Attention: Veterans with service-connected neck pain – We understand the seriousness of your situation. Coping with chronic pain throughout the day is no laughing matter. You answered the call of duty with pride and resilience, serving your country and making sacrifices without hesitation. Your exemplary dedication did not go unnoticed by your loved ones, who proudly shared stories of your unwavering commitment. However, dealing with the repercussions of a service-related neck injury was never part of your plan. You never imagined that you would find yourself in a battle for your rightful benefits, facing a denial from the Veteran Affairs for your neck pain claim.
Let’s be clear: this is not about demanding entitlements (although you are indeed entitled to these benefits). It is about the promises made to you when you enlisted, assurances that your country would take care of you – the same country you served with selflessness. We comprehend your struggles firsthand because we are military veterans ourselves. We have successfully assisted countless veterans in obtaining the VA benefits they deserve, and we are ready to extend our help to you as well.
Getting a VA Disability Rating for Neck Pain
When it comes to spinal conditions, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) classifies them into two primary categories: neck and back. Back pain generally pertains to injuries in the lower portion of the spine or the thoracolumbar section. On the other hand, neck pain specifically refers to discomfort originating from the top seven vertebrae of the cervical spine. If neck pain, also known as cervicalgia, is a result of military service, the VA recognizes it as a compensable disability.
To obtain a VA disability rating for neck pain, veterans are required to establish service connection by providing official statements and records as evidence.
In order to qualify for compensation for a neck injury disability, veterans need to provide evidence demonstrating that their neck pain was either caused or worsened by their military service. VA benefits are only available to individuals with chronic neck pain, excluding cases where the issue has healed or resolved over time. However, if a veteran had a pre-existing neck condition that was aggravated by an event or continuous stressors during their time in service, they may still be eligible for VA benefits.
Just like with most other conditions, establishing service connection for a neck injury requires three essential pieces of evidence. Veterans must provide a current diagnosis of their neck condition, a documented account of an in-service event related to the condition, and a medical nexus that establishes a connection between the current diagnosis and the in-service event or underlying cause.
What If I Don’t Have a Diagnosis Related to Neck Pain?
Unlike many other disabilities recognized by the VA, establishing service connection for neck pain does not always require a current diagnosis. A significant ruling by a Federal Circuit court in April 2018 determined that the VA can grant disability benefits for undiagnosed pain if it can be linked to an injury, symptom, or an event that occurred during military service. This means that an official medical opinion is not always necessary.
While this ruling can be beneficial for some veterans, it also means that more evidence is required to establish a connection between the pain and the in-service event. In cases where there is no formal diagnosis, veterans still need to demonstrate to the VA that there is a clear link. This process begins by submitting evidence that showcases the presence of chronic neck pain. It is crucial for veterans to provide proof of enduring or recurring issues in order to be considered for VA disability benefits.
To further establish service connection, veterans can submit additional evidence demonstrating how their neck pain significantly impacts their daily life. Lay statements, which can come from family members or the veterans themselves, provide valuable insights into how the disability affects their everyday activities. Buddy statements, on the other hand, come from fellow veterans who may have served alongside the claimant and can offer similar information.
Military records that document activities or incidents that may have contributed to the neck pain can also serve as vital evidence to establish the relationship between the condition and military service. The key aspect is for the veteran to demonstrate that the pain is not merely subjective. Clear evidence is needed to show that the pain causes functional impairment or loss, resulting in the veteran’s reduced strength and endurance compared to their pre-condition state.
VA Neck Pain Rating Criteria and Percentages
The evaluation of most neck pain conditions by the VA is based on the guidelines outlined in 38 CFR § 4.71a, known as the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine. This code encompasses various cervical conditions, including the following examples:
- Diagnostic Code 5237: Cervical Strain – Refers to a torn tendon or muscle in the neck.
- Diagnostic Code 5238: Cervical Spine Stenosis – Involves the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck due to various causes.
- Diagnostic Code 5242: Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine – Relates to pain resulting from the degeneration of the cervical vertebrae.
The severity of neck pain is primarily evaluated based on range of motion measurements. Currently, the VA rates the severity of neck pain using the following criteria:
- 0% rating – When forward flexion of the cervical spine is over 40 degrees.
- 10% rating – When forward flexion of the cervical spine is over 30 degrees but not exceeding 40 degrees, or when there is a combined range of motion of the cervical spine above 170 degrees without causing abnormal spine contour or abnormal gait.
- 20% rating – When forward flexion of the cervical spine is over 15 degrees but not exceeding 30 degrees, or when there is a combined range of motion of the cervical spine above 170 degrees.
- 30% rating – When forward flexion of the cervical spine is equal to or less than 15 degrees, or when there is favorable ankylosis (stiffness) of the entire cervical spine that does not significantly hinder daily activities.
- 40% rating – When there is unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine, resulting in significant impairment of daily activities.
- 50% rating – NOT APPLICABLE to the cervical spine; this rating is only assigned to individuals with unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine.
- 100% rating – When there is unfavorable ankylosis of the ENTIRE spine, causing substantial limitations in daily activities.
Common Neck Injuries Associated with VA Ratings
While there are some nuances, neck injuries are certainly recognized by the VA if the right criteria are met. But as we’ve said before, having an attorney involved in the process can increase someone’s chances of ultimately being approved for benefits.
There are several types of neck conditions that can impact veterans and their eligibility for VA benefits. Disc injuries, such as herniated discs, can cause weakness, pain, and numbness by affecting the discs between the vertebrae in the spine. Nerve pinches occur when excessive pressure is applied to a nerve, resulting in muscle weakness, sharp pain, and numbness due to the surrounding muscles, bones, and tendons. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate the pain associated with this condition.
Whiplash is another common neck injury that arises from forceful back and forth motion, leading to persistent pain. The sudden and intense movement can traumatize the muscles and tendons in the neck, resulting in cervical strain. Repetitive strains can cause aching, cramping, pain, throbbing, and tingling in the upper back. Symptoms tend to worsen over time and are often caused by repetitive actions.
Spinal cord injuries are severe and can result in partial or complete loss of motion or sensation in the body. While the spinal cord is typically damaged but still intact, gunshot wounds, serious falls, and car accidents can sever or traumatize the spinal cord entirely. Degenerative disc diseases occur when the spinal discs gradually break down over time, leading to pain in the back, arms, neck, and legs. These conditions can be diagnosed by medical professionals.
Intervertebral disc diseases, similar to degenerative disc disease, affect the discs between the vertebrae and can cause pain in various areas of the body, including the back, arms, neck, and legs. Foraminal stenosis is a specific type of spinal stenosis where the narrowing occurs in the foramen, which is the openings between the bones in the spine that house the discs.
Getting Approved for Neck Injury Disability from the VA
If you have a neck injury due to a service connection or service-connected injury, don’t hesitate to seek help getting the VA benefits you deserve. Many veterans are just one call away from getting on the path of life-saving benefits.