The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently granted service-connected compensation to Vietnam Veterans for heart disease. This is due to the recent addition of ischemic heart disease to the list of Agent-Orange related disabilities. In an earlier post, I discussed how Veterans can establish VA service connected compensation for Ischemic Heart Disease from Agent Orange.
In this post, I will focus on VA service-connected compensation ratings for heart disease in general. You need to know what VA needs to have in order to assign the proper disability rating for your disease, so you can obtain VA disability compensation.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a broad term for a number of cardiovascular medical conditions. Heart disease is also the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for one in four deaths. Some of the heart conditions under the heart disease umbrella include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)/Ischemic heart disease
- Congenital heart defects
- Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease)
- Cardiomegaly (enlarged heart)
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
- Heart infections
These conditions and more can lead to heart attack (myocardial infarction) or heart failure.
When applying for VA disability benefits for any type of heart disease, you will need to prove service connection. This shows that your condition is connected to your military service. Be sure to obtain medical evidence of your condition, including a specific diagnosis and any medical records that show service connection.
Ischemic Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease, also called coronary artery disease (CAD), is the most common type of heart disease. The condition occurs due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. This buildup can hinder blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack. CAD is also among the most common conditions in claims for disability benefits.
What Are Symptoms of Ischemic Heart Disease?
Ischemic Heart Disease infographics. Signs, symptoms, treatment.
VA specifically looks for:
- shortness of breath,
- chest pain,
You need not have all of these symptoms to qualify for a particular rating. It is, however, important to know what the possible symptoms may be. That way you can inform your doctors, and the VA, if you are having these symptoms.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is another common condition that may lead to heart attack. You can read more about how the VA rates hypertension here.
VA Ratings for Heart Disease
The VA uses a specific rating schedule for the cardiovascular system (38 CFR § 4.104). When rating these service-connected disabilities, the VA considers what is called METs testing.
The higher levels of disability ratings for the heart are based on your symptoms at various levels of exertion. Every level of exercise is assigned a range of METs (or metabolic equivalents). The higher the level of exertion, the higher the METs number. In assigning a heart rating, VA specifically looks at what range of METs causes you to have certain symptoms.
Where you experience these symptoms after activities like jogging, biking or climbing stairs (a level of 7-10 METs), a minimum 10% rating is appropriate. VA should rate you at a 30% rating where you experience the symptoms at a level of 5-7 METs. This level of activity would include heavy yard work such as digging or mowing with a push-mower. It would also include recreational activities such as golfing without a cart. The 30% rating would also be appropriate where the Veteran has certain test results on an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, or X–ray. So, again, make sure VA is aware of these tests. Especially, if a non-VA doctor performed the test.
VA assigns a 60% rating where you experience symptoms at a less stringent level of exercise. These symptoms include fast walking or light yard work. VA includes in light yard work weeding or mowing the lawn with a power mower (a level of 3-5 METs). A 60% rating would also be appropriate if you have heart failure. If, in the last year, you had more than one episode of acute congestive heart failure in the past year.
Make sure, then, that the VA is aware of any heart medications you have been prescribed by your non-VA doctors
When Does VA Give a 100% Rating for Heart Disease?
VA assigns a 100% rating where the Veteran experiences the symptoms of heart disease at a minimal level of:
- such as slow walking for one or two blocks,
- dressing or
- eating (1-3 METs).
Additionally, VA assigns a 100% rating to a Veteran who has chronic congestive heart failure.
What Factors Does VA Consider for Ischemic Heart Disease Specifically?
First, if you take any continuous medication for your ischemic heart disease, VA should provide a minimum rating of 10%.
Another factor the VA will consider, outside the symptoms the Veteran is experiencing, is any heart surgeries. VA will look at whether you had any procedures which might qualify you for a higher rating, at least temporarily. VA will assign 100% for procedures such as:
- heart valve replacement,
- coronary bypass surgery,
- cardiac transplant surgery, or
- implantation of a pacemaker
Can I Get IU for a Service-Connected Cardiovascular Disability?
Finally, as with rating most disabilities, VA must consider whether the Veteran’s heart disease prevents the Veteran from maintaining employment. Knowing the symptoms of heart disease allows you to keep your doctors informed if you are having these symptoms. In addition, if your doctor is aware of your symptoms have him document them in your medical records. This makes it easier for the VA to assign the proper rating for your disability.
For more information about Ischemic Heart Disease specifically, download our free e-book.
Have Questions About Your VA Disability Benefits?
Cardiovascular diseases can cause impairment in daily life, no matter your level of disability. If the VA denied your claim or awarded a lower percent rating that you believe you deserve, the team at Hill & Ponton can help. Our Veterans disability attorneys work with former service members to obtain disability compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation.