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May 10, 2024

C&P Exam for Migraines: What Veterans Really Need to Know!

Last updated on May 12, 2024

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After filing a VA claim for migraines, you are likely to be scheduled for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam.

A C&P exam for migraines is designed to evaluate the diagnosis, nexus for service connection, severity of symptoms, and negative impacts to your work, life, and social functioning.

Migraines are a huge problem for veterans.

In fact, migraine headaches are the #9 most commonly claimed disability according to published VA data.

Okay, let’s explore what you can expect and how to prepare for your migraines C&P exam.

Pro Tip: The VA rates migraines based on the frequency and severity of the headaches. The ratings are categorized as follows: a 0% rating is assigned if a veteran experiences migraines with less frequent attacks; a 10% rating is given for migraines that result in characteristic prostrating attacks averaging one per month over the last several months; a 30% rating is for characteristic prostrating attacks averaging one per month but less than once per week; and the highest, a 50% rating, applies to very frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks that are productive of severe economic inadaptability.

Summary of Key Points

  • Exam Objectives and Criteria: The C&P exam for headaches assesses the diagnosis, service connection, and the frequency and severity of migraine episodes, impacting ratings under Diagnostic Code (DC) 8100, which can range from 0% to 50% with breaks at 10% and 30%.
  • Preparation Tips: Collect all medical records related to migraines, maintain a detailed migraine diary, and familiarize yourself with the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for headaches.
  • Severity of Symptoms and Negative Impacts: Be ready to discuss your migraine symptoms and how they affect your daily activities, work, and quality of life to provide a comprehensive view of your condition during the exam.

3 Main Objectives of the C&P Exam for Migraines

There are three main objectives of a C&P exam for migraine headaches:

  • #1. Diagnosis Confirmation: The examiner will confirm a migraine diagnosis.
  • #2. Nexus for Service Connection: Assessment of whether the migraines are connected to military service, which may include direct service connection or as secondary to another service-connected condition.
  • #3. Severity of Symptoms Assessment: Evaluation of the frequency, severity, and duration of the migraine attacks, and how they affect your life and work.

What to Expect During the C&P Exam for Migraines

C&P exams for headaches, including migraines, can be conducted in-person, via telehealth, over the phone, or through a records only review (known as an ACE exam).

You might not get scheduled for an in-person examination for migraines.

Here’s what to expect during the C&P exam for migraines:

Documentation Review

  • Medical Records: The examiner will review your medical records related to migraines, including private and VA medical records, MRIs, CT scans, and any previous diagnostic tests.
  • Service Records: They may also review your service treatment records to establish a connection between your military service and the migraine condition.

Detailed Questionnaire

  • You will be asked to fill out or provide information in response to a structured questionnaire, similar to the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for headaches. This includes questions about the diagnosis, frequency, duration, symptoms, and treatments related to your migraines.

Symptom Description

  • Pain Description: Describe the nature of the pain (throbbing, pulsating, constant, etc.), location, and any associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and visual disturbances.
  • Frequency and Duration: Detail how often the migraines occur and how long they last.
  • Triggers and Relief Measures: Discuss what typically triggers your migraines and what, if anything, provides relief.

Functional Impact Assessment

  • The examiner will assess how your migraines affect your daily activities, including work, social interaction, and quality of life.
  • Be prepared to provide examples of how migraines have impacted your ability to perform work-related tasks or hindered your participation in social or recreational activities.

Physical Examination

  • While migraines are primarily assessed through patient history, the examiner might conduct a physical exam to rule out other underlying conditions or to assess related physical symptoms.

Discussion of Treatment

  • You’ll need to discuss the treatments you have tried or are currently using, including medications, therapy, lifestyle changes, and any other interventions.
  • Mention any side effects of medications or treatments that you experience.

Questions from the Examiner

  • The examiner may ask additional questions based on the responses you provide to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your condition.
  • Be honest and detailed in your responses.

Conclusion of the Exam

  • At the end of the examination, the examiner will summarize the findings. You might be asked to clarify or provide additional information about certain points.

Next Steps

  • The examiner will inform you about the next steps in the VA disability claim process. This includes how and when you will receive the results of your exam.

Potential Service-Connected Causes of Migraines

Service-connected causes of migraines in veterans can vary widely, often linked to the unique circumstances and exposures experienced during military service.

Here are some common potential causes that may lead to service connection for migraines:

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Exposure to blasts, falls, or vehicular accidents during service can lead to TBIs, which are frequently associated with chronic headaches and migraines.

Exposure to Chemicals: Contact with harmful substances, such as pesticides, solvents, or other toxic chemicals commonly found in military environments, can potentially trigger migraines.

Psychological Conditions: Conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression are prevalent among veterans and can exacerbate or contribute to migraines.

Neck, Back, and Spinal Injuries: Physical injuries to the neck, back, or spine during service can lead to structural issues that may manifest as migraine headaches due to nerve compression or tension.

Medications: Side effects from medications prescribed for other service-connected conditions may include headaches or migraines.

Infectious Diseases: Certain infectious diseases contracted during service, especially those involving the central nervous system, can lead to ongoing headaches.

High Noise Levels: Exposure to high decibel levels from machinery, aircraft, gunfire, and explosions without adequate hearing protection can lead to auditory damage and associated migraines.

Stressful Environments: The high-stress conditions common in military service can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals.

Sleep Disorders: Service-connected sleep disturbances or disorders like sleep apnea can also be linked to the onset of migraines.

Environmental Conditions: Extreme environmental conditions such as excessive heat, cold, or altitude changes experienced during deployment can trigger migraines.

Examples of How Migraines Can Negatively Impact Your Work, Life, and Social Functioning

Migraines can significantly impact various aspects of a veteran’s life, including their work performance, daily living activities, and social interactions.

Here’s some examples:

Impact on Work

Reduced Productivity: Migraines can cause a significant decrease in concentration and focus, leading to lower productivity and frequent mistakes.

Increased Absenteeism: The severe pain and associated symptoms (like nausea and sensitivity to light and sound) often require taking time off from work, resulting in higher absenteeism.

Impaired Performance: During a migraine episode, the ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently is compromised, which can affect job performance, especially in roles requiring precision or quick decision-making.

Career Limitations: Chronic migraines might limit the types of jobs someone can perform, potentially affecting career advancement and choices.

Impact on Daily Life

Routine Disruption: Migraines can disrupt daily routines, making it difficult to perform regular tasks such as grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and other household chores.

Sleep Disturbances: Migraines often interfere with sleep patterns, either by causing pain that prevents sleep or by occurring frequently during the night.

Physical Activity Limitation: Due to the exacerbation of pain with physical activity, individuals may avoid exercise, which can affect overall health and well-being.

Impact on Social Functioning

Social Withdrawal: The unpredictability of migraine attacks can lead individuals to avoid making plans or commitments, leading to social isolation.

Relationship Strain: The frequent occurrence of migraines can strain relationships with family and friends, who may feel neglected or unable to understand the severity of the pain.

Reduced Participation in Social Activities: Migraines can make it uncomfortable or impossible to participate in social gatherings, especially in environments that might trigger symptoms, such as those with bright lights or loud noises.

What Questions Will I Be Asked for the Migraines C&P Exam?

In a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam for migraines, a veteran will typically be asked the following questions based on the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for Headaches including Migraines:

Section I: Diagnosis

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with a headache condition?
  • If yes, specify the type (Migraine, Tension, Cluster, Other) and provide the ICD code and date of diagnosis for each.

Section II: Medical History

  • Describe the history of your headache conditions, including the onset and course.
  • Are you currently taking any continuous medication for your diagnosed headache condition?
  • If yes, list the medications used specifically for your headaches.

Section III: Symptoms

  • Do you experience headache pain?
  • If yes, specify the characteristics of the pain (constant, pulsating, localized, worsens with physical activity, etc.).
  • Do you experience any non-headache symptoms associated with your headaches, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, or changes in vision?
  • What is the typical duration of your headache pain?
  • Where is the pain typically located on your head?

Section IV: Prostrating Attacks

  • Do you have characteristic prostrating attacks of migraine or non-migraine headache pain?
  • If yes, how frequently do these attacks occur?
  • Do you have completely prostrating and prolonged attacks of migraines or non-migraine pain?
  • If yes, how frequently do these attacks occur?

Section V: Other Pertinent Findings

  • Do you have any other physical findings, complications, conditions, signs, or symptoms related to your diagnosed headache conditions?
  • Do you have any scars related to the conditions or treatment of the conditions listed in the diagnosis section?
  • If yes, are any of these scars painful, unstable, or significant in size or location?

Section VI: Diagnostic Testing

  • Are there any significant diagnostic test findings or results related to your headache condition?

Section VII: Functional Impact

  • Does your headache condition impact your ability to work?
  • If yes, describe the impact, providing examples.

Additional Information

  • The examiner will also confirm whether the veteran is regularly seen as a patient at the clinic or if records and evidence were reviewed prior to the exam.

How to Prepare for the Exam

Preparing for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam for migraines involves gathering the necessary documentation, understanding what the exam is all about, and mentally preparing to discuss your migraine headaches in detail.

Here’s some tips to prepare effectively:

1. Gather Medical Records

  • Previous Diagnoses and Treatments: Bring all relevant medical records, including those from private doctors, VA medical centers, and hospitals. Include records of your migraine diagnosis, treatment plans, and any medications you’ve been prescribed. Note: You aren’t required to do this as the examiner should already have all the documentation you submitted with your claim.
  • Diagnostic Tests: If you’ve undergone MRIs, CT scans, or other relevant tests, bring copies of these reports. At the very least, ensure these were uploaded to at claim submission.

2. Document Your Migraine Episodes

  • Headache Diary: Keep a detailed diary of your migraines for at least a month before your exam. Note the dates, duration, intensity, symptoms (like nausea, light sensitivity), triggers, and what, if anything, provided relief. It helps to track your migraines using simple online apps such as Migraine Buddy.
  • Impact on Daily Life: Record how migraines affect your ability to work, perform household tasks, engage in social activities, limit a good night’s sleep, among others.

3. Review Your Military Records and Service Treatment Records

  • Nexus for Service-Connection: Identify any events during your military service that could be linked to your migraines, such as exposure to chemicals, traumatic events, or injuries.
  • Deployments and Duties: Be ready to discuss details about your deployments or specific duties that may have contributed to your condition.

4. Prepare for Questions from the DBQ for Headaches

  • Know the DBQ: Familiarize yourself with the types of questions typically asked during a migraine C&P exam, like those found on the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for headaches. Be prepared to discuss the frequency, severity, and nature of your migraines. We created a list of questions you’ll likely get asked above.

5. Make a List of Medications and Treatments

  • Current and Past Treatments: List all medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, that you use or have used for migraines and other conditions. Include therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic care if applicable.
  • Effectiveness and Side Effects: Note how effective each treatment has been and any side effects you’ve experienced.

6. Describe Your Symptoms

  • Symptom Description: Be ready to describe your migraine symptoms in detail, including pain characteristics and associated symptoms.
  • Daily Impact: Think about how you’ll explain the impact of migraines on your daily life, providing specific examples.

7. Arrive Prepared

  • Physical Preparation: Get a good night’s sleep before the exam, eat a light meal, and take your regular medications.
  • Mental Preparation: Be mentally prepared to discuss your migraines extensively. The more accurately you can convey your experience, the better the examiner can understand your condition.

8. Post Exam Follow Up

  • After the exam, if you remember important information that you did not mention, you can send a follow-up note to the VA or ask your VSO (Veteran Service Officer) to help you include this in your claim.

DBQ for Migraines [Download]

The DBQ for headaches, which includes migraines, is a critical document for your C&P exam.

We provide a copy for review and download below to help you prepare effectively.

About the Author

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Brian Reese is one of the top VA disability benefits experts in the world and bestselling author of You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned (Second Edition).

Brian’s frustration with the VA claim process led him to create VA Claims Insider, which provides disabled veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim, faster, even if they’ve already filed, been denied, gave up, or don’t know where to start. 

As the founder of VA Claims Insider and CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, he has helped serve more than 10 million military members and veterans since 2013 through free online educational resources.

He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).

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