In a previous post, I discussed an overview of Parkinson’s disease and how the VA rates it. There are additional benefits that are especially relevant when looking at a claim for Parkinson’s. Because of the debilitating and rapidly progressive nature of the disease, veterans with Parkinson’s should make sure to check and see if they qualify for individual unemployability (IU) and for special monthly compensation (SMC). SMC and IU are avenues for receiving a higher amount of compensation for your service connected conditions.
Care Needs Associated with Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is chronic and slowly progressive, eventually affecting your ability to perform activities of daily living. There are 5 basic categories of daily activities. These are:
- Personal hygiene: bathing, grooming, and oral care
- Dressing: the ability to make appropriate clothing choices and physically dress yourself
- Eating: the ability to feed yourself
- Maintaining continence: the mental and physical ability to use the bathroom
- Transferring: the ability to move yourself from seated to standing, and getting in and out of bed.
Now, let’s look at the stages of Parkinson’s and how the impact each stage has on the care needs of a veteran.
- Stages 1 & 2: Early stage or mild Parkinson’s disease is characterized by tremors and mild changes to your gait and posture. Typically, medication can control these symptoms and an individual would be able to continue managing their own activities of daily living.
- Stage 3: With moderate Parkinson’s disease, balance issues start to appeal and occasional “freezes” (a spontaneous loss of mobility) may occur. Individuals are still able to complete activities of daily living without assistance, but at a slower pace than someone of their same age without the condition.
- Stage 4 & 5: Once Parkinson’s disease progresses to the later or advanced stages, assistance with care and activities of daily living becomes essential.
Special Monthly Compensation
Special monthly compensation (SMC) is a benefit that is paid in addition to the basic rates of compensation payable for service connected disabilities. SMC is available for different circumstances. The most applicable categories of SMC for veterans with Parkinson’s disease would be
- Loss, or loss of use, of a creative organ: The VA defines “creative organ” has a procreative or reproductive organ.
- Loss, or loss of use, of a foot or hand: Available when no effective function remains (i.e. inability to grasp or manipulate objects).
- Loss of use of both buttocks: Exists when there is severe damage because of disease or injury to the buttocks muscle bilaterally, and an additional disability makes it impossible to rise from a seated position and to maintain stable posture.
- Loss of use or blindness of one eye: The inability to recognize test letters at one foot and when further examination of the eye reveals that perception of objects, hand movements, or counting fingers, cannot be accomplished at a distance of 3 feet.
- Deafness: Deafness means that a VA-authorized audiology clinic shows bilateral hearing loss equal to or greater than the minimum bilateral hearing loss required for a maximum rating under the rating schedule.
- Loss of ability to speak: This is available for veterans that have a disability of the organs of speech that constantly prevents communication by speech.
- Anatomical loss of 25% or more of tissue from a single, or both, breasts: This is includes loss by mastectomy or partial mastectomy. Also, applies when there has been radiation treatment of breast tissue, if the loss is service-connected.
- Housebound status: Available for veterans with one disability rated at 100% and an additional disability rated at 60% (or additional disabilities that have a combined rating of 60%).
- Regular Aid & Attendance and permanently bedridden: Available for veterans in need of regular aid and attendance to perform the personal functions of daily living.
Keep in mind that the above list is only a very brief description of the differing SMC categories. The extra care required as Parkinson’s progresses can become very expensive. Don’t overlook possible entitlement to SMC for your service connected Parkinson’s disease.
Individual Unemployability Benefits
Individual unemployability (IU) allows a veteran to receive compensation at the 100% rate, even though their service connected conditions weren’t rated at 100% by the VA. The impact that Parkinson’s has on your ability to work depends on the severity of the symptoms. If Parkinson’s disease does begin to affect your ability to work, don’t forget to look at applying for IU. IU is typically granted when a veteran has service connected conditions that meet specific rating requirements. However, just because you don’t meet specific rating requirements does not mean you should not apply for IU. If you’re service connected condition(s) prevent you from obtaining and securing a substantially gainful job, then you are entitled to IU.