VETERANS CORNER: Back problems another subject worth looking into at the VA

by Gary Kennedy

Many veterans complain about back pain and perhaps that is one of the most common complaints from our new veterans, especially if they are vets who are retiring after 20-plus years. If you take into consideration the nature of this type of career you will find that many of the venues residing within the military are extremely taxing on the human body. A soldier must be fit or put in shape in order to perform at peak proficiency. Calisthenics for most are a daily necessity. As time goes on this, coupled with the veterans military occupational specialty, MOS, can take its toll on the body. Some handle physical activity with relative ease while others have anatomical structures that don’t stand the test of time. Some bodies reach conflict before they complete even one tour of duty. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling for sure whose body will stand the test of time.

Today we will go over some of the back/spinal issues one might encounter due to their serving their country through military service. As I have mentioned before it is very important how an issue is presented and to what it is applied, if not a stand alone situation. This is also reason to be prepared by acquiring a Veteran Service Officer, V.S.O., to stand with you and guide you through the process. At this point it is assumed that you have a Primary Care Physician, P.C.P. to call your own. This is where you will take your initial complaint and where your problem will be analyzed, developed and referrals will be made. I suspect you will be sent to Orthopedics who, in turn, will order X-rays to see what is going on inside of your back. At this point the orthopedist will arrive at a diagnosis and log all necessary notes regarding your situation based upon what the X-rays and examination show. This will be the inception of a potential compensable claim. The best part is you will receive the medical care you deserve.

Backs are one of the most complicated areas of the human body as they are part of many systems of which affect or are affected by many different problems and/or conditions. Some of the most common addendums to this area are as follows: Sprains-strains, traumatic injury, fractures, herniated discs, sciatica, lumbar spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, etc.

Back sprains and strains can be rated from 10-100 percent depending on how severe the symptoms, pain and loss of range of motion. Extremely severe pain, loss of motion hit the high end. When it comes to traumatic injuries VA relies on Disability Benefits Questionnaires, D.B.Q. to collect disabilities information. This can be done by the veteran’s doctor or by VA to make a benefit evaluation. I prefer the latter, then comes fractures which are rated by schedules which are primarily based upon earning capacity. Separate diagnostic codes are used from 38 U.S.C.A. § 1155; 38 CFR. Next is Herniated Disc which last less than four weeks in the past 12 months may be able to qualify for 20 percent, episodes that last less than six weeks can be rated at 40 percent. This could go north of 60 percent. Lumbar Stenosis can be rated from 30 percent to 100 percent depending on the inability to move the spine. Osteoarthritis is usually given 10 – 20 percent depending on severity. (Diagnostic Code 5003) Scoliosis is curvature of the spine. Scoliosis is considered an idiopathic disorder. The cause of scoliosis is basically unknown and cannot be cured. Scoliosis can be considered for compensation if it is caused by military service or aggravates a pre-existing condition. It’s beneficial to know that scoliosis can cause other problems to occur such as spinal stenosis and arthritis.

There are three degrees of scoliosis. 1) Mild – less than 20 percent; 2) Moderate- which indicates a curvature of 25 – 40 percent degree of curvature and; 3) Severe – 50 percent more.

Scoliosis proof needs to show a nexus to an in-service event or show aggravation of a pre-existing injury. Medical reports as well as lay evidence can be used to establish a claim. This type of claim is not the most common of claims so make sure you contact your V.S.O. for his/her advice in the matter. They can guide you along. There is much more that we can address next time.

God Bless and have a safe weekend.


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