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Last updated on November 5, 2020

How the VA Rates Chronic Migraines

December 30, 2019

More veterans experience migraines than the average civilian, which makes understanding how the VA rates chronic migraines a necessary topic for millions of vets. Hint – you need key terms in your C&P exam to get them rated.

The Severity of Migraines

Currently, migraines are the third most prevalent illness in the world, with nearly 25% of households in the U.S. including a person who suffers from this condition. In fact, 12% of the population regularly experiences migraine headaches. Among veterans who served in Iraq, a staggering 36% have been found to be suffering from migraines or showing signs of developing the condition. Also, it has been found that women are significantly more likely to experience migraines, by an almost 3-1 margin over men, and nearly 85% of all chronic migraines are suffered by women.

More than 4 million people have migraines 15 or more days per month, which is the criteria for being considered chronic. Of those suffering, over 90% are unable to work or function as the migraine headache persists. 

Regarding veterans, it’s been found that military deployment increases the chances of migraines occurring. Because migraines also are linked to depression and anxiety, this is an alarming fact concerning those who have served. In fact, from 2004-2012 there was a significant increase in the number of veterans experiencing migraines, which has only been explained by the fact that the number of deployed service-members was higher during that time.

Understanding Migraines

More than a headache, migraines are considered to be a neurological disease. It is typically a severe, throbbing pain occurring on one side of the head (although it can occur on both). Along with the pain, people experiencing an attack may also have distortions to their vision, nausea, dizziness, extreme sensitivity, and numbness or tingling in parts of their bodies. 

A large number of people will also experience a number of symptoms before the pain even occurs. Once the attack has started, it can last between 4 and 72 hours. 

If you suffer from chronic migraines you may also experience depression, anxiety, or problems with your sleep. 

It’s possible for you to develop migraines from a variety of factors. With veterans, the stress of combat, PTSD, or TBI (traumatic brain injury) are all possible causes. 

VA Disability for Chronic Migraines

Migraines are so debilitating that over 20% of those who suffer from chronic migraines have symptoms so severe they are considered disabled. 

If you have experienced migraines since your time of service, you can file a claim in hopes of receiving one of the following disability ratings for compensation from the VA:

  • 50%- If you suffer from frequent, prolonged attacks that are fully prostrating (making you have to lay down), leaving you with the inability to work
  • 30%- Prostrating attacks occur at an average of at least once per month over the course of a few months
  • 10%- prostrating attacks one for every two months
  • 0%- attacks are infrequent

The keyword the VA will be looking for is “prostrating.” According to M-21-2, the VA’s internal adjudication manual, here are some of the key terms the VA will be looking for when reviewing your claim:

  • Prostrating- causes extreme exhaustion, debilitation, incapacitation or powerlessness with an increased inability to engage in regular activities
  • Completely Prostrating- powerlessness or extreme exhaustion with a complete, total inability to engage in regular activities
  • Severe Economic Inadaptability- explains a degree of significant work impairment. It doesn’t mean you are unable to gain gainful employment.
  • Very Frequent– Number of prostrating attacks are less than one month apart

Still, the main word that the VA will be looking for in all of this is “prostrating”. If your paperwork does not include that term the odds of receiving any kind of disability compensation go down significantly.

If you are suffering from chronic migraines to the point you are fully disabled, you may be wondering, “how can I get more than 50% rating for compensation?”

Unfortunately, the VA does not have a higher rating than 50% for migraines that is official. However, in cases where the chronic migraines are extremely debilitating, it may be possible to receive an extra-schedular rating. 

Applying for an Extra-Schedular Rating

It can be extremely difficult to get the VA to consider an extra-schedular rating, and also equally tough to prove and win the higher rating. One of the major reasons for this is that it is very difficult to obtain medical evidence proving the extreme symptoms of chronic migraines. 

This means that Lay Evidence is going to be the most vital aspect of your extra-schedular claim. You will need to focus on collecting as much evidence as possible concerning the frequency and severity of your symptoms and limitations. This evidence should be submitted by anyone who has witnessed your migraine attacks, including family members, work colleagues, and friends. 

The more evidence gathered, the greater your chance of ultimately obtaining the disability rating you do deserve.

Conclusion

It’s been estimated that the vast majority of those who suffer from migraines do not seek medical help. Of those that do, only 4% consult headache and pain specialists.

Meanwhile, millions of veterans regularly experience migraines, one of the most debilitating conditions in the world. Despite the fact that chronic migraines can completely prohibit a person from regularly working, the VA does not have a rating higher than 50% concerning the condition. 

In order to get the benefits you deserve, you will need to file a claim for an extra-schedular rating. If you’d like to get started on your road to receiving benefits for migraines, we would love to help you out. 

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