A North Carolina Veteran completed a public-use disability benefits remote questionnaire for a Department of Veterans Affairs claim for a mental health condition arising from three service-connected conditions.
A North Carolina Veteran completed a public-use disability benefits remote questionnaire for a Department of Veterans Affairs claim for a mental health condition arising from three service-connected conditions.
Ultimately, the VA awarded about $6,500 in disability to the Veteran, despite the fact that an examination by a licensed clinical psychologist ruling there was no direct relationship between the Veteran's symptoms and conditions. That's according to a new VA inspector general report released Tuesday, finding that use of questionnaires administered remotely increased bad rulings and led to fraud.
In this case, the Veteran went through a private provider in Puerto Rico via teleconference to fill out the questionnaire. The VA prohibits staff from using questionnaires completed remotely by non-VA doctors when determining benefits.
The report suggested that the Veterans Benefits Administration "determine whether public-use disability benefits questionnaires continue to be an effective means of gathering evidence to support claims for benefit entitlement and, if not, take steps to discontinue their use."
The VBA created the questionnaires for public use a decade ago to address its claims backlog by letting Veterans undergo a private, non-VA provider examination. But several years later, over concerns of fraud raised by the IG, the VBA stopped accepting "telehealth" examinations -- health care delivered remotely via phone or internet -- by non-VA providers or contractors when determining a disability claim.
But IG staff found VBA claims processors have used the telehealth questionnaires to make decisions in more than half of the claims it reviewed, adding up to about $613,000 in payments from April 2017 through September 2018.
VBA staff have alerted 225 potential fraudulent claims relating to these public-use questionnaires to the IG as of December 2018.
"VBA claims processors improperly used disability benefits questionnaires completed by private providers to determine benefit entitlement without evidence the examination was done in person," IG staff wrote in the report. "VA lacks the ability to easily identify private provider telehealth examinations and takes no actions to correct claims where such examinations are improperly used to provide benefits."
The report added that "numerous" organizations have been using these telehealth questionnaires to exploit Veterans, charging them fees or taking some of their disability compensation benefits in exchange for filling out the questionnaires. IG staff also reported hearing reports that Veterans were being coached on what to say to maximize their benefits.
In addition to lacking checks, the IG report pointed out neither the VBA's website nor its forms informed users that telehealth questionnaires filled out by private providers could not be used for deciding benefit entitlements.
VA staff told the IG it would take time to change the form and website because of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and the requirement to obtain approval from the Office of Management and Budget. This process takes more than a year to complete so public-facing forms, including public-use questionnaires, will be outdated.
VBA staff concurred that a broad review should be done, along with subsequent changes if they decide to keep the questionnaire - adding a spot to say it was completed via a telehealth examination and update VBA procedures so staff know what to do if they suspect a questionnaire was completed via telehealth.
How the VA Rates Degenerative and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Arthritis is the most common disability and affects 52.5 million adults in the United States, or one in every five. There are two main types of arthritis: degenerative arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For the purposes of this blog, the primary focus will be on VA disability for degenerative arthritis, which affects 27 million Americans.
Degenerative arthritis may also be referred to as osteoarthritis and is the most common form of arthritis. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, degenerative arthritis is the primary reason for discharge from active duty military service. Degenerative arthritis of the spine is listed as one of the most prevalent service-connected medical conditions in the 2018 VA benefits report, with 505,553 disability benefits recipients for the condition. The report then lists general degenerative arthritis and traumatic arthritis with 268,882 and 258,135 recipients, respectively.
In contrast to rheumatoid arthritis – a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disorder that can affect more than your joints – degenerative arthritis results from the wearing down of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones. Degenerative arthritis leads to symptoms including pain, stiffness, limitation of motion, limitation of flexion, grating sensation or clicking with joint use (known as crepitus or crepitation), swelling, and joint instability or buckling (i.e., knee giving out). Osteoarthritis can theoretically affect any joint but typically occurs in your hands, feet, spine and hips. While it is known to result in the breakdown of cartilage, it also affects the entire joint.
As the condition worsens, the bone may harden, change shape or develop bone spurs. Additionally, the connective tissues deteriorate and there is often inflammation of the joint lining. Some of the causes include joint injuries or repeated stress on the joint(s) from sports or job duties. For the average person, the cartilage breaks down gradually but for Veterans, the breakdown often occurs suddenly within one or two years post injury. In some cases, these conditions may lead to loss of use and incapacitating episodes. This functional loss could require surgery such as a knee replacement.
How to Prove Service Connection For Arthritis
As with all VA disability claims, proving service connection is the first important step. Because of the nature of the condition, there doesn’t need to be a traumatic event, or injury, to prove service connection for osteoarthritis. Repetitive stress on your joints with documented symptoms can be sufficient to establish your claim since service connection for arthritis may be proven through continued symptomology. This means that the typical medical evidence of a diagnosis or nexus is not necessarily needed if you are able to show continuation of reported symptoms from service.
To establish service connection through continuity of symptomatology, the claimed disability must be considered chronic pursuant to 38 CFR 3.309(a), symptoms must be documented in service and after discharge, and there must be a connection between your post-service symptoms and your current disability.
But arthritis can also be presumptively service-connected. According to the VA regulations, if your symptoms of arthritis appear within one year of discharge from service and qualify for at least a 10% VA disability rating, the presumption of service connection applies.
Another option for service connection is to claim arthritis as a secondary disability. In this scenario, your arthritis would have to be the result of, or secondary to, a separate disability that is currently service-connected. For example, the VA regulations provide that if you are service-connected for an amputation and subsequently develop arthritis, arthritis may be granted service connection secondary to the amputation.
VA Disability Ratings for Arthritis
Under the schedule of ratings in the VA regulations, arthritis may be rated under degenerative arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Several rating criteria affect the total rating decision. However, both are still rated under the musculoskeletal system conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, as an active condition, may receive a 100% VA disability rating if you experience constitutional manifestations associated with active joint involvement and is totally incapacitating. The rating schedule then steps down to 60%, 40%, and then 20%, which involves one or two exacerbations annually with a well-established diagnosis. Rheumatoid arthritis, in terms of chronic residuals, will be rated under the appropriate diagnostic code for the joints involved. But, rheumatoid arthritis will only be rated either as an active condition or for its chronic residuals.
Osteoarthritis can manifest from mildly disabling to almost complete impairment, and will be rated by the VA accordingly once service connection is proven. The VA may schedule a compensation and pension (C&P) examination to evaluate your arthritis and assign the appropriate rating. As with all VA disability ratings, the examiner will review your medical evidence looking for past diagnoses and symptoms. If there is insufficient documentation, the C&P examiner may order additional tests.
With any form of arthritis, your ranges of motion, and any associated pain, are important factors to be evaluated. Because limited motion is so vital to your arthritis rating, it is essential that physicians record the exact measurements for your range of motion measurements. For the most accurate measurement and associated rating, examiners often use a goniometer regarding your joint’s flexion and extension. Except for traumatic arthritis, the VA regulations state it is essential for your exam to cover all major joints.
The key is that the VA will initially look at each joint independently to decide whether there is limited motion and if there is joint pain with X-Ray of hand with joint explanation. VA Arthritis ratingsmotion. If there is limited motion in your joint, then your condition will be rated based on that joint’s limited motion. If limited motion is not present, then you will receive one overall combined rating under VA diagnostic code 5003 for degenerative arthritis. Any claimed joint conditions will be rated as degenerative arthritis if there is not a significant measurement of limited range of motion to rate under those applicable diagnostic codes. The VA does not rate a disability under limited range of motion and degenerative arthritis.
Moreover, if there is pain (without limited motion), then the VA’s painful motion principle kicks in. Under the painful motion rule, the minimum compensable rating of 10% must be assigned. Therefore, the C&P examiner ought to test for active and passive, weightbearing and non-weightbearing, motion pain. If possible, the examiner should also test your unaffected joint for an accurate evaluation of your range of motion. Based on the painful motion regulation, you can theoretically receive a 10% rating for different joints as long as there is not overlap causing it to count twice. Although range of motion is a big factor, the functional impairment ought to be addressed as well. Factors including frequency and severity of joint swelling, stiffness, tenderness should all be reported and discussed to achieve a full picture of the severity.
Under the VA rating schedule, there is a standard 20% disability rating if there is x-ray evidence of involvement of two or more major joints, or minor joint groups, with occasional incapacitating exacerbations. Major joints include the shoulder, wrist, elbow, hip, knee, and ankle while minor joints include toes, fingers, spine, and sacroiliac. If two or more major or minor joint groups are affected, but there are no incapacitating exacerbations, a 10% rating may be assigned. If only one major or minor joint group is affected, you may only receive a rating higher than 0% under diagnostic code 5003 if there is also evidence of painful motion.
Additionally, while there are other forms of arthritis under the VA codes, such as pneumococcic or traumatic, these specific forms are rated within one of the two main umbrellas: degenerative or rheumatoid. If a condition is rated under degenerative arthritis, then your final rating may have a code listed prior to identify the condition itself and then list 5003 to show how it is rated (i.e., 5010-5003).
Temporary 100% Ratings For VA Disability Claims
Surgery can sometimes improve the function of the affected joints. Some Veterans will undergo a knee replacement, with hip and knee joints being the most common, to help with mobility and pain. These surgical procedures for your arthritis may open the door to other claims, higher ratings, and VA disability benefits.
One of these includes a temporary rating based on hospitalization. If you are already service-connected for arthritis and stay in a hospital for over 21 days as a result of your condition (i.e., joint replacement surgery), you may qualify for a temporary 100% total rating for the duration of your hospital admittance. Similarly, the VA may award a temporary 100% disability rating for convalescence. This involves the recovery period following a surgery related to your service-connected condition. For a convalescence claim to be awarded, the period must be at least one month, surgery has resulted in postoperative residuals like being housebound or a continuing need for crutches or wheelchair, or a major joint has been immobilized by a cast. If you need help with a service-connected claim for arthritis, feel free to give us a call or reach out!
Understanding The VA Disability Ratings for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects about 22 million people nationwide. If you are among these individuals living with sleep apnea, you may be eligible for Veterans’ disability compensation. This guide will outline the basics of sleep apnea, how the VA disability rating works for this condition, and how you can prove service connection.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted, or ceases, during the course of a night’s sleep. These sleep disturbances can occur from tens to hundreds of times per night. The causes of these disturbances may vary depending on which form of the condition you have: obstructive, central, or a mixed form of both.
Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the more common forms which occurs when the upper airway repeatedly becomes blocked throughout the night. This blockage is caused when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes, impairing the airflow. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain either does not send signals to the muscles that control breathing or those signals are interrupted. The VA refers to mixed sleep apnea as a combination of the obstructive and central forms of the condition.
Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which another person would notice and report
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Headaches in the morning
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
Veterans who are experiencing the above symptoms should consider seeking a diagnosis and pursuing sleep apnea disability benefits. This generally requires a sleep study. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to conditions like:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks
- Worsening of ADHD
How Does the VA Rate Sleep Apnea?
The VA sleep apnea ratings are based on the severity of the Veteran’s Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Sleep apnea is rated under 38 CFR § 4.97, Diagnostic Code 6847. This diagnostic code falls under the Sleep Apnea Syndromes. The VA assigns the following ratings for Veterans based on the severity of their sleep apnea:
- 100 percent: chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention, the need for a tracheostomy or the enlargement or failure of the right side of the heart due to lung disease. This is the most severe and the highest rating available.
- 50 percent: the Veteran requires the use of a breathing device, such as a CPAP machine.
- 30 percent: the Veteran is experiencing hypersomnolence, or excessive daytime sleepiness, that does not improve with sufficient sleep or even with naps during the day.
- 0 percent: the Veteran’s condition does not produce any symptoms but has a documented sleep disorder. This rating is a non-compensable rating, however, a Veteran may be entitled to other benefits, such as VA health care.
How Can You Establish Service Connection For VA Disability?
In order to establish direct service connection for sleep apnea, a Veteran must show that they have a current, diagnosis of sleep apnea, an in-service event or illness/injury, and a medical nexus or link that shows the Veteran’s sleep apnea is related to their in-service event, injury/illness.
A Veteran can also establish service connection for sleep apnea on a secondary basis. This means that a Veteran has an already service-connected disability that caused the Veteran to have sleep apnea. In this case, there must be a medical nexus to link the sleep apnea to their already service-connected disability. Some conditions that can be secondary to sleep apnea may include but are not limited to heart conditions, mental health conditions, and diabetes. If you have a service-connected condition that you believe is causing your sleep apnea, it may be a good idea to start to talk to your doctors about it.
How Does the VA Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
The VA will usually order a sleep study to be performed in order to confirm a current diagnosis of sleep apnea. As a part of the VA’s duty to assist Veterans in obtaining evidence to help prove their claim, the VA has a duty to assist Veterans in scheduling the examination for a sleep study. This study will serve as medical evidence for the Veteran’s case.
For Veterans who have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea without a sleep study by the VA, the Veteran may have to undergo a sleep study done by the VA in order to confirm the diagnosis for benefit purposes.
Is There a Connection Between PTSD & Sleep Apnea?
Research has shown that their Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, may be at risk for sleep apnea. There are factors that overlap in both disorders which affect and aggravate each other. Some of these factors are issues that Veterans may have experienced in active duty, such as disturbed sleep in combat, excessive sleep deprivation, fragmented sleep, hyperarousal, and chronic stress.
Although all of these symptoms contribute to the interaction between sleep apnea and PTSD, the main culprits seem to be sleep deprivation and chronic stress. Studies have shown that patients exhibiting these symptoms tend to have increased frequency and length of apneic events.
Research has also shown that as the severity of PTSD increases in a person, the chances of developing sleep apnea increases as well because of the interplay between the shared factors of the two disorders. Sleep apnea and other mental illness are also associated with each other. Click here to learn more about that topic.
The important takeaway message is that if you are a Veteran suffering from PTSD, it is important to get a screening for sleep apnea. You may be eligible for additional VA disability benefits based on that diagnosis.
What If You’re Denied for Benefits?
If your obstructive sleep apnea VA claim, or other sleep apnea claim, was originally denied, you may be able to appeal the rating and receive VA disability compensation. The law professionals at Hill & Ponton are available to help. You can call our law firm at 1-888-373-9436 to discuss your VA disability claim. You can also click the red button in the corner free case evaluation.
see how one of our experienced attorneys can help you! Get started here!
Under certain conditions, VA may reduce your disability rating. Legally, VA is able to reduce ratings, but must follow specific rules when doing so. The idea behind rating reductions is that some service-connected conditions will improve over time or with treatment. As such, VA wants to ensure it is compensating each Veteran according to their present level of disability. VA normally starts the process of reducing a rating under two circumstances: (1) scheduled reexaminations and (2) evidence of change in condition.
What is a Reexamination?
A VA disability reexamination is a medical examination used to re-evaluate the severity of your service-connected disability. After you are initially awarded disability benefits, VA will evaluate whether your disability is such that you ought to be scheduled for a future reexamination to determine if your benefits need to be adjusted. The types of service-connected disabilities that are most likely subject to re-evaluation include those that can be expected to improve over time. VA is required to send you advance notice of the need for a reexamination. It is very important for you to show up for this examination. If you fail to attend, and do not call to reschedule or explain why you are unable to make it, then it is likely that VA will reduce or terminate your disability benefits.
How Often Do Veterans Attend VA Reexaminations?
VA usually re-evaluates Veterans’ service-connected conditions on two occasions:
- Six months after leaving military service; and
- Between two and five years from the date of the decision to grant VA disability benefits.
The purpose of re-evaluation is to verify either the continued existence and/or the current severity of a service-connected condition. VA will also require re-evaluation in cases where it is likely that a Veteran’s disability has improved, such that there is evidence indicating there has been a material change in a disability or that the current rating percentage is incorrect. If there is a significant improvement to the Veteran’s health upon reexamination, VA may choose to assign a lower disability rating, thereby lowering the amount of monthly compensation the Veteran receives. VA may also determine that a disease or disability no longer exists, and discontinue benefits.
How Does VA Notify Veterans of a Reexamination?
As mentioned above, VA is required to send Veterans advance notice of the need for a reexamination. Typically, VA will call a Veteran or send a letter to let them know that the reexamination has been scheduled. When VA schedules you for a reexamination, it is imperative that you attend. If you do not go to the reexamination, you risk getting your disability benefits reduced. If you are unable to attend the reexamination, it is important that you notify VA as soon as possible. In this case, VA will likely work with the Veteran to re-schedule the reexamination without any penalty to the Veteran.
Results of VA Reexaminations and How to Respond
There are several potential outcomes or results of a VA reexamination. Specifically, VA may find that your condition has worsened and as a result, your disability rating may actually be increased. VA can also determine that there is no change in your service-connected condition. In this case, your disability rating would not be reduced and therefore your monthly compensation amount would remain the same. However, VA may find that your service-connected condition has improved in which case your disability rating may be reduced.
If the results of the VA reexamination are unfavorable, meaning VA found that the service-connected condition has improved, Veterans have the right to challenge the results. Here, Veterans can get an outside medical opinion from a private physician or healthcare provider. Additionally, Veterans can submit lay statements outlining the onset, progression, and severity of their condition. Finally, Veterans can write a letter to VA explaining why the examination provided was inadequate, if applicable.
When Are Veterans Protected From Reexaminations?
According to 38 CFR § 3.327, no periodic reexamination will be scheduled in service-connected cases when:
- The disability is established as static
- When the findings and symptoms are shown to have persisted without material improvement for a period of 5 years or more
- Other protected VA ratings
- Where the disability from disease is permanent in character and of such nature that there is no likelihood of improvement
- In cases of Veterans over 55 years of age, except under unusual circumstances
- When the rating is a prescribed scheduled minimum rating; or
- Where a disability evaluation would not be affected if the future examination should result in reduced evaluation for one or more condition
VA Issued Thousands of Unwarranted Reexaminations
In July 2018, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report that found that VA conducts thousands of unnecessary medical examinations for disabled Veterans, and is on track to spend more than $100 million over the next five years on these unwarranted reexaminations if nothing changes. The OIG looked at a sample of 300 cases with reexaminations throughout a six-month period (March 2017 to August 2017) and found that VBA employees “requested unwarranted medical reexaminations in 111 cases,” approximately a third of the cases OIG selected for sampling. When looking at the data further, OIG stated that VBA employees requested reexaminations for Veterans who were supposed to be excluded from reexaminations for the reasons listed above.
By failing to properly assess if reexaminations were warranted, OIG estimated that “VBA requested 19,800 Veterans to report for unwarranted reexaminations during the review period.” OIG also found that approximately 14,200 of the 19,800 Veterans did not have their disability evaluations changed following the reexaminations, and 3,700 Veterans received VA proposals to reduce their disability benefits, even though they were not supposed to be reexamined in the first place.
Since then, VA has been working to implement the OIG’s recommendations of setting up internal controls that would ensure that a reexamination is appropriate before ordering it, and designing and implementing a system to minimize unwarranted reexaminations.
Throughout our nation’s history we have witnessed countless examples of how quickly our troops will respond whenever and wherever they are needed. The willingness of American forces to go in harms way is never in question. Our troops stand up for us. That’s their job. In return, they deserve politicians who will stand up for them.
If you’re retired from the military and you also have a service-connected disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you may have a financial problem. I’m referring to the issue known as “concurrent receipt.” Here’s how it works. If you are retired from the military you receive a pension based upon years of service. If you also have a service-connected disability you are entitled to receive a disability benefit from the VA. The “percentage” of your VA disability rating is where things get ugly. If your disability rating by the VA is 50 percent to 100 percent, you are entitled to your military pension and your VA disability benefit, i.e. concurrent receipt. Not only are you retired like other healthy military retirees, but you also suffered a service-connected injury for which you receive tax-exempt compensation from the VA. However, if your VA disability rating is determined to be below 50 percent, the monthly disability payment that you receive from the VA is automatically subtracted from your monthly military retirement check. You may want to read that again. It would be difficult to find a more unfair law that arbitrarily penalizes some Veterans.
I think about important issues affecting Veterans like concurrent receipt when I hear someone’s well intentioned, “Thank you for your service.” It is a very gracious comment for today’s Veterans to hear. But I, like most military retirees, do not expect or need anyone’s thanks. We liked it! We stayed for a career. We were paid to do a difficult job involving multiple deployments and warfare and separation from family. And if we are injured or suffer a disability as a result of that service, we expect to be treated fairly and equitably.
The Military Officers Association of America has correctly pointed out that military retired pay was earned by service alone. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to also have a service-connected disability should have that compensation added to, not subtracted from, their earned retirement pay. MOAA’s good efforts on Capitol Hill have yet to sway Congress, even though it’s safe to assume that in the history of our country there has never been legislation that allows for a congressman’s pension to be reduced due to his or her receiving a disability payment.
There have been bipartisan efforts by some members of Congress to correct this injustice and to make concurrent receipt the law. H.R. 333 was introduced in the House in January 2019 and currently has 33 bipartisan co-sponsors. It was referred to the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs where it has remained since Feb. 1, 2019. In the Senate, S.208, the aptly named “Retired Pay Restoration Act,” was introduced in January 2019 with 28 senators from both political parties as co-sponsors. It has been referred to the Armed Services Committee without further progress.
Putting this Veterans’ issue in perspective:
It is not easy to put government spending issues in perspective, especially when it comes to Veterans. For example, the DoD recently gave “Veteran status” to some civilians who served in Vietnam, thus allowing them and their families to apply for VA benefits. They are considered to have been on “active-duty” during Vietnam. In another attempt to do right by those who served our country, a bill was recently introduced in congress to provide VA health care to Korean-Americans who had served as Korean soldiers in Vietnam fighting along side our U.S. forces. What other country would even consider such kind and generous policies? And yet, our legislators are being frugal when it comes to the issue of concurrent receipt by disabled military retirees!
The bottom line:
Concurrent receipt should apply fairly and equally to all VA ratings, not just 50 percent or more. Just as we rely on our troops to stand up for us in times of need, we should expect our legislators to stand up for all Veterans in their time of need. Passing a bipartisan concurrent receipt bill that prevents an earned military pension from being reduced by a disability payment is the right thing to do.
If you served in the Gulf War and have since developed fibromyalgia, you may be eligible for disability benefits. Fibromyalgia VA rating and benefits work a bit differently than that of other illnesses. Specifically, Gulf War Veterans who develop fibromyalgia do not have to prove a connection between their illness and service to be eligible to receive this compensation. Rather, the VA will presume that unexplained symptoms are related to Gulf War service if a Veteran has experienced them for six months or more.
In order to be eligible for this presumptive service connection, fibromyalgia must have emerged during active duty in the Southwest Asia Theater of military operations or by December 31, 2016. It must also be at least 10% disabling.
This theater of operations includes the following locations, along with the airspace above them:
- Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates
- The Gulf of Oman
- The Persian Gulf
- The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- The Gulf of Aden
- The Arabian Sea
- The Red Sea
If you believe that your illness and military service make you eligible for benefits, it’s important to gather medical evidence and make a claim. This guide will break down the basics of fibromyalgia, how to make a VA disability claim, and what to expect from the fibromyalgia VA rating system.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is characterized by unexplained, widespread pain throughout the body, lasting longer than 3 months. Fibromyalgia has been linked to repetitive injuries, physical and emotional trauma, stress, and infections. The main symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are chronic pain in muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues accompanied by “tender points” that hurt when pressure is applied. These “tender point” locations include:
- Back of the head
- Between the shoulder blades
- Top of shoulders
- Front sides of the neck
- Upper chest
- Outer elbows
- Upper hips
- Sides of hips
- Inner knees
Other symptoms may be present in people with fibromyalgia. These symptoms include:
- Moderate or severe fatigue and decreased energy
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Sleep disturbances (such as insomnia)
- Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Jaw and facial tenderness
- Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Tension or migraine headaches
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
- Increase in urinary urgency or frequency (irritable bladder)
- Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise
- A feeling of swelling, without actual swelling, in the hands and feet
A diagnosis of fibromyalgia is confirmed with a brief physical exam that involves the testing of the trigger points. In order to give a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, there must be widespread pain lasting at least three months, and at least 11 out of the 18 possible tender points.
The onset of fibromyalgia may be gradual or sudden. Sudden onset of fibromyalgia is usually associated with physical injury or trauma such as a car accident. Fibromyalgia may also be initiated by infections or chemical and drug exposure. There is no known cure for fibromyalgia, but there are effective treatment options to manage symptoms. Treatment usually focuses on relieving pain, avoiding stress, improving sleep, and correcting hormonal imbalances.
What Can You Expect From Meeting With a Doctor?
Since the VA requires a documented diagnosis from a rheumatologist when assessing eligibility for disability benefits, you will need to see a doctor for testing. Because many of the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to various other disorders, you may have to see multiple doctors before receiving a diagnosis. Before meeting with a doctor you may want to write a list covering the following topics:
- Detailed description of your symptoms
- Information about medical problems you’ve had in the past
- Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
- All the medications and dietary supplements you take
- Any questions you want to ask the doctor.
As previously discussed above, fibromyalgia symptoms mimic many of the symptoms of other conditions. Because of this, fibromyalgia is sometimes referred to as the “great imitator.” Knowing the differences between common disorders that fibromyalgia is often mistaken for can help ensure that your doctor properly diagnoses you. The common disorders that fibromyalgia is often mistaken for include:
- Lyme disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome
- Cervical spinal stenosis
A rheumatologist will run the tests which are needed to rule out the above conditions. After you test negative for each condition, the rheumatologist would diagnose you with fibromyalgia.
How Does The VA Rate Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia VA rating is rated under diagnostic code 5025. A rheumatologist must evaluate and diagnose the condition for it to be rated under this code. Additionally, the pain must be present on both sides of the body and both above and below the waist to be rated under this code. A Veteran with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia will receive either a 10%, 20%, or 40% rating when they are suffering from widespread musculoskeletal pain and tender points, with or without associated fatigue, sleep disturbance, stiffness, paresthesias, headache, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, depression, anxiety, or Raynaud’s like symptoms that:
- Require continuous medication for control – 10%
- Are episodic, with exacerbations often precipitated by environmental or emotional stress or by overexertion, but that are present more than 1/3 of the time – 20%
- Are constant, or nearly so, and refractory (resistant) to therapy – 40%
Widespread pain is defined by the VA to mean pain in both the left and right sides of the body, that is both above and below the waist, and that affects both the axial skeleton (i.e. cervical spine, anterior chest, thoracic spine, or low back) and the extremities.
Keep in mind that it is possible to have a different condition (such as hypothyroidism) and fibromyalgia at the time. In that situation, you cannot win a claim for fibromyalgia until the other condition has been treated and stabilized for six months and the fibromyalgia symptoms persist.
Remember that a Veterans disability law firm can help you understand these requirements, make a claim, and make an appeal if you are are a Gulf War Veteran living with fibromyalgia.
If you experienced a back injury during active duty, or an injury that later contributed to back pain, you may be eligible for disability benefits. As with most medical conditions, the VA disability rating for back pain depends on a variety of factors. This guide will break down how the VA rates back pain and spinal disabilities, so you can take the first steps toward making a claim.
Understanding Back Pain VA Ratings
Claims involving both the cervical spine and the thoracolumbar spine are rated under the same general rating formula. The following spinal conditions are all rated under the same general rating formula:
- Lumbosacral or cervical strain (diagnostic code 5237): This would be the diagnostic code assigned to a Veteran experiencing pain in their neck or back.
- Spinal stenosis (diagnostic code 5238): Spinal stenosis is when the spaces in the spine are narrowed and cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Frequently, spinal stenosis is present in the low back, but can be present in the cervical spine area as well.
- Spondylolisthesis or segmental instability (diagnostic code 5239): This is a condition that causes one bone in your back (a vertebra) to slide forward over the bone below it. The condition can result in the spinal cord or nerve roots being squeezed can cause back pain and numbness, or even weakness in one or both legs.
- Ankylosing spondylitis (diagnostic code 5240): This is a form of spinal arthritis that causes inflammation of the spinal joints and can result in severe, chronic pain. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels, and small joints of the hands and feet.
- Spinal fusion (diagnostic code 5241): Spinal fusion is a type of surgery that is performed to join two or more vertebrae together so that there is no movement between the two vertebrae. This surgery is often performed in individuals with spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis.
- Vertebral fracture or dislocation (diagnostic code 5235): A vertebral fracture occurs when a vertebra becomes compressed due to trauma. Typically, a vertebral fracture results in symptoms such as limited spinal mobility, and standing/walking will make the pain worse while lying down on the back makes the pain better. A vertebral dislocation is when one of the small vertebrae in the neck is displaced following a traumatic injury to the head or neck. Symptoms of a vertebral dislocation include pain that spread into the shoulder and arms, tingling or numbness in the arm, muscle spasms in the neck, and weakness in the arms.
The general rating formula that is used to rate the conditions listed above is mainly based on range of motion (ROM) measurements. The cervical spine (neck) and the thoracolumbar spine (low back) are rated according to the following criteria:
Flexion ≥45 degrees, OR combined ROM ≥ 340 degrees
Flexion ≥ 90 degrees, OR combined ROM ≥ 240 degrees
Flexion between 30 and 45 degrees, OR combined ROM between 175 and 340 degrees
Flexion between 60 and 90 degrees, OR combined ROM between 125 and 240 degrees
Flexion between 15 and 35 degrees, OR combined ROM ≤ 170 degrees
Flexion between 30 and 65 degrees, OR combined ROM ≤ 120 degrees
Flexion ≤ 15 degrees, OR entire cervical spine is frozen in a favorable position
Not applicable to thoracolumbar spine
Entire cervical spine is frozen in an unfavorable position
Flexion ≤ 30 degrees, OR entire thoracolumbar spine is frozen in a favorable position
Not applicable to cervical spine
Entire thoracolumbar spine is frozen in an unfavorable position
Entire spine is frozen in an unfavorable position
Entire spine is frozen in an unfavorable position
As you can see, ROM measurements play a significant role in rating spinal conditions. Because the rating formula is almost entirely based on ROM measurements, it’s important to make sure that a doctor performs ROM testing as accurately as possible. Also, the VA requires that all ROM measurements be taken with a goniometer. If a doctor doesn’t use a goniometer to measure your ROM, the VA will not consider the results.
In addition to the ROM measurements, the general rating criteria for spinal involves whether the cervical and/or thoracolumbar spine is frozen in a favorable vs. unfavorable position. A favorable position means the ROM measurement for flexion or extension is 0 degrees. Unfavorable means any position that is not 0 degrees in flexion or extension.
Secondary Spinal Conditions
Oftentimes, spinal conditions will cause other conditions, and these conditions qualify a Veteran for another rating. For example, fractured and/or dislocated vertebrae can lead to pain and weakness in the arms, hips, shoulders, etc. People with spinal conditions also often change how they walk to compensate for the pain which can lead to knee and hip problems.
Spinal conditions can cause nerve problems as well. One of the most common conditions secondary to spinal conditions is radiculopathy. Radiculopathy is caused by compressed nerves in the spine and results in pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along the nerve. If radiculopathy is caused by a low back condition, the individuals will feel the symptoms in the lower extremities (thigh, calf, foot). If radiculopathy is caused by a neck condition, the symptoms will be felt in the shoulder and can travel down the arm and into the hand.
If your spinal condition results in the development of a new disability or makes an existing disability worse, remember that you may be entitled to secondary service-connection for the new or aggravated disability. These secondary conditions would be rated separately from the underlying spinal condition.
VA Ratings For Spinal Arthritis & Back Pain
In order to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your disability claim, you need to understand how the VA rates your condition. Errors are frequently made when rating conditions. The VA not only makes mistakes in evaluation the severity of a condition, but sometimes they evaluate a condition according to the completely wrong rating criteria.
With this in mind, it’s important to know which spinal conditions are not rated under the general rating formula. The VA has a separate rating system for these conditions. Some of the conditions included in this category are degenerative arthritis, traumatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The rating systems used for arthritis of the spine is the second most common rating system for spine conditions. There are two types of arthritis that are rated under the same rating system; degenerative arthritis, and traumatic arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is rated under its own rating system.
Degenerative And Traumatic Arthritis
Degenerative arthritis is the chronic breakdown of the cartilage surrounding the joints. Degenerative arthritis of the spine, sometimes referred to as facet joint osteoarthritis, causes a breakdown of the cartilage between the facet joints in the back of the spine. Lack of cartilage causes pain and limitation of motion.
Traumatic arthritis occurs after an injury, excessive movement, or other physical trauma. Traumatic arthritis causes symptoms similar to other types of arthritis such as pain, inflammation, and build-up of fluid around the affected joint.
Both degenerative arthritis and traumatic arthritis, regardless of the joint affected, are rated under diagnostic code 5003. Depending on what joint is affected, there will be an identifying diagnostic code assigned to the condition. For example, the specific code for degenerative arthritis of the spine is 5242. However, the VA still rates degenerative arthritis of the spine under the criteria listed for diagnostic code 5003. Because there are technically two diagnostic codes associated with one condition, you would see the condition listed on rating decisions as 5242-5003.
What is the diagnostic code for traumatic arthritis?
The diagnostic code for traumatic arthritis is 5010. So if a Veteran has traumatic arthritis in his spine, the final diagnostic code would appear as 5010-5003. Think of the first number as an identifying diagnostic code that tells you what joint is affected, while the second diagnostic code tells you the rating system the condition is being rated under.
Keep in mind that arthritis will only be rated under diagnostic code 5003 when the condition does not result in severe enough limitation of motion to be rated under the general rating formula for the spine. If there is decreased range of motion of the cervical or thoracolumbar spine, the condition would be rated according to the general rating formula for the spine that is based off of range of motion measurements. There must be x-ray evidence of arthritis in the cervical or thoracolumbar joints for the VA to rate a spinal condition under the code for degenerative arthritis.
As mentioned above, many different joints are rated under the rating criteria for degenerative arthritis. This includes the shoulder, wrist, elbow, hip, knee ankle, fingers, toes, spine, and the sacroiliac joint. Some joints are referred to as major joints, while others are referred to as minor joints. The spine is considered as a minor joint. The rating assigned under the rating criteria for degenerative arthritis depends on how many joint groups are affected and whether there is painful motion. If two or more major OR minor groups are affected a 20% rating will be assigned if the arthritis is occasionally incapacitating. If the arthritis does not cause any episodes of incapacitation, but 2 or more joint groups are involved, then a 10% rating will be assigned. If a Veteran only has one joint group affected by arthritis then there must also be painful motion present in order for a rating higher than 0% to be assigned. If there is painful motion, a 10% rating will be assigned. For example, if a Veteran has degenerative arthritis of the spine with no other joints affected, and he experiences pain when bending over he will receive a 10% rating.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Back Pain
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes destruction of the joints in the body. Although this type of arthritis is most common in the small joints of the hands and feet, it can occur in any joint. When rheumatoid arthritis affects the spine, it typically occurs in the cervical spine (the neck) rather than the thoracolumbar spine (the low back). Rheumatoid arthritis of the spine leads to neck pain, back pain, and sometimes causes pain to radiate into the arms and legs. Symptoms are similar to the symptoms involved with degenerative arthritis and include pain and swelling of the joints.
The diagnostic code for rheumatoid arthritis is 5002. The VA assigns rating percentages based on the frequency of incapacitating episodes. The following percentages are available under the rating criteria for rheumatoid arthritis:
- 100% if you are completely incapacitated and are confined to staying in bed
- 60% if there are severe incapacitating episodes that occur 4 or more times per year
- 40% if there are incapacitating episodes that occur 3 or more times per year if there is a definite (but not necessarily significant) decrease in health
- 20% if there are less than 3 incapacitating episodes per year
It’s possible for rheumatoid arthritis to be rated under diagnostic code 5003 like degenerative and traumatic arthritis. If the condition is not severe enough to meet the above criteria, then the VA rating for back pain / arthritis will be based on specific symptoms. For example, if rheumatoid arthritis of the spine results in pain with motion, the condition will be rated according to the criteria set forth in 5003 as described above.
When pursuing a VA disability rating for back pain, it’s important to know your options. Keep in mind that a Veterans disability law firm can work with you to build a claim for a higher rating.
VA Disability Benefits and Ratings for GERD: What Veterans Should Know
Among gastrointestinal disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a very common condition that is associated with heartburn. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive Disease, approximately sixty million people experience heartburn at least once a month, and twenty-five million experience the symptoms daily. If you experienced GERD following military service, you may be able to seek VA benefits for your condition and get a GERD VA Rating.
This post will outline the basics of GERD, as well how former service members can obtain service-connection from the VA despite the lack of a disability rating schedule for this condition.
What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition in which gastric acid and partially digested food flow up from the stomach into the esophagus. This results in the painful sensations that are associated with heartburn. Continuous irritation of the esophageal lining poses a risk for developing more severe complications such as esophageal cancer.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- Pain in chest or upper abdomen
- Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
- Respiratory problems
How Does GERD Occur?
The esophagus, commonly called the food pipe, is a narrow muscular tube that is about 9.5 inches long. It connects the back of the mouth with the stomach. When you swallow food, muscles in the esophagus move the food toward the stomach. At the base of the esophagus is a band of muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which opens and closes to allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach. Except for belching, this is the only time that the LES is supposed to open. Once food and liquids have passed safely into the stomach, the stomach acids and enzymes in the stomach begin to break down the starch, protein and fat in the food. While the stomach has a lining tough enough to withstand the acid, the esophagus does not.
What happens in cases of GERD is the LES opens when it is not supposed to—namely after the enzymes and acids have started working on the contents of the stomach. When this occurs, gastric acid and partially digested food flow back up into the esophagus. The lining in the esophagus, as mentioned before, is not thick enough to withstand acid, and this causes the burning sensation in the chest and throat. This sensation is more commonly called heartburn, pyrosis, or acid reflux.
What Causes GERD?
It is a well-established fact that certain medications, lifestyle choices, and non-related physical disorders can contribute to GERD. Not only do some medications weaken the LES, but some medications and outside factors can aggravate the already-irritated esophageal lining.
There are some medications that are known to weaken or relax the LES. Many of these act as muscle relaxants, and can cause the wrong muscles to relax, such as the LES. These medications include:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Anticholinergics (used to treat urinary tract disorders, allergies, and glaucoma)
- Beta adrenergic agonists (used to treat asthma and obstructive lung diseases)
- Dopamine agonists (used to treat Parkinson’s)
There are also medications that irritate the esophageal lining, such as:
- NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen (Aleve)
- Iron pills
- Bisphosphonates (used to treat osteoporosis)
There are many risk factors for heartburn and GERD. Many of them necessitate the regular consumption of medications listed above.
- Eating pattern: People who eat heavy meals and then lie on their back or go to bed are at risk for heartburn and acid reflux.
- Pregnancy: Symptoms of GERD are often unavoidable during the third trimester, then the growing uterus puts pressure on the stomach and forces acids and partially digested food back up through the LES.
- Respiratory Disorders: People with asthma and COPD have a high risk of GERD. This is due not only to the medications which they must take to control their symptoms, but also due to the chronic irritation that these disorders inflict on the esophagus..
- Smoking: Studies have shown that smoking reduces LES muscle function, increases acid secretion, impairs muscle reflexes in the throat, and damages protective mucus membranes. Smoking also reduces salivation, which helps neutralize acid.
- Alcohol Use: There are mixed opinions on this particular risk factor. Alcohol is known to relax the LES muscles and, in high amounts, may irritate the lining of the esophagus. Other studies, however, have shown some types of alcohol, such as wine, to actually protect the lining of the esophagus.
Certain health conditions like a hiatal hernia can also cause GERD. It’s important to always consult a doctor if you are experienced recurrent epigastric distress, discomfort in the digestive system, IBS, or other symptom combinations. Doing so is an important part in seeking VA disability GERD benefits.
Making a Disability Claim: How Do GERD VA Ratings Work?
GERD is one of those interesting and rather inexplicable exceptions to the VA rules. For example, the VA’s regulations on presumptive Persian Gulf War conditions (conditions which are automatically considered service-connected if you meet the qualifying criteria) include gastrointestinal disorders.
However, there is a caveat to this and VA Ratings for GERD.
These regulations only apply to functional gastrointestinal disorders, which involve abnormal functions of an organ in the gastrointestinal tract, without a structural alteration in the tissues (such as irritable bowel syndrome). GERD is not considered a functional gastrointestinal disorder; rather, it is considered a structural gastrointestinal disorder. On top of it all, there is not even a rating schedule for GERD in the VA rulebook. So, the typical percent evaluation VA rating system and diagnostic code may not apply in your disability compensation case.
One can argue that this does not make any sense. But while this particular regulation does make it harder to obtain service-connection for GERD, there are ways to get around this. Since there is not a specific GERD VA Disability rating system, individuals may choose to obtain Veterans disability compensation by proving direct or secondary service connection.
Direct Service Connection
In order to show a direct service connection for GERD, you will need to gather medical evidence and show severe impairment of health. If you were diagnosed with GERD while on Active Duty, and if a medical expert provides a favorable opinion that your GERD condition began during and has continued since service, you can obtain service connection on a direct basis.
Secondary Service Connection
Service connection can be granted on a secondary basis if a medical expert can provide a favorable opinion that one condition was developed secondarily to a condition that has already been service-connected. In this particular case, we mentioned respiratory conditions as being a risk factor for GERD. Say, for example, the VA has service-connected you for COPD. Over time, you developed GERD due to chronic irritation of the esophagus and due to the effects of the medications that help control your COPD. You can file a VA claim for GERD secondary to COPD. However, you will need a doctor or health care practitioner’s opinion that your COPD condition caused or aggravated GERD.
Need Help With Your GERD VA Rating?
While the VA ratings for GERD may not mimic that of other conditions, that doesn’t mean you can’t obtain Veterans benefits for your medical condition. The Veterans disability law firm Hill & Ponton is available to help former service members obtain disability benefits from the department of Veterans affairs. Whether you want to discuss the rating schedule, service connection, or medical evidence for an appeal, be sure to call 1-888-373-9436 to speak with our knowledgeable team. You can also click here to request a case evaluation.
This case involves the failure of the Board of Veterans Appeals to address all evidence related to the Veteran’s possible exposure to asbestos in military service when it denied service connection for the cause of the Veteran’s death.
Our client appealed the BVA’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
The appeal was resolved through a joint motion for remand: the government attorney agreed with Alexandra Curran’s arguments that the Board failed to address all relevant evidence of in-service asbestos exposure.
ISSUE ON APPEAL TO THE CAVC:
This appeal involved the BVA's failure to address all relevant evidence as it related to the Veteran’s cause of death.
Based on an alleged lack of evidence and the Veteran’s military occupational specialty, the Board determined that the Veteran did not establish in-service exposure to asbestos in his VA claim.
As a result, the BVA denied service connection of the cause of the Veteran's death, preventing his surviving spouse from receiving disability compensation in the form of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). DIC and accrued benefits are two of the most common benefits sought by a Veteran's surviving spouse, but they are certainly not the only such benefits.
Service connection for cause of death may be granted if a service-connected condition was either the principal or contributory cause of the Veteran's death.
A principal cause of death means that the service-connected condition was the immediate or underlying cause of the death. A contributory cause of death means that the condition contributed materially or substantially to the death or aided in the death.
The Veteran’s death was caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and brain cancer. His surviving spouse sought service connection for the cause of his death due to in-service asbestos exposure.
While most cases involving asbestos exposure in military service involve navy Veterans, Veterans from other branches of the military were exposed to asbestos.
The Board held that the Veteran was not exposed to asbestos in military service, explaining that the Veteran’s wife did not have personal knowledge of the exposure and relying on his military occupational specialty of truck driver.
However, the Board failed to address three pieces of important evidence: 1) his wife’s statement that her husband talked about performing repair work on the trucks he drove while in the military; 2) the Veteran’s DD 214 that listed auto mechanic training; and 3) an article explaining reasons for high risk of asbestos exposure in the automotive industry.
Ms. Curran argued that the BVA erred in failing to address this evidence regarding possible exposure to asbestos.
RESOLUTION AT THE CAVC:
The Secretary agreed that the Board of Veterans Appeals erred when it provided an inadequate statement of reasons or bases to support its determination that the Veteran was not exposed to asbestos in military service, since the BVA did not address all the evidence of record related to his possible in-service exposure.
The parties identified at least 3 pieces of evidence that related to the Veteran's possible exposure to asbestos in military service, and (among other things) directed the BVA to address that evidence on remand.
The Veteran and the VA’s Office of General Counsel filed a joint motion to vacate and remand the appeal back to the Board to fix its errors.
If the BVA decision in this case sounds like yours, or if you have a BVA decision that involves clear and unmistakeable error, reach out to the law firm of Attig | Steel.
Link to the BVA Decision on CAVC Website.
Link to the Joint Motion to Remand the CAVC Website.
OGC Attorney: Sarah Catherine Blackadar (link to attorney bio on LinkedIn)
Veteran Representation at CAVC: Alexandra Curran (link to bio)
Board of Veterans Appeals Veterans Law Judge: K. Parakkal
Vet's Rep at BVA: pro-se
Date of BVA Decision: June 21, 2018
Date of CAVC Judgment on Remand: May 10, 2019
A partnership between VA and the Association of Military Banks of America
Life comes with plenty of challenges, but your banking shouldn’t be one of them. That’s why VA has partnered with the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA) to launch the Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP). With VBBP, Veterans and their families can safely, reliably, and inexpensively receive and manage their VA monetary benefits through financial services at participating banks.
This new program introduces new financial resources to Veterans and their beneficiaries. AMBA specializes in providing services for military personnel, Veterans, and their families around the world. VBBP’s new services will give Veterans the tools necessary to better protect their benefits from fraudulent schemes. It will also help to improve their financial literacy so that they can develop a long-term financial strategy.
Our Veterans who receive monetary benefits should have as many financial management and services options as possible. Participating VBBP banks will offer eligible Veterans federally-insured and regulated financial products, services, and education that can be tailored to their needs and the needs of their families.
The present available banking options include direct deposit into an existing bank account, electronic funds transfer into a Direct Express pre-paid debit card, and mailing of a paper check for pre-approved beneficiaries. VBBP expands upon these offerings.
VBBP introduces new financial resources to Veterans and their beneficiaries. It will expand these offerings by giving Veterans more choices, and it addresses issues some Veterans experience using the payment methods currently available to them. VBBP offers these VA beneficiaries – including many who have been unable to open bank accounts in the past – the opportunity to deposit their benefit funds directly into existing or new bank accounts offered by participating AMBA member banks.
VA delivers approximately $118 billion annually in benefits and services for Veterans and their families, ranging from disability compensation, pension and fiduciary, education, home loan guaranty, vocational rehabilitation and employment, life insurance, and transition and economic development. There are approximately 250,000 Veterans and beneficiaries who receive their VA benefits through a pre-paid debit card or paper check who may not have a bank account.
Neither VA nor AMBA endorses any bank and does not require Veterans and other beneficiaries to use them. Veterans who are satisfied with their current financial situation are not required to change how they receive their VA monetary benefits.
How to enroll
Find more information on the Veterans Benefits Banking Program, the enrollment process, or how to find a bank that fits your needs, visit www.benefits.va.gov/banking or www.Veteransbenefitsbanking.org.
To have your federal benefits electronically transferred to a your bank, eligible Veterans should visit www.VA.gov/change-direct-deposit or call VA at 1-800-827-1000 with relevant banking information.