No, you can’t get VA disability for obesity via direct service connection as there is no separate VA rating for obesity under the law.
However, it is still possible to service connect obesity even though it does not have its own disability rating.
For example, a veteran can receive a VA rating based on symptoms of obesity that cause functional impairment in another service connected disability or for other conditions that are linked secondary to obesity via principles of aggravation.
Okay, let’s explore how to get a service connected for obesity along with examples.
- What is Obesity for VA Disability?
- What Causes Obesity in Veterans?
- What is the Obesity VA Rating?
- How Do I Get VA Disability for Obesity?
- Examples of How the VA Evaluates Obesity for VA Disability
- Explanation of Obesity as an “Interim Link” for Service Connection
- What VA Disabilities are Caused or Made Worse by Obesity?
- About the Author
What is Obesity for VA Disability?
Obesity is a medical condition characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat.
It is typically defined and measured by the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a ratio of a person’s weight in kilograms to the square of their height in meters.
A BMI of 30 or higher is generally considered indicative of obesity.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
- Obesity: BMI of 30 or higher
Obesity Classifications for VA Rating Purposes
- Class 1: BMI of 30 to 34.9
- Class 2: BMI of 35 to 39.9
- Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher, often referred to as “severe” or “morbid” obesity.
What Causes Obesity in Veterans?
Obesity often results from a combination of causes and contributing factors, including:
- Genetics: Affecting how the body processes food into energy and how fat is stored.
- Lifestyle Choices: Such as unhealthy diet, overeating, lack of physical activity, and inadequate sleep.
- Environmental Factors: Including lack of access to healthy foods, high-calorie fast food, and limited safe spaces for physical activity.
- Medical Conditions: Certain diseases and numerous medications can contribute to obesity.
- Psychological Factors: Emotional factors like stress and certain mental health conditions from military service can lead to overeating and obesity.
What is the Obesity VA Rating?
The VA does not have a specific disability rating for obesity itself.
However, obesity can contribute to or exacerbate other medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, and more.
Veterans may be eligible for disability benefits if they can establish a connection between their obesity and other service-connected conditions.
In other words, if obesity is causing or worsening a service-connected condition, the VA may consider that impact when determining a disability rating for the underlying condition.
How Do I Get VA Disability for Obesity?
There are three ways to get Obesity service connected for VA disability benefits:
- #1. Obesity can be service connected based on symptoms of obesity that cause “functional impairment” in another service connected disability that is eligible for a VA rating. For example, your service connected knee condition was made worse by obesity. The knee condition is eligible for a higher rating because of your obesity.
- #2. Obesity can be service connected on the basis of “aggravation” under 38 CFR 3.310(b). For example, aggravation of nonservice-connected disabilities. Any increase in severity of a nonservice-connected disease or injury that is proximately due to or the result of a service-connected disease or injury, and not due to the natural progress of the nonservice-connected disease, will be service connected.
- #3. Obesity may be an “intermediate step” between a service connected disability and a current disability that may be service connected on a secondary basis under 38 CFR 3.310(a). For example, your obstructive sleep apnea can be service connected secondary to PTSD with obesity as an “interim” link. You’ll need a Nexus Letter in order to connect a secondary condition due to weight gain or obesity.
Examples of How the VA Evaluates Obesity for VA Disability
Service Connected VA Disability Made Worse by Obesity Example:
Let’s say a veteran served in the military and developed knee problems during their service due to the physical demands of their job. After leaving the military, this veteran gained a significant amount of weight and became obese. As a result of their obesity, the additional stress on their knees worsened the knee condition, causing increased pain and limitations in mobility (functional impairment). In this case, the veteran could file a claim with the VA for disability benefits related to their knee problems. While obesity itself does not have a separate disability rating, the VA may consider the impact of obesity on the knee condition. The veteran would need to provide medical evidence and documentation linking their obesity to the worsening of their knee condition. If the VA determines that the obesity contributed to or aggravated the knee problem, they may consider that when assigning a disability rating for the knee condition. The specific disability rating would depend on the severity of the knee problems and how much they are attributed to the service-connected condition versus other factors like obesity.
Extra-Schedular Evaluation for Obesity Example:
A Veteran is SC for rheumatoid arthritis with a 40-percent evaluation and is shown to be unable to exercise due to the debilitating nature of the disease. Competent medical evidence shows that the Veteran developed obesity as a result of the inability to exercise and the obesity results in additional pain, weakness, and instability of the joints that produces functional loss beyond that shown to solely result from the rheumatoid arthritis. The evidence does not support a higher schedular evaluation under 38 CFR 4.71a, DC 5002 or a higher evaluation based on separate evaluation of the affected joints. In view of the record showing that obesity results from the SC rheumatoid arthritis and produces impairment beyond that contemplated by the regular rating criteria, a determination should be rendered as to whether referral for consideration of an extra-schedular evaluation under 38 CFR 3.321(b)(1) is warranted.
Intermediate Step for Service Connection of Obesity Example:
The Veteran’s SC psoriasis is manifested by constant flare-ups that require near continuous treatment with Prednisone for management. The near continuous use of Prednisone on a long-term basis resulted in obesity, which was medically shown to lead to the development of coronary artery disease (CAD). Based on the evidence, the obesity is shown to be an intermediate step between the SC psoriasis and CAD, which satisfies the proximate cause requirement under 38 CFR 3.310(a) to establish SC for CAD on a secondary basis. Reference: For more information on extra-schedular evaluations, see M21-1, Part V, Subpart ii, 3.D.3.
Explanation of Obesity as an “Interim Link” for Service Connection
To determine whether obesity is an intermediate step between an SC disability and the development of a current disability that may be SC on a secondary basis, including by aggravation, the following criteria must all be satisfied:
- The SC disability must have caused the Veteran to become obese
- The obesity as a result of the SC disability must have been a substantial factor in causing the claimed disability, or aggravating the claimed disability, and
- The claimed disability would not have occurred but for the obesity caused or aggravated by the SC disability
Obesity as an intermediate step for secondary SC is only reasonably raised when there is evidence in the record that draws an association or suggests a relationship between the Veteran’s obesity, or weight gain resulting in obesity, and an SC disability.
Incidental references to a Veteran’s weight or weight gain are not sufficient to reasonably raise the issue.
For more information on identifying reasonably raised claims for SC for obesity, see Garner v. Tran, 33 Vet.App. 241 (2021).
Example: A Veteran claims secondary SC for hypertension asserting that inability to exercise from SC back symptoms caused obesity leading to hypertension. To grant SC, an adjudicator would have to resolve the following issues: (1) whether the SC back disability caused the Veteran to become obese; (2) if so, whether the obesity as a result of the SC disability was a substantial factor in causing hypertension; and (3) whether the hypertension would not have occurred but for obesity cause by the SC back disability. If these questions are answered in the affirmative, the hypertension may be SC on a secondary basis.
- Considering SC for obesity, see VAOPGCPREC 1-2017
- Considering SC based on aggravation of obesity, see Walsh v. Wilkie, 32 Vet.App. 300 (2020), and
- Extra-schedular consideration, see M21-1, Part V, Subpart ii, 3.D.3.
What VA Disabilities are Caused or Made Worse by Obesity?
Obesity is a complex health issue that can cause or exacerbate a wide range of medical conditions. Here are some of the key health problems that are often associated with obesity:
Weight gain and obesity can contribute to or exacerbate various medical conditions and health problems.
Here is a list of 20 medical conditions that can be caused or made worse by weight gain and obesity:
- Type 2 Diabetes: Obesity is a significant risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Excess weight can increase blood pressure and the risk of hypertension.
- Heart Disease: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, including coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
- Stroke: Obesity can contribute to the formation of blood clots and increase the risk of stroke.
- Sleep Apnea: Excess weight can lead to obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep.
- Joint Problems: Obesity puts extra stress on joints, leading to conditions like osteoarthritis and joint pain.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is often associated with obesity.
- Kidney Disease: Obesity is a risk factor for kidney disease, including chronic kidney disease.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Obesity can worsen GERD symptoms and increase the risk of complications.
- Certain Cancers: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer.
- Gallbladder Disease: Obesity can increase the risk of gallstones and gallbladder disease.
- Respiratory Problems: Obesity can lead to reduced lung function and an increased risk of conditions like asthma and bronchitis.
- Mental Health Issues: Obesity can contribute to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Obesity is often associated with PCOS in women.
- Infertility: Obesity can lead to hormonal imbalances that affect fertility.
- Metabolic Syndrome: Obesity is a key component of metabolic syndrome, which includes factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Gout: Obesity is a risk factor for gout, a painful joint condition caused by the buildup of uric acid.
- Skin Issues: Obesity can lead to skin problems, including skin infections and rashes.
- Venous Stasis: Obesity can increase the risk of venous stasis, which is a condition where blood pools in the legs, leading to swelling and skin changes.
- Erectile Dysfunction: Obesity can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men.
It’s important to note that the presence of obesity doesn’t guarantee these conditions will occur, but it significantly increases the risk.
Managing obesity through lifestyle changes, medical interventions, and in some cases, surgery, can help reduce these risks and improve overall health.
About the Author
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).