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Migraines and VA Disability

A migraine is a painful headache that may be accompanied by intense throbbing or pulsing in one area of the head, nausea, vomiting, and/or extreme sensitivity to light or sound. The attacks can last for hours or days. The National Headache Foundation estimates that more than 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines, with women being affected three times more often than men.

The medical literature indicates that migraines can be triggered by several factors, including sleep problems, medications, stress, and depression.  In addition to these factors, I’ve also seen disabled veterans with migraines that are due to spinal problems, traumatic brain injury, or eye injuries.

Many veterans complain of severe headaches; however, they fail to recognize that they may be suffering from migraines.  Unfortunately, migraines are often misdiagnosed as sinus headaches or tension headaches. Some doctors simply do not have the experience to properly diagnosis migraines.

The VA recognizes migraines as a service connected disability, so long as the veteran can prove a connection with military service. In other words, if the veteran can prove that the migraines began in service, were caused by an event that occurred during service, or are secondarily related to other service connected conditions, then he/she may obtain service connected disability for this condition.

Migraines are rated by the VA based on the frequency and severity of the headaches.  The lowest compensable rating for migraines is 10 percent. For a 10 percent rating, the veteran must experience “prostrating attacks averaging one in 2 months over the last several months.”  The highest schedular rating for migraines is 50 percent. For a 50 percent rating, a veteran must experience “very frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability.”  Based on the rating schedule, if the migraines are infrequent or not prostrating, the veteran will only receive a 0% rating at best.

In order for a veteran to be properly rated for migraines, he or she must have documentation that the headaches are actually migraines. The best evidence is medical records that show a diagnosis of migraines from a qualified medical source. For example, a diagnosis from a neurologist, migraine specialist, ophthalmologist, optometrist, or even a primary care physician. The nuance, however, is that in order to be accurately rated, the veteran must have more than just a diagnosis; there must be evidence of the severity and frequency of the migraines. Helpful evidence of severity and frequency would be medical records, headache diaries kept by the veteran, statements from lay persons, employment records showing absenteeism, etc.

As stated above, the highest schedular rating for migraines is 50%. However, this does not necessarily mean the end of the road for a veteran who feels he/she is unemployable due to the migraines. Veterans who are unable to work at a substantially gainful level due to migraines may be eligible for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).  There are specific requirements for a veteran to qualify for TDIU benefits; however, the important point to take away is that even though the VA does not provide for a 100% schedular rating for migraines, a veteran may still be able to be compensated at the 100% rate nevertheless.

If you are a disabled veteran suffering from severe headaches that you suspect are connected to your military service or to another service connected condition, it is to your benefit to file a disability claim for migraines right away. You should also have a proper medical evaluation and start keeping track of the severity and frequency of the headaches.  A qualified representative can assist you with developing the evidence you will need to properly present your claim in the best light.

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by Attorney Leslie Gaines
November 21, 2012

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