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December 1, 2021

VA Disability Rating for Degenerative Disc Disease Explained (The Insider’s Guide)

In this post, we will be exploring how to get a VA Disability Rating for Degenerative Disc Disease.

I’ll also reveal 3 new insider tips to increase your VA Rating for Degenerate Disc Disease, even if you’ve already filed or been denied.

So, let’s take a minute to explore the law regarding the symptoms and impairment required to warrant a VA rating for Degenerative Disc Disease.

Many veterans suffer from various back conditions due to their military service to include Degenerative Disc Disease.

A veteran’s Degenerative Disc Disease VA disability can be rated at 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, or 100%.

Your final VA rating for Degenerative Disc Disease depends upon the Frequency, Severity, and Duration of symptoms, including Painful Motion, Limitation of Range of Motion (ROM), and Functional Loss or Impairment.

In addition, numerous research studies have shown a link between Degenerative Disc Disease and Radiculopathy; there is a strong bidirectional relationship where each disorder adversely influences the other one.

Furthermore, Depression is one of the most common comorbidities in veterans with chronic low back pain.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease in Veterans?

Degenerative Disc Disease in Veterans

Degenerative Disc Disease is a painful spinal disorder caused by the steady degeneration of the intervertebral discs, which are the pads that cushion the bones in the vertebrae of your spine.

With age or trauma, the intervertebral discs lose their water content, leaving the discs more prone to tearing or damage.

Water loss and disc damage gradually leads to thinner and weaker discs that cannot effectively cushion the vertebrae.

Thinner and weaker discs often lead to back pain, muscle weakness, and pinched nerves.

Degenerative Disc Disease is one of the most common causes of low back (lumbar), mid back (thoracic), and neck pain (cervical) in veterans.

In more severe cases, Degenerative Disc Disease can cause weakness, numbness, and shooting or throbbing pain in the arms or legs, which is a painful condition knows as Radiculopathy.  

Common Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease in Veterans

Common Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease in Veterans

A few of the risk factors for Degenerative Disc Disease include your age, prior back injuries, car accidents, being overweight or obese, a sedentary lifestyle, or other forms of bodily trauma.

Generally, some of the more common symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease include:

  • Pain that worsens when sitting (while seated, the discs of the lower back have 3x more load on them than when standing).
  • Pain that worsens when standing, bending, lifting, or twisting.
  • Feeling better while walking or even running than while sitting or standing for long periods of time.
  • Feeling better by changing positions often or lying down.
  • Periods of severe pain that come and go. These can last from a few days to a few months before getting better. They can range from dull nagging pain to severe disabling (sharp or throbbing) pain.
  • Pain in the low back (lumbar), mid back (thoracic), or neck (cervical), depending on where the affected disc is, possibly even radiating to the legs, arms, and hands (Radiculopathy).
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in the extremities.

VA Disability Rating for Degenerative Disc Disease: Basic Eligibility Criteria

VA Disability for Degenerative Disc Disease

To be eligible for a Degenerative Disc Disease VA rating, a veteran must meet three (3) criteria by law:

  • #1. Medical diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease in a medical record (Service Treatment Records, VA medical records, or private medical records)
  • #2. Your Degenerative Disc Disease was caused or made worse by your active-duty military service OR by another service connected disability for secondary service connection (“Nexus” for service connection)
  • #3. Persistent and recurring symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease (“Severity of Symptoms”)

If you think you have a back condition such as Degenerative Disc Disease, but don’t have a medical diagnosis, pick-up the phone and call the VA mental health facility nearest you to make an appointment right away!

If you’re trying to increase your VA disability rating for Degenerative Disc Disease, you need to prove to the VA that your symptoms are now worse and warrant a higher rating by law.

The #1 best way to increase your VA rating for Degenerative Disc Disease is to get X-Rays so you have objective medical evidence to show the degradation of your discs over time.

(1) Limitation of Range of Motion and (2) Pain are the two most common factors that determine your final VA rating for back conditions such as Degenerative Disc Disease.

What is the Degenerative Disc Disease VA Rating?

Degenerative Disc Disease VA Rating

Yes, Degenerative Disc Disease is a VA disability and can be rated at 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, or 100% depending upon the Frequency, Severity, and Duration of your symptoms.

Degenerative Disc Disease is a spinal disorder most often rated under CFR Title 38, Part 4, VA Schedule of Ratings, Diagnostic Code 5242, Degenerative Arthritis, Degenerative Disc Disease Other Than Intervertebral Disc Syndrome.

VA Rating for Degenerative Disc Disease – 10% to 100%

DC 5242, Degenerative Arthritis, Degenerative Disc Disease Other Than Intervertebral Disc SyndromeVA Rating
Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine100%
Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine50%
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 spine40%
Forward flexion of the cervical spine 15 degrees or less; or favorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine30%
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 kyphosis20%
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 height10%
Evaluate intervertebral disc syndrome (preoperatively or postoperatively) either under the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine or under the Formula for Rating Intervertebral Disc Syndrome Based on Incapacitating Episodes, whichever method results in the higher evaluation when all disabilities are combined under §4.25.

Common VA Secondary Conditions to Degenerative Disc Disease

VA Secondary Conditions to Degenerative Disc Disease

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): VA Disability for Degenerative Disc Disease

What is the “Painful Motion” Principle?

The painful motion principle means that regardless of range of motion, if pain is present, the claimant should at least be awarded the minimum level of disability for that condition.

For example, let’s say you have full range of motion for your Degenerative Disc Disease, but you have pain during movement, you should be awarded the minimum level of disability for the condition, which is 10%.

Full definition of Painful Motion

With any form of arthritis, painful motion is an important factor of disability, the facial expression, wincing, etc., on pressure or manipulation, should be carefully noted and definitely related to affected joints.

Muscle spasm will greatly assist the identification.

Sciatic neuritis is not uncommonly caused by arthritis of the spine.

The intent of the schedule is to recognize painful motion with joint or periarticular pathology as productive of disability.

It is the intention to recognize painful, unstable, or malaligned joints, due to healed injury, as entitled to at least the minimum compensable rating for the joint.

Crepitation either in the soft tissues such as the tendons or ligaments, or crepitation within the joint structures should be noted carefully as points of contact which are diseased.

Flexion elicits such manifestations.

The joints involved should be tested for pain on both active and passive motion, in weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing and, if possible, with the range of the opposite undamaged joint.

What is “Limitation of Range of Motion” for VA Degenerative Disc Disease?

Cervical Spine Limitation of Range of Motion Exam

The limitation of range of motion principle is arguably the most important principle that applies to VA disability ratings for back pain and Degenerative Disc Disease.

Why?

Because the general rating formula for diseases and injuries of the spine talk about “flexion,” which is the act of flexing or bending.

VA Ratings for Back Range of Motion Principles

Any limitation of Range of Motion (ROM) should be measured with a Goniometer by the medical professional at your VA C&P Exam for Back Pain.

You must be open, honest, and truthful at your C&P exam for Degenerative Disc Disease, and make sure to STOP the C&P examiner as soon as you feel any discomfort or pain.

If you can’t move at all without discomfort or pain, make sure to let the examiner know that.

Accurate Measurement of Limitation of Range of Motion

Accurate measurement of the length of stumps, excursion of joints, dimensions, and location of scars with respect to landmarks, should be insisted on.

The use of a goniometer in the measurement of limitation of motion is indispensable in examinations conducted within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A Goniometer is used to measure Limitation of Range of Motions at VA CP Exams 1

Muscle atrophy must also be accurately measured and reported.

You’ll also see the term “Unfavorable Ankylosis,” which is a condition in which the entire cervical spine, the entire thoracolumbar spine, or the entire spine is fixed in flexion or extension, and the ankylosis results in one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty walking because of a limited line of vision
  • Restricted opening of the mouth and chewing
  • Breathing limited to diaphragmatic respiration
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms due to pressure of the coastal margin on the abdomen
  • Dyspnea or dysphagia
  • Alantoaxial or cervical subluxation or dislocation
  • Neurologic symptoms due to nerve root stretching

What is “Functional Loss” in a VA disability claim for Degenerative Disc Disease ?

VA disability ratings for Degenerative Disc Disease also depend upon “Functional Loss,” which means impairment of spine function as determined by range of motion as reported in the physical examination and additional loss of range of motion after repetitive use caused by the following factors:

  • #1. Pain
  • #2. Fatigue
  • #3. Weakness
  • #4. Lack of endurance
  • #5. Incoordination

Functional Loss Full Definition

VA disability of the musculoskeletal system is primarily the inability, due to damage or infection in parts of the system, to perform the normal working movements of the body with normal excursion, strength, speed, coordination and endurance.

It is essential that the examination on which ratings are based adequately portray the anatomical damage, and the functional loss, with respect to all these elements.

The functional loss may be due to absence of part, or all, of the necessary bones, joints and muscles, or associated structures, or to deformity, adhesions, defective innervation, or other pathology, or it may be due to pain, supported by adequate pathology and evidenced by the visible behavior of the claimant undertaking the motion.

Weakness is as important as limitation of motion, and a part which becomes painful on use must be regarded as seriously disabled.

A little used part of the musculoskeletal system may be expected to show evidence of disuse, either through atrophy, the condition of the skin, absence of normal callosity or the like.

Do You Deserve a Higher VA Disability Rating?

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About the Author

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Founder & CEO

Brian Reese is VA benefits expert, author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned, and founder of VA Claims Insider – “The Most Trusted Name in Education-Based Resources for Veterans.”

His frustration with the 8-step VA disability claims process led him to create “VA Claims Insider,” which provides U.S. military veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned for successfully submitting or re-submitting a winning VA disability compensation claim.

Brian is also the CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, which is the world’s largest free searchable database for all things related to DoD disability and VA disability claims and has served more than 4,600,000 military members and veterans since its founding in 2013.

His eBook, the “9 Secrets Strategies for Winning Your VA Disability Claim” has been downloaded more than 300,000 times in the past three years and is the #1 rated free VA disability claims guide for veterans.

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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