VA Disability Benefits for Migraine Headaches
Military veterans, particularly those with service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror, have a significantly higher rate of migraine headaches than the general population. In fact, migraine diagnoses in the military increased by 27% from 2001 to 2007 as a result of the increased deployments to the Middle East.
Scientists do not fully understand what causes migraine headaches. The latest research indicates that a chemical imbalance in the brain may be the primary culprit. Various kinds of brain injuries, which are common among veterans, could trigger such an imbalance.
The effects of migraine headaches are fairly well-known. These attacks, which could last up to three days at a time, usually include severe, throbbing head pain, sensory sensitivity (sensitivity to light, sound, and touch), nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms are clearly disabling as they interfere with a veteran’s ability to navigate everyday life.
Migraines are the second leading causes of disability among veterans, but are sometimes hard to identify as there are no visible symptoms. If a VA disability attorney establishes a service-related connection and disabling symptoms, financial benefits are available. Free medical care at any VA medical facility is available, as well.
A one-time severe brain injury is not the only probable cause of migraine headaches. Others include the cumulative effects of mild traumatic brain injuries (concussions, or “TBI”) and toxic exposure. Global War on Terror and Southwest Asia theatre veterans faced these hazards in active combat and by exposure to burn pits, which release toxic smoke into the air and cause a host of compensable health conditions.
Laying the proper foundation is the first step to establishing a service-related connection. A current diagnosis must be readily available in the file. If this diagnosis is somewhere in the medical records, a claims examiner could miss it. Moreover, veterans should ensure that their doctors have accurate information. Never downplay your symptoms, and always make a thorough record of migraine episodes. That way, the diagnosis is clear, and a doctor can establish a pattern.
Frequently, this pattern begins after the Veteran was diagnosed with multiple concussions, TBI, toxic exposure, or another clearly service-related illness. Frequently, these connections are relatively straightforward. For example, a concussion or TBI diagnosis in service will have a clear connection with migraines later on. Similarly, if a veteran was deployed to an area that used burn pits, the presumed exposure to toxic smoke is an established cause of later migraines as well.
The burden of proof is only “as likely as not” in these situations. Legally, this means the bar is low. Additionally, if the evidence is about 50/50, the veteran always gets the benefit of the doubt.
The rating scheme for migraines is rather straightforward. There are four categories of disabling migraine headaches, with three being compensable:
- 0% (diagnosis but no disabling symptoms or medication controls the symptoms),
- 10% (one severe attack about every eight weeks over a period of several months),
- 30% (a pattern of monthly severe attacks), and
- 50% (“frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability”).
The specific definition of a disabling episode, on the other hand, is far from straightforward. We will break it down as best we can.
Prostrating usually means lying down in a dark, quiet room until the attack is completely over. As mentioned above, these attacks can last several hours or several days.
The term “prolonged” is extremely subjective. Generally, severe migraine headache episodes last at least four hours. Therefore, a prolonged episode is more than four hours, though there is no clear guidance on how much longer a prolonged episode lasts.
Under current law, severe economic inadaptability usually means at least one missed day of work per month. However, this question is still being litigated. A lawyer needs to show that the effects of the migraines impact the veteran’s ability to hold a job or otherwise severely impact their everyday life.
Though the maximum rating for migraines is 50%, a veteran can seek a total disability rating based on unemployability (TDIU) if he or she can prove the migraines get in the way of holding full-time, gainful employment. There are hurdles to clear as far as minimum ratings — for example, a veteran should have more than one service-connected condition with a combined rating of at least 70%, with one disability being rated at least 40%. (A veteran can seek TDIU with one service-connected condition rated 60%, but since migraines are capped at 50%, this does not apply here).
Work With Diligent 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.