to 100 percent, depending on how severely it affects the veteran’s ability to function socially and occupationally. Many veterans with depression have secondary disabilities, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, sleep apnea, and more.

How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Cancer

Even if it was not one of the top 20 VA disability claims in 2022, cancer is one of the most common VA disability claims. Military service members face exposure to carcinogens at certain military locations, during deployments, and as conditions of war. For example, some Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. Others who served at Camp Lejeune were exposed to contaminated water. Both have been linked to many cancers.

Veterans must file a disability claim to obtain VA disability compensation for cancer. They may need to undergo a compensation and pension exam and obtain a nexus letter linking their cancer to their service, but the VA considers certain cancers to be presumptive conditions. Veterans with a presumptive condition do not need to prove that their cancer is service-related, but they must provide military service records and medical records documenting their condition.

Veterans Guide Can Help You With Your Disability Claim

Seeking compensation from the VA for your disability can be confusing and time-consuming. Contact Veterans Guide if you need help with your disability claim.

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