Many veterans have scoliosis, a condition that can cause pain and mobility problems. You may be eligible for a scoliosis VA rating if you have scoliosis and are a veteran.
For veterans, scoliosis can prevent you from being as active as you’d like. The negative impact on your ability to do what you want can further impact your mental health. If you’re a veteran with scoliosis and looking to file for VA benefits, this guide will show you how to get started.
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What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a medical condition in which the spine curves or twists to the side. The spine is supposed to be straight, so it can cause pain and other problems when it curves.
Symptoms of scoliosis include:
- Uneven shoulders
- Uneven posture
- One shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
- A raised hip
- Uneven rib cage
- Limited range of motion
- Back pain
- Difficulty breathing
The curvature of the spine can cause pain, muscle weakness, and problems with balance. It can also make it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, scoliosis can lead to paralysis. Scoliosis is caused in veterans by things like:
- Back injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Diseases that affect the spine
When it comes to scoliosis, the type of scoliosis you have will dictate how the VA handles your claim. Congenital scoliosis is scoliosis that is present at birth. Neuromuscular scoliosis is caused by another condition, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Degenerative scoliosis develops later in life, usually due to wear and tear on the spine. Many veterans will be dealing with degenerative scoliosis as they experienced an in-service event or injury that caused or aggravated their scoliosis.
You can earn VA disability for scoliosis for congenital or neuromuscular scoliosis. However, you must show that your service worsened your condition. If claiming degenerative scoliosis, you’ll likely have to show that your service caused your scoliosis in the first place.
Scoliosis is just one condition that can cause back pain. No matter what type of injury you’re dealing with, you can learn more by reading our definitive guide to back pain.
How is scoliosis diagnosed?
Scoliosis is diagnosed with a physical examination and imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRIs. Scoliosis can get worse over time or with additional injury, so making sure that your tests are up-to-date is important.
Scoliosis can’t be cured, but there are treatments available that can help to improve the symptoms. Getting your scoliosis treated now is critical to improving your quality of life.
How to get a VA Disability Rating for Scoliosis
To earn a scoliosis VA rating, you need three things:
- A current medical diagnosis for scoliosis
- An in-service event or injury that caused or aggravated your scoliosis
- A link (or nexus) between your military service and your scoliosis (Your scoliosis must be at least as likely as not caused by your military service)
The first step to getting a VA disability rating for scoliosis is to have a doctor examine you and confirm that you have scoliosis. The doctor will also need to provide documentation of your scoliosis, with either X-Rays or MRIs.
You’ll need to provide evidence to demonstrate that your scoliosis was caused by serving in the military. This could be a written statement discussing the accident or injury, but if you can show official military records of the incident the VA values this evidence even more than a personal statement alone.
When it comes to getting a VA rating for scoliosis, a nexus letter written by a qualified medical professional is highly recommended to improve your chances of the VA granting service connection. Looking for a Nexus Letter to help establish service connection for your scoliosis?
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Direct Service Connection for Scoliosis
If you can show that your active duty military service directly led to your scoliosis, you can pursue direct service connection. An example of scoliosis caused by service could be if you were in a parachuting accident while on active duty, leading to scoliosis. You’ll want to ensure that you have evidence of this accident and your trips to the doctor afterward.
If you have documentation for back pain in your military medical records, your pathway to service connection will be a lot easier.
What if I had scoliosis before joining the military?
Even if you had scoliosis before service, you might still be eligible for disability benefits if your military service worsened your condition. You’ll have to provide evidence that something happened while serving that aggravated the condition and worsened it.
Secondary Service Connection for Scoliosis
Many veterans will service connect their back through secondary service connection. Your back and spine are the foundation for your entire body. If you’re experiencing another service-connected condition, this could eventually lead to scoliosis.
Examples of conditions that could lead to scoliosis include:
- Spine injuries
- Cerebral palsy and other congenital disabilities
- Neurological disorders
- Muscular disorders
How The VA Assigns a Scoliosis VA Rating
In most cases, the VA will assign you a disability rating for your scoliosis based on your range of motion limitations. The VA does not have a separate rating system just for the severity of your scoliosis. Instead, the VA will look at how your scoliosis affects your spine and give you a disability rating for your spine.
Range of motion limitations for VA scoliosis ratings range from 10% to 100%:
- 10% – Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 60 degrees (but not greater than 85 degrees); or forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 30 degrees (but not greater than 40 degrees); or combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 120 degrees (but not greater than 235 degrees); or combined range of motion of the cervical spine greater than 170 degrees (but not greater than 335 degrees); or muscle spasm, guarding, or localized tenderness not resulting in abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour; or, vertebral body fracture with loss of 50 percent or more of the height
- 20% – Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 60 degrees; or forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 15 degrees (but not greater than 30 degrees); or the combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than 120 degrees; or the combined range of motion of the cervical spine not greater than 170 degrees; or muscle spasm or guarding severe enough to result in an abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour such as scoliosis, reversed lordosis, or abnormal kyphosis
- 30% – Forward flexion of the cervical spine 15 degrees or less; or favorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine
- 40% – Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine; or forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine 30 degrees or less; or favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine
- 50% – Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine
- 100% – Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine
If your scoliosis leads to compression of the spine or irritation of a nearby nerve root, you may experience incapacitating episodes in addition to limiting your range of motion. In this instance, you could also be rated for intervertebral disc disease syndrome (IVDS).
IVDS is rated based on “incapacitating episodes” from 10% to 60%. An incapacitating episode is when a veteran is prescribed bed rest by their doctor. Here is how the VA rates those episodes if caused by scoliosis:
- 10% – You’ve experienced at least one week of incapacitating episodes in the past year.
- 20% – You’ve experienced at least two weeks of incapacitating episodes in the past year.
- 40% – You’ve experienced at least four weeks of incapacitating episodes in the past year.
- 60% – You’ve experienced at least six weeks of incapacitating episodes in the past year.
The VA will assign you a rating for your scoliosis based on the formulas above and use the criteria that will grant you the highest rating.
Your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam for Scoliosis
When you attend your C&P exam, the doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your scoliosis. The examiner will also look at your medical records for evidence of scoliosis and the severity of your condition.
They will discuss your symptoms with you, look at your imaging, and may have you show your current range of motion using a tool called a goniometer.
Your doctor will complete a Disability Benefits Questionnaire for your back at your exam. Here’s an example of the form that will be completed.
The VA examiner is supposed to consider flare-ups when assigning you a VA rating. You must be open and honest with your examiner during the C&P exam. If you’re more limited during flare-ups than you currently are at the exam, discuss this with your examiner. For instance, if there are times when you can only flex your spine by 15 degrees, but currently, you can go farther than that, be honest about this. The VA may award you a higher scoliosis VA rating.
Read our top tips on preparing for a C&P exam with range of motion exercises.
Conditions Secondary to Scoliosis
Nerve conditions can be rated separately from spinal conditions. Once you’re service-connected for your scoliosis, your condition could cause other disabilities. These could include:
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative arthritis
Ready to File for a Scoliosis VA Rating?
Now that you know how to get a scoliosis VA rating, it’s time to start the process.
There are a few ways to file for VA disability for scoliosis to get the compensation and care you deserve. You can file online, mail-in forms, or file in person at your local regional VA office.
If you’d like more help filing for a scoliosis VA rating, reach out to our team of expert VA coaches. Our process makes filing a VA disability claim easy and provides the support needed to build a fully-developed claim (FDC)—and get the rating you deserve FAST.
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Most veterans are underrated for their disabilities and therefore not getting the compensation they’re due. At VA Claims Insider, we help you understand and take control of the claims process, so you can get the rating and compensation you’re owed by law.
Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully-developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating FAST! If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation YOU DESERVE!
Trisha Penrod is a former active-duty Air Force officer. As an Intelligence Officer, she led teams of analysts to apply advanced analytic skills to identify, assess, and report potential threats to U.S. forces.
Trisha attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds an MBA from Webster University. After receiving an honorable discharge in 2018, Trisha worked as a growth marketer and utilizes her analytic skills to help others accomplish their business goals.