Question: I am currently serving in the Air Force and recently returned back to the states from the Middle East. While overseas I really did a number on my back, and I am scheduled to be discharged in six weeks. My discharge may or may not be extended due to a Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board. I am hoping you might be able to give me a basic heads-up on how the VA might look at degenerative disk disease.
Answer: The VA defines disability of the musculoskeletal system, including the spine, as the inability, due to damage or infection, to perform the normal working movements of the body with normal exertion, strength, speed, coordination and endurance.
When evaluating a spinal cord-related disability, the VA is required to take into account both anatomical damage and functional loss. Functional loss may be due to deformity, improper nerve function (defective innervation), adhesions, atrophy or pain. Disability due to diseases (such as arthritis, degenerative joint or disc disease, or osteoporosis) that were incurred in, or are the result of, military service may be compensated as well.
Paraplegia and quadriplegia due to a spinal cord injury or disorder are rated in terms of the loss of function and their effect on the veteran’s ability to earn a living wage. In fact, the entire VA compensation scheme is based on the average impairment of earning capacity.
I would suggest you obtain a complete set of all of your private treatment and military medical records prior to your discharge. Assuming you do not receive a medical discharge once you file your claim with the VA, under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 the VA will be required to provide you with a medical examination to make a determination on your claim.
Once you have submitted all of the evidence that you have to the VA and the VA has gathered all of the evidence that it is required to under the VCAA, the VA will determine your current level of disability. This will establish a disability rating, which will in turn establish the level of your monthly disability compensation payments. The VA will also make a decision as to the effective date of your award of benefits.
Please bear in mind that this is an extremely brief overview of what can be a very complicated topic and process. VetsFirst also held lengthy discussions with the veteran who asked this question, and he is currently receiving assistance from a qualified service officer in his local community. If you have questions, please feel free to ask through Ask VetsFirst at helpdesk.vetsfirst.org or 877.483.8717.