The Back and Spine
The Back and Spine Overview
The VA awards disability compensation for each Back and Spine condition that is service-connected. The DoD will also rate service-connected conditions as long as they also make the service member Unfit for Duty. For Reservists, the condition must have occurred in or resulted from an injury in the Line of Duty to qualify.
The Musculoskeletal System is vast and complex, consisting of muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones. Thus, a single injury to the spine can cause multiple issues. Because of this complexity, the VA simplified the rating system for musculoskeletal conditions to focus on the resulting disability from a condition or group of conditions existing in the same body part.
To honor the Pyramiding Principle, only a single rating can be given for conditions of the Cervical Spine and a single rating for conditions of the Thoracolumbar Spine with a few exceptions. If a nerve condition also exists (often the case with Spine conditions), then that can be rated separately under one of the Lower Nerve or Upper Nerve codes since the Nervous System is separate and distinct. Other exceptions, if any, are noted in specific rating codes found on the Spine Condition Ratings page.
Muscles do have their own rating system (see the Torso and Neck Muscles page), but cannot be rated in addition to another musculoskeletal rating for the Back and Spine since they often result in similar symptoms (limitation of motion, etc.).
Back and Spine Ratings
The VASRD offers a General Rating Formula for the majority of conditions of the Spine that is based primarily on limited motion of the Spine.
Conditions of the Back and Spine:
- Spinal Conditions rated on the General Rating Formula
- Arthritis of the Spine
- The Sacroiliac and Lumbosacral Joints
- The Coccyx Bone (Tailbone)
- Intervertebral Disc Syndrome
- Musculoskeletal Diseases
In reality, the majority of Spine conditions will be rated on limitation of motion since that is the most common symptom of these conditions that results in a measurable disability, but other rating options exist to rate the Spine conditions that cause other forms of disability.
If a condition is not directly listed on the Spine Condition Ratings page, it is rated under the code that best describes it or its dominant symptom (hint: the majority will be rated as limitation of motion).
In addition to or instead of the standard disability compensation for Spine conditions, loss of use of the limbs due to Spine damage may also qualify for Special Monthly Compensation.
How will the VA rate my back and spine conditions?
The VA uses the rules of the VASRD to rate spine conditions based on pain, limited motion, damage to the bones, diseases like arthritis, etc. Check out our Spine Conditions Ratings page for the exact codes and ratings.
My back condition wasn't diagnosed until after I was discharged. Can it qualify for VA disability?
The VA can only rate conditions that meet some type of service-connection requirement. For conditions diagnosed after service, the condition must either be a secondary condition caused by another service-connected condition, or it must be on the VA's Presumptive List.
Are my conditions eligible for a rating?
Your conditions are eligible to be rated by the VA if they are the result of your military service. You must be able to show proof of service-connection for each condition. For the DoD, they will rate your service-connected conditions as long as they also make you Unfit for Duty.
How do I apply to receive my ratings?
If you are still in the military, then you can request your military physician to refer you to the MEB and start the IDES process. If you are already a veteran, you can submit a VA Disability Claim along with evidence of service-connection and all medical records regarding the conditions on the claim.
If my claim is approved, what benefits will I receive?
If you are rated 20% or less from the DoD, then you will receive a single separation payment. If you are rated 30% or more, you will receive full retirement benefits. From the VA, you will receive a monthly payment as well as full medical care from the VA for the qualifying conditions.
How long does it take to receive my disability benefits?
Brand new claims usually take 3-6 months to process. Once processed, you will start receiving payments in 1-3 months.
How are the rating percentages assigned to my conditions?
The rules of the VA's Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) are used to assign rating percentages to conditions. The VASRD gives rating rules for conditions based on their symptoms, treatment options, and the resulting level of disability they cause.
My back conditions have worsened. How do I increase my rating percentages?
If your conditions have worsened since you last applied and now qualify for a higher rating, you can submit a new claim, checking the box for an increased evaluation.