FAQ About Spinal Fusion Surgery and VA Benefits
Read more to learn about spinal fusion surgery and the available VA Benefits for this condition.
Military activity is hard on the joints, especially the spine. Most veterans spend a substantial amount of time carrying heavy objects, bending, standing, walking, and otherwise placing significant stress on their spines. Sudden traumatic injuries, like falls or motor vehicle crashes, could cause a spine injury as well. The resulting pain is often unbearable. Over 80% of spinal cord injury (SCI) victims are unable to work.
Many veterans turn to spinal fusion surgery to reduce this discomfort. A doctor fuses two or more vertebrae together to decrease motion and therefore decrease pain. If the surgery is successful, the primary side effect might be a reduced range of motion. If the surgery is not successful, the side effects often include problems breathing and walking, as well as neurological issues.
Contributing to the issue of low employment among people with SCI is the fact that almost 30% of them must be re-hospitalized. This is especially true if there are problems with the fusion procedure.
If a spinal fusion procedure which is necessary due to a service-related injury or condition caused a disability, a VA disability attorney might be able to obtain VA benefits. These benefits include monthly cash and free medical care at any VA medical facility. Benefits don’t make a disabling spine condition go away. But these benefits do make it easier for veterans and their loved ones to move forward with their lives.
How Do I Establish a Service-Related Connection?
These benefits are available if a veteran establishes a service-related connection between spinal fusion and military service. Without this connection, the claim for benefits cannot move forward. Usually, this connection has two basic components:
- A current medical diagnosis of a need for spinal fusion treatment, and
- Evidence that the injury or accident that caused the condition that necessitates the spinal fusion occurred while on duty.
Current Medical Diagnosis
If a veteran has qualified for or undergone a spinal fusion procedure, there is little doubt they do have a current medical diagnosis. Even if the spinal fusion procedure cured their condition 100%, they may still qualify for compensation for the period of time during which they were disabled, and for the time they spent recovering from surgery. This evidence often consists solely of medical records, to establish the diagnosis and statements from family and friends that the condition is disabling.
Condition Originated During Service
This evidence often consists of service medical or treatment records or buddy statements from other veterans.
An official service record is usually the best evidence. A service record can confirm a veteran’s claims that they had a particularly physically intense job in service, requiring manual labor every day that led to a spinal cord injury. Service treatment records may confirm that a veteran sought treatment from a doctor or chiropractor for back pain or other SCI-related symptoms during service, showing that the injury likely originated during that time period.
Unfortunately, such records are not readily available. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) experienced a fire in 1973 that destroyed many records from veterans discharged prior to 1964. Now, records are mostly electronic, however, the VA has experienced some well-documented issues with its electronic records database.
Veterans can also offer evidence that similarly situated service members need the same procedure they do, which is evidence in their favor. If two other service members performed the same job as a veteran seeking spinal fusion surgery, the VA may determine that’s enough evidence to connect the veteran’s need for a spinal fusion to their job in service.
Usually, buddy statements either supplement the other two kinds of evidence, or they are the last resort. Recollections from other veterans about a victim’s responsibilities or pain complaints are admissible but often not terribly compelling.
How Does the VA Rate These Disabilities?
A successful spinal fusion surgery usually leaves a veteran with between 10% and 30% disability. This procedure is known as favorable ankylosis. The disability level depends on the veteran’s lost range of motion. Unfavorable ankylosis, meaning unsuccessful spinal fusion surgery, may leave a veteran with between 40% and 100% disability, once again depending on the medical symptoms.
These ratings are initial ratings that only account for medical issues. A VA disability lawyer often convinces an appeals board to consider additional factors, such as vocational and educational factors. The disability rating can increase or decrease depending on how the condition impacts a veteran individually. This means a veteran who lives a sedentary lifestyle in the first place would not be impacted the same way an active veteran, perhaps one who is only trained to perform manual labor for their job, may be.
Connect with Thorough Attorneys
An attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.