You may have heard stories about the long wait times, hearings, and seemingly endless documentation that often can be associated with winning a disability claim through the U.S. Veterans Administration. If you’re asking yourself which VA disability claims are easiest to win, the answer will always be that the claim with the strongest medical evidence and tightest service connection ultimately will be the easiest for the VA to approve.
It also may be helpful for you to get familiar with the disability claims that the VA most commonly approves – knowing how your current medical condition compares to commonly approved claims may help you understand the strength of your claim.
- Limited ankle motion
- Limited knee flexion
- Limited arm motion
- Lumbosacral or cervical sprain
- Sciatic nerve paralysis
- Hearing loss
- Burns or scars of at least second degree
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
More than five million U.S. veterans currently receive benefits related to a service connected disability claim. And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs processes upwards of 1.5 million new disability claims each year.
The most important thing to remember about winning a VA disability claim is the strength of the medical evidence. Medical conditions with the clearest supporting documentation are the most likely to be approved by the VA. With this in mind, it’s important to understand the most common medical conditions that the VA approves.
Many U.S. veterans win VA disability claims related to migraines. Good medical documentation begins with a diagnosis, usually from a neurologist, migraine specialist, ophthalmologist, optometrist, or primary care physician. As part of their VA disability claim, the veteran also must show documentation of the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches. The highest rating the VA assigns for migraine headaches is 50%. Reviewers will need to see appropriate documentation if the veteran experiences frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks that severely hamper their ability to hold gainful employment. The VA approves nearly 44,000 disability claims each year related to migraine.
The VA approves nearly 168,000 disability claims each year related to tinnitus, which constitutes generalized ringing in the ears. In general, the VA will rate a claim for tinnitus at 10%. Tinnitus may be either a primary or secondary condition as part of an overall VA disability claim.
Ankle instability and/or limited motion can make life difficult for a veteran. Signs and symptoms include repeated rolling of the ankle, persistent discomfort or pain, and a general feeling of instability while walking. Many times, these conditions develop after an ankle injury didn’t heal correctly or as a result of repeated injuries and sprains. The VA approves nearly 53,000 disability claims each year related to limited ankle motion. The disability rating is usually 10% or 20%.
Knee conditions are fairly common for U.S. veterans. The VA approves more than 105,000 VA disability claims related to limited knee flexion every year. Limited range of motion in the knee describes a condition in which the veteran has trouble bending and flexing the knee, making it painful or difficult to stretch it out and curl it back in toward the body. VA disability ratings for this condition can land anywhere between 0 and 30%.
Many issues with limited arm motion can be traced back to shoulder injuries that occur during a veteran’s time of military service. For example, shoulder dislocation, rotator cuff tears, and other injuries, plus chronic conditions like tendinitis and bursitis commonly may result in shoulder joints that don’t allow full mobility of the arm.
The VA approves roughly 69,000 disability claims each year related to shoulder and arm mobility. Diagnostic codes for arm mobility are divided into six categories, indicating that the VA recognizes several types of service-connected medical conditions that may result in limited arm motion. VA ratings for this type of disability range from 0% to 70%, depending on the specific condition, along with its severity and impact.
It’s not uncommon for U.S. veterans to experience chronic back pain after their years of service. Sometimes, it’s caused by an injury suffered during the time of service, while at other times chronic back pain can be the result of the sheer wear and tear a veteran’s body experiences, due to the intense physical demands of the job. Each year, the VA approves nearly 79,000 disability claims related specifically to lumbosacral or cervical sprain. This type of injury typically occurs when the ligaments, tendons, or muscles of the low back or neck are stretched to the point of tearing, usually caused by overuse or trauma. Pain, limited range of motion, and difficulty bending are common symptoms, and VA disability ratings for lumbosacral or cervical sprain range from 10% to 100%, depending on severity.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, extending from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down through each leg. Irritation or damage of the sciatic nerve can result in several different, sometimes debilitating, symptoms, including pain, tingling, burning and numbness, difficulty walking, bone spurs, and even paralysis.
Paralysis of the sciatic nerve may cause all muscles of the leg to stop working, along with difficulty bending at the knee joint. Depending on its severity, the VA may rate a sciatic nerve paralysis disability anywhere from 10% to 80%. Each year, the VA approves more than 45,000 disability claims related to sciatic nerve paralysis.
According to the CDC, veterans are roughly 30% more likely than the general public to suffer hearing loss. This should come as no surprise considering the chaotic environments and loud equipment U.S. soldiers often are exposed to during their time of service. The VA approves more than 63,000 disability claims for hearing loss each year, and by some estimates, more than 2.7 million veterans currently receive benefits due to hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
In many cases, veterans who suffer hearing loss also experience tinnitus. A 10% disability rating is the most common for hearing loss, though it is possible for veterans to be assigned a higher rating.
More than 64,000 new veterans each year begin receiving VA disability benefits related to burns or scars. The VA will consider several factors when reviewing a claim of this type – factors like the size of a burn or scar, its severity, and its effect on things like range of motion and whether it has caused underlying tissue loss. In general, you can expect the VA to assign a disability rating of anywhere from 0% to 80%. The VA also will consider the level of disfigurement when assigning a disability rating – this includes factors like the scar or size of the burn area, effect on skin color and texture, and the effect on overall skin elasticity.
Many U.S. veterans experience trauma during their time of military service that may result in long-term post traumatic stress disorder. The illness is characterized by reliving triggering events, emotional avoidance or numbness, difficulty sleeping, generalized anxiety, and becoming easily angered, among other symptoms. PTSD can have debilitating effects on a veteran’s quality of life.
The VA approves roughly 49,000 new PTSD disability claims each year, and ratings range from 0% for PTSD cases that are diagnosed, but with mild and manageable symptoms, all the way up to 100% for cases in which PTSD symptoms are severe enough that the veteran is completely impaired and unable to function in everyday life. It’s important to note that a 100% rating for PTSD is extremely rare.
On average, veterans who are approved for VA disability benefits for service connected PTSD are rated at the 70% level. This rating reflects symptoms severe enough to impair the veteran’s success in areas including work, school, personal relationships, judgment, cognitive ability, and overall mood.
The process of applying and qualifying for VA disability benefits can be long and arduous, so it’s good to have help. You may consider working with a Veterans Service Organization or a qualified and knowledgeable disability attorney. Either can help you evaluate the strength of your claim and assist with compiling all the appropriate documentation you’ll need.
Any strong VA disability claim starts with a solid medical diagnosis. The VA will need to see clear documentation that the medical condition for which you’re filing your claim has been diagnosed by a respected medical professional. Every piece of medical evidence you can provide about your diagnosis – including test results, formal medical opinions, etc., can help make your case stronger so you can receive the highest disability rating possible.
In addition, you will need to provide documentation of the event, injury, or trauma that occurred during your time of service in order to establish a service connection. Depending on your specific condition, this often can be difficult, especially if you’re dealing with a medical condition that developed over time, rather than in response to one specific event or trauma. You can submit a statement on your own behalf describing how your time of military service led to your medical condition.
You also may include statements from friends and family about your condition or even those who may have witnessed your medical progress while you were in service. Other appropriate forms of documentation here may include military records, police reports, newspaper articles, or other official sources other than the veteran that provides support for the service connection.
Keep in mind that the VA will be looking for a medical nexus – a strong connection between your military service experience and your current medical condition. A specific letter of opinion from a medical professional establishing this connection can be tremendously helpful in strengthening your claim. In some cases, you may be asked to complete a Compensation and Pension examination, during which a VA-contracted medical professional will examine your current medical state, along with your medical history, and issue an opinion about your service connection.
The process for being approved for VA disability benefits can be long and complex. Before beginning your claim, it’s wise to understand the types of disabilities that are most common among U.S. veterans and how the VA assigns disability ratings.
If any of the conditions and situations described here are in alignment with your own, you may want to contact a VA disability lawyer to help you gather the strongest documentation to support your claim. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for VA reviewers to see the connection between your disability and your time of service. Remember… the easiest claim to win is the claim backed by strong evidence.