Each year, millions of U.S. veterans apply for disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – and approximately one million claims are processed each year. Across the country, more than five million U.S. veterans currently receive VA disability compensation.
The process for approving VA disability claims is extensive, so it’s difficult to classify any claim as “easy” to win. Instead, it’s important to focus on the authentic and comprehensive medical evidence of a specific health condition. By studying the most common VA disabilities, you can see which medical conditions get processed the most by the VA.
Most Common VA Disability Claims
- Limited knee flexion
- Lumbosacral or cervical strain
- Second degree scars and burns
- Limited range of arm motion
- Hearing loss
- Limited range of ankle motion
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Sciatic nerve paralysis
- Migraine headaches
Which VA Claim Is Easiest To Win?
The medical evidence included with the disability application should lay out a clear, consistent, and compelling case for VA reviewers about how a service-connected health issue affects a veteran’s quality of life. Keep in mind that the philosophical underpinning of the VA disability program is to provide tax-free monthly benefits to veterans to help offset the effects of disabilities caused by diseases, injuries, or other medical conditions either incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Making a clear and compelling case for benefits, along with supporting and appropriate medical evidence, is always the best way to have a claim approved. Ultimately, the disability claims that are most likely to “win,” or be approved for benefits, are the ones that offer the most sound and comprehensive medical evidence to support the claim.
Top 10 Most Common VA Disability Claims
Each year, the VA approves claims for several common service-connected medical conditions. As you prepare to file a claim for VA disability benefits, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the most common disability claims that the VA approves each year, which we’ve outlined for you here.
Each year, nearly 150,000 U.S. veterans are granted VA disability compensation related to service connected tinnitus. Tinnitus is a very common disability that often manifests as a perceived hissing, buzzing, whistling, or ringing sound that can’t be attributed to any external sound – at times, it’s also accompanied by hearing loss.
Tinnitus can be caused by head trauma, exposure to loud noises, age, pressure changes, or by another illness or condition, of which tinnitus is a secondary symptom. The customary VA disability rating for tinnitus is 10% – this is true for tinnitus that appears in one ear or two. Tinnitus affects approximately 50 million Americans, and it’s highly prevalent among the veteran community.
2. Limited Knee Flexion
Limited knee flexion is the most common knee-related injury that the VA rates. It accounts for close to 99,000 approved VA disability claims each year. Limited knee flexion affects the knee’s range of motion as it’s curled back toward the body. In general, the VA will assign a 10% disability rating to this condition, though in some cases that rating may rise as high as 30%.
It’s important to note that the VA does not consider the level of pain associated with this injury as part of its rating – instead, it considers only the measurable range of motion.
3. Lumbosacral or Cervical Strain
Lumbosacral or cervical strain represents an injury to the ligaments, tendons, or muscles of the lower back or neck. This type of injury usually happens when muscles are stretched to the point that a small tear develops within the tissues. Lumbosacral and cervical strain are generally the result of overuse and trauma. The strain is usually accompanied by muscle pain, along with difficulty bending and having limited range of motion.
Lumbosacral or cervical strain accounts for roughly 70,000 approved VA disability claims each year. VA disability ratings for this injury range from 0% to 100% – generally, ratings from 10% to 40% are based on forward flexion and range of motion, while ratings from 50% to 100% are based on the amount of unfavorable fused bones, or ankylosis, present.
4. Second Degree Scars and Burns
More than 67,000 VA disability claims for burns and scarring are approved by the VA each year. Military service places veterans in a wide variety of situations that potentially lead to both burns and scarring. In general, to qualify for VA disability compensation, a veteran must have at least one scar that is unstable, painful, or both. In addition to pain and stability, the VA will consider size, shape, affected area of the body, depth, and effect on range of motion when evaluating a burn scar or other type of scar.
Typical ratings for burns and scarring fall between 0% and 80%, though a 100% VA disability rating is not impossible if the severity of the scarring warrants it. If medical documentation shows a functional or motion impairment, the VA may award additional benefits.
5. Limited Range of Arm Motion
Rotator cuffs, dislocations, and poorly healed bones are common sources of arm and shoulder pain and the accompanying limited range of motion in the shoulder or arm. This kind of reduced range of motion can make even simple, everyday tasks difficult, and these injuries account for close to 66,000 approved VA disability claims each year.
Medical details will vary by claim, but in general, a veteran who can lift an arm to the front or side no more than 25 degrees can expect a VA disability rating of 40% for a dominant arm and 30% for a non-dominant arm. For veterans who can raise the arm to 45 degrees, expected ratings would be 30% for the dominant arm and 20% for the non-dominant arm. And those who can raise an arm to 90 degrees, essentially level with the shoulder, should expect a disability rating of 20% for either the dominant or the non-dominant arm.
6. Hearing Loss
Disabling hearing loss is a common disability among U.S. veterans and represents more than 61,000 approved VA disability claims each year. Between tinnitus and hearing loss, more than three million American veterans currently receive VA disability benefits.
Hearing loss can be attributed to exposure to loud noise or age – or a combination of the two. And because of the specific and unique conditions under which veterans serve, they are 30% more likely than non-veterans to experience severe hearing impairment. Even with mandatory hearing protection that is standard issue for all active duty military members, hearing loss is still remarkably common.
The VA disability rating for mild to moderate hearing loss typically ranges from 0% to 10%, while severe hearing loss may be assigned a rating of 30% to 50%.
7. Limited Range of Ankle Motion
One study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that active military members experienced ankle sprains at a rate five times greater than those in the civilian population. This may explain why the limited range of ankle motion accounts for roughly 51,000 awarded VA disability claims every year. Ankle injuries can lead to secondary conditions – when the ankle is injured, other pains and medical issues can follow since the ankle is a key weight-bearing joint.
The VA will focus on pain and range of motion to assign a disability rating to ankle injuries. In most cases, limited range of ankle motion is assigned a VA disability rating of between 0% and 20%. If range of motion is severely limited, in some cases a veteran may receive a 20% disability rating, but if the range of motion is only moderately limited, a 10% rating is usually assigned.
8. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
VA disability claims for PTSD are fairly common within the veteran community. PTSD is common after someone experiences a traumatic event such as combat, an assault, or a natural disaster. Most people have some stress reactions following trauma, which is healthy and appropriate. But when the stress reaction persists over time, it may be PTSD. VA disability claims for PTSD account for more than 45,000 approved claims each year.
VA disability ratings for PTSD can be 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%, depending on the severity of symptoms and their effect on the veteran’s quality of life and ability to hold steady employment. On the lower end of this scale, PTSD symptoms are sporadic and transient, while the upper end of the scale represents symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, near-complete memory loss, and even the need to be under constant supervision. The most common PTSD-related VA disability rating is 30%.
9. Sciatic Nerve Paralysis
As the largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve extends from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. Paralysis of this important nerve can cause all muscles of the leg and below the knee to stop working, causing serious difficulty in bending the knee. Issues with the sciatic nerve also bring with them pain, weakness, tingling, trouble walking, and sometimes numbness. Sciatic nerve paralysis contributes to more than 42,000 approved VA disability claims each year.
Complete sciatic nerve paralysis can receive a VA disability of up to 80%, while partial, yet severe, paralysis may receive a VA disability rating of 60%. Partial paralysis also can be rated as moderately severe, moderate, or mild and can receive a VA disability rating as low as 10%, depending on the medical details.
10. Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are fairly common among the veteran community and many times manifest as a secondary condition to other injuries and illnesses. Symptoms of migraine headaches vary by patient, and some can cause such severe pain that the patient is rendered completely incapacitated. Migraine headaches account for more than 41,000 approved VA disability claims every year.
There are several common injuries that occur in active duty that might be linked to migraine headaches – such as traumatic brain injury, exposure to explosions and other loud noises, exposure to chemicals, etc. Migraines also can appear as a secondary condition to head and neck injuries, and some early research indicates there may be a link between migraines and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
The VA may assign a disability rating for migraine headaches at 0%, 10%, 30%, or 50%, depending on the frequency and severity of the headaches.
Am I Eligible for VA Disability Benefits?
When determining eligibility for VA disability benefits, the most important factor in a successful claim is the ability to prove a service connection. The disability must be tied to active duty service either directly or indirectly.
The VA rates disabilities in increments of 10% from 0% to 100%. The amount of disability compensation a veteran can receive is directly influenced by this rating, along with the number of dependents within the veteran’s household.
The VA will pay additional compensation to veterans who:
- Have disabilities severe enough to confine them to their immediate premises
- Require the aid and assistance of others
- Have suffered a loss or loss of use of extremities
The veteran must be able to show a clear connection between the current medical condition and the veteran’s time of service. The injury or condition must have occurred or developed during the time of service, or existed before service but was exacerbated by conditions of service. A veteran also may be eligible if documentation shows that a post-service medical condition can be connected to conditions of military service.
In addition to proving a service connection, a successful claim must show that the veteran meets additional eligibility criteria as outlined by the VA. For example, the veteran must have separated from military service under conditions other than dishonorable, and the disability or medical condition in question must not be a result of the veteran’s misconduct.
Winning Your VA Disability Claim
VA disability benefits represent an essential financial safety net for U.S. veterans who suffer illness, injuries, or other medical conditions during their time of service. If you think you might be eligible for VA disability benefits, it’s important to get the process started as soon as possible. You can choose to work with a qualified VA disability attorney or a Veterans Service Officer.
Keep in mind that the easiest VA disability claims to win are those with strong medical evidence that connects an injury, illness, or medical condition to a veteran’s time of service. A medical evidence developer can also be a tremendous resource when it comes to documenting your current health conditions and establishing a service connection. With the right medical documentation, winning a VA disability claim becomes much easier.