Top 5 Most Common VA Disability Claims

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Due to the nature of military service, it is an unfortunate fact that many service members must enter the VA system to deal with disabilities suffered during service. According to the VA’s 2018 Annual Benefits Report, more than 4.7 million veterans have made claims of service-connected (SC) disabilities. With the average veteran claiming 5.3 disabilities, this means the VA system is treating 25 million disabilities.

Disability claims are on the rise among veterans. Overall, there was an 8% increase in the number of disability claims amongst veterans from 2017 to 2018. Despite the number of disabilities facing former servicemembers, approximately 25% of these claims stem from the top five most common conditions affecting veterans

Tinnitus

Tinnitus refers to a symptom of an underlying condition in which individuals hear a sound in their ear that isn’t caused by an external stimulus. A person with tinnitus hears a ringing, clicking, buzzing, or other noise in his or her ear because of the condition. The sound may be loud or soft, affect one or both ears, and may be either present consistently or only on some occasions.

In total, nearly two million of the claims received by the VA were related to tinnitus. Veterans may experience tinnitus due to consistent exposure to loud noises, damage to the ear, or because of underlying neurological or other mental conditions.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a broad term that refers to any impairment that makes it difficult for an individual to hear sounds. It can be classified as sensorineural if it stems from the inner ear, conductive if it relates to the middle or outer ear, or mixed if the hearing loss is the result of problems relating to both other classifications. Hearing loss cannot be reversed, though it may be treated to recover some function or to slow additional hearing loss.

Given the prevalence of tinnitus among servicemembers, it should not be surprising to learn that hearing loss is the second most common disability handled by the VA. In 2018, the VA handled approximately 1.2 million claims of hearing loss. Exposure to loud noises, such as gunfire and explosions, and physical damage may cause permanent hearing loss for veterans.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Living through or witnessing a terrifying event can cause a lasting mental health condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD may first appear shortly after the triggering event or may show up months, or even years, later. These symptoms are frequently disruptive to an individual’s life and may only get better after receiving treatment.

Individuals who have PTSD can experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Intrusive memories: recurring memories of the event, flashbacks, nightmares about the event
  • Changes in reactions: Easily startled, self-destructive behavior, aggressive outbursts
  • Avoidance: Engaging in activities to avoid thinking about the event, including distancing from people or places that can trigger memories of the event
  • Negative shifts in attitude or thought processes: depression, difficulty feeling either positive or any emotions, difficulty with memory

PTSD is the third most common disability facing veterans. With over one million claims of PTSD, it is also the most common mental disability facing former service members. Servicemembers can experience it whether the individual was deployed or saw active duty. It is entirely possible for veterans to begin suffering from PTSD years after leaving the military.

Scars

Scars are permanent injuries to a person’s skin. They may be deep or superficial. Deep scars are the result of injuries that also damaged the soft tissues beneath the skin. Scars that only affect the top layer of skin can be rated as superficial by the VA, though they may be sensitive or disruptive to individuals.

With over a million claims of general scarring, only a few thousand fewer than PTSD, it is the fourth most common disability claim handled by the VA. It is also the most common skin-related disability claimed by former servicemembers. Combat-related injuries are a common cause of scars amongst veterans. However, many veterans suffer scarring as a result of other duties, including burns from fire or chemicals.

Limitation of Flexion (Knee)

When it comes to difficulty moving a leg at the knee, the VA considers two general ways in which the leg can move. First, it looks at how the leg can move from a bent position to a position straight in front of the thigh. Second, it looks at how the leg can move from the bent position back towards the person’s buttocks.

It is the second kind of movement, classified as a limitation of flexion, that occurs most commonly amongst veterans making disability claims with the VA. In 2018, there were over one million disability claims involving a limitation of flexion. Despite being the fifth most common type of VA disability claim, it is the most common of a musculoskeletal disability, which in turn is the most common category of VA disability claims.

A Note About Severity

Despite the frequency of the above conditions, these conditions don’t necessarily reflect the most severe problems facing veterans. According to Attorney George Sink of DisabledVets.com, a website for disabled Veterans, “[T]wo veterans could have the same medical condition and still be assigned a different rating by the VA.” The VA rates individuals on a scale of 0% to 100% disability in increments of 10%, based on the severity of the injury.

It is also worth noting that the most common VA disability claims tend to be long-term problems for former servicemembers; they often suffer from conditions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. While we noted that more than 4.7 million veterans had claims with the VA in 2018, less than 300,000 of those claims were new. To put it another way, out of the $76.7 billion paid out by the VA to compensate veterans for their disabilities, only $3.4 billion of that came as the result of new claims.