Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract and can lead to painful, debilitating symptoms. Veterans with ulcerative colitis can deal with a whole host of symptoms that can make daily life difficult. This guide will help you understand how the VA rates ulcerative colitis so you can get the VA rating and benefits you earned.
Here’s what you need to know about getting an ulcerative colitis VA rating.
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1. Understanding Ulcerative Colitis Helps Win Your VA Claim
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the colon and rectum. In some cases, the condition can also cause life-threatening complications.
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Rectal pain and bleeding
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody diarrhea
- Feeling the urge to have a bowel movement but unable to do so
Most cases of ulcerative colitis are mild to moderate. There may be periods where you have little to no symptoms at all.
However, ulcerative colitis can lead to other complications, including:
- Perforated colon
- Colon cancer
- Bone loss
- Inflammation or joint pain
- Increased risk of blood clots
It’s crucial to get treated if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, no matter their severity.
There is no cure, but being seen and treated for ulcerative colitis can help you get back to living a more normal life. Filing a VA claim for ulcerative colitis can allow you access to VA healthcare to manage your symptoms.
2. Methods Doctors Use to Diagnose Veterans with Ulcerative Colitis
To diagnose the condition for an ulcerative colitis VA rating, your doctor will start by looking at your entire medical history. You may be referred to a gastroenterologist, a doctor specializing in digestive disorders.
Your doctor will likely ask you questions about your symptoms and when they started. They’ll also want to know if you have any family history of inflammatory bowel disease or other conditions that might be similar to ulcerative colitis.
The definitive way to diagnose ulcerative colitis is by taking a tissue sample from your colon or a biopsy.
Your doctor may rule out other conditions before performing a biopsy with blood and stool testing. To determine the severity of any inflammation, they may also request an abdominal X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan.
Most biopsies are performed with a colonoscopy (or a flexible sigmoidoscopy).
What causes ulcerative colitis?
The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but it’s considered an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue in your colon by mistake. The condition can also develop through exposure to bacterial infections, viral injections, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Diet and stress don’t cause this condition but can worsen its symptoms. Keeping a food diary can help you understand what specific foods aggravate your ulcerative colitis.
It’s also believed that there may be a genetic component, as ulcerative colitis tends to run in families. If you have a family member with ulcerative colitis, you’re more likely to develop the condition yourself.
The key here is that the VA will avoid granting service connection for most genetic disorders, so pointing to specific causes or exposure during your time in service will help you prove service connection to win your ulcerative colitis VA claim.
3. How to Prove Service Connection for Ulcerative Colitis
The first step in getting an ulcerative colitis VA rating is proving service connection. Service connection means that your ulcerative colitis is related to your time in service. You’ll need to show that your ulcerative colitis was caused or aggravated by your time in service.
To be granted an ulcerative colitis VA rating, you need three things:
- A current medical diagnosis of ulcerative colitis
- An in-service event or injury that caused or aggravated your ulcerative colitis
- A link (or Nexus) between your military service and your ulcerative colitis (Your conditions must be at least as likely as not caused by your military service)
You can prove a connection with medical records, lay evidence (testimony from friends or family members), or a Nexus letter from a doctor linking your ulcerative colitis to an event or injury during your time in service.
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You have the best chance of proving direct service connection if you were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis while serving or within one year of leaving the military. It will also strengthen your claim if you can prove that you had symptoms but went undiagnosed (or were misdiagnosed). Your medical records are the best place to start; make sure you submit all relevant medical evidence with your claim.
If you can’t prove direct service connection, ulcerative colitis is also commonly rated as a secondary service-connected condition. This means that it’s not directly related to your service but is a result of another service-connected condition. One typical example is Ulcerative colitis secondary to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
4. How the VA Assigns a VA Rating for Ulcerative Colitis
The VA assigns a VA rating for Ulcerative colitis from 10% to 100% by considering the severity of your symptoms and how they impact your work and daily life.
The VA uses Diagnostic Code 7323 to rate ulcerative colitis. The VA assigns a diagnostic code to every service-connected condition. There are four separate VA disability ratings you could be granted for ulcerative colitis.
100% VA Disability Rating for Ulcerative Colitis
Your symptoms must be pronounced to be assigned a 100% VA rating for ulcerative colitis. Symptoms could include:
- General debility
- Other serious complications (for example, liver abscess)
60% VA Disability Rating for Ulcerative Colitis
Your symptoms must be severe to be assigned a 60% VA rating for ulcerative colitis. Symptoms could include:
- Multiple attacks each year
The VA may assign you a 60% rating if your health is only fair during remission when you aren’t experiencing symptoms.
This is the first rating level with a specific symptom assigned: malnutrition. If you’re experiencing malnutrition (typically shown by weight loss or other testing), this raises you to the 60% rating level.
30% VA Disability Rating for Ulcerative Colitis
Your symptoms must be moderately severe at the 30% VA rating for ulcerative colitis. You have frequent exacerbations.
10% VA Disability Rating for Ulcerative Colitis
Your symptoms must be moderate at the 10% VA rating for ulcerative colitis. You have infrequent exacerbations.
Note that the difference between a 10% and 30% VA rating is whether or not your exacerbations (or flare-ups) are frequent. There is no specific VA guidance on the difference in what defines frequent or infrequent. However, based on previous VA claims, the VA generally considers your symptoms frequent if you have flare-ups at least once a month or more.
5. Making the Most of the Intestinal Conditions Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for Ulcerative Colitis
The Intestinal Conditions DBQ is a form used by the VA to gather all of your evidence in one place and make a rating decision.
Since the VA will make a decision on your claim largely based on the information in this form, being accurate and understanding the rating criteria will help you maximize your chances of earning a higher VA rating for ulcerative colitis.
The questions in the DBQ focus on the following:
- Your medical history
- Current medications taken for your ulcerative colitis
- If you’ve had surgical treatment
- Your symptoms
- How often you have episodes, attacks, or exacerbations of bowel disturbance each year
- How much weight you’ve lost
- If you’re experiencing malnutrition
- If you have tumors and any treatment for those tumors
- Diagnostic test results
- How your ulcerative colitis impacts your ability to work
Getting help from a doctor or someone experienced with filling out DBQs when applying for benefits is essential, as they can be complicated. During your Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam, the doctor can also fill out this form.
If you think you may be eligible for a VA rating for ulcerative colitis, learn how to file a fully developed claim and get the benefits you deserve. VA disability benefits can help a veteran like you with chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis cover the costs of medical care while you focus on your health.
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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.