Plantar fasciitis is a painful foot condition caused by inflammation deep within the fascia of the sole of the foot. Doctors and patients sometimes refer to plantar fasciitis as runner’s heel, painful sole syndrome, or neuritis. What many veterans don’t know is that they may be able to receive service-connected disability compensation for their plantar fasciitis if they can demonstrate a connection.
People suffering from plantar fasciitis typically experience pain on the bottom of their feet that ranges from a mild annoyance to so severe that they cannot put any weight on the affected foot. Plantar fasciitis sufferers commonly report that pain in the bottom of their heel is most severe in the morning and then subsides as the day progresses. If you’re interested in the disability ratings for shin splints, go here!
Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms and Risk Factors Among Veterans
The primary symptom of the foot condition plantar fasciitis is tenderness and pain on the underside of one or both feet that worsens with weight-bearing activities like walking. The onset of plantar fasciitis is often so gradual that people do not seek help for their foot pain until it interferes with their everyday life. Although foot pain originates in the heel with plantar fasciitis, it can gravitate upwards towards the toes.
Plantar fasciitis is most common among runners, athletes, and people whose job requires them to stand on a hard surface for much of the day. Military service is a known cause of foot injuries and foot pain since soldiers stand much of the time and carry loads on their backs that can weigh up to 50 pounds. The Mayo Clinic reports the following risk factors associated with the development of plantar fasciitis:
- Age over 40
- Certain types of exercise, such as running and aerobic dancing because they put pressure on heels and the tissue attached to them
- Female gender
- Foot mechanics such as flat feet or a high arch
- Standing or walking on hard surfaces for a majority of the day
Sometimes doctors misdiagnose plantar heel pain or generalized foot pain as plantar fasciitis when the condition is something entirely different. Common examples include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, cysts, and bursitis. Sometimes veterans are diagnosed with pes planus (flat feet).
Veterans who plan to file for disability compensation should visit a podiatrist as soon as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis. The podiatrist will take X-rays and recommend the least invasive method possible for treating plantar fasciitis. Common examples include losing weight, wearing orthopedic shoes, wearing shoe inserts, or buying shoes with arch support.
Service Connection for Plantar Fasciitis
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) looks for the following three criteria when receiving a disability claim for plantar fasciitis:
- Current diagnosis of plantar fasciitis by a podiatrist or the veteran’s regular doctor.
- Description and proof of an in-service event that caused the foot pain or foot injury leading to plantar fasciitis.
- Inclusion of a medical nexus, a term that describes proof of the health condition for which the veteran requests VA disability benefits and how military service caused or worsened the condition.
Military service requires soldiers to spend hours on their feet each day, often on rough terrain. Since this is one of the leading risk factors for plantar fasciitis, making a service connection should not be difficult for veterans who receive X-rays and a proper diagnosis from their podiatrist or regular doctor.
Secondary Service Connection for Plantar Fasciitis
Veterans who receive a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis after they leave the military may be able to claim a secondary service connection if they can prove their heel pain developed or worsened due to a condition such as existing knee, hip, or back pain. As with a primary disability rating for plantar fasciitis, veterans need to present the following when applying for VA disability for a secondary service connection:
- A current diagnosis of plantar fasciitis on file with the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Previous documentation of a primary service-connected disability
- Evidence of a medical nexus that proves a connection between the previously claimed disability and the secondary disability of plantar fasciitis
Service Connection by Aggravation
Veterans who entered military service with pre-existing heel pain or foot injuries may be able to claim service connection by aggravation if their plantar fasciitis worsened. Medical records for aggravated or secondary conditions must prove that the new injury is not temporary. A doctor must also submit in writing that any secondary conditions, including plantar fasciitis, worsened strictly due to military service and not natural disease progression.
Compensation and Pension Exams (C& P Exams) for Plantar Fasciitis
The Department of Veterans Affairs sometimes needs more information to determine whether a veteran has a legitimate impairment and to assign the appropriate disability rating. When this occurs, the veteran applying for disability benefits will need to undergo a C & P exam.
During a C & P exam for plantar fasciitis, a doctor may take X-rays and likely physically examine each foot. The purpose of the X-rays is to verify the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis from another doctor and look for medical evidence to confirm it, like calcified heel spurs. Veterans should be prepared to discuss specific ways that heel pain impacts their life, such as the inability to walk long distances.
Veterans have the right to request a copy of their medical records from a C & P exam if it comes back unfavorable for establishing a primary service connection. After reviewing the medical records, the next step is to file a VA disability benefits appeal. The VA will outline the steps involved with appealing a C & P exam in its initial communication.
VA Disability Ratings for Plantar Fasciitis
The Department of Veterans Affairs changed its schedule of ratings for plantar fasciitis effective February 7, 2021. The maximum disability rating is 40 percent, and the schedule of ratings is as follows:
- 30 percent rating when the veteran has received no relief from surgical or non-surgical treatment methods, such as wearing orthopedic shoes, inserts, or arch supports. This percent rating only applies when plantar fasciitis affects both feet.
- A 20 percent rating applies when the veteran meets the above requirements, but the plantar fasciitis only impacts one foot.
- A 10 percent rating applies for cases of plantar fasciitis classified as otherwise. This percent rating can apply to one or both feet.
The VA also applies two special disability ratings for plantar fasciitis. Veterans who have plantar fasciitis and experienced the actual loss of use of the foot qualify for a 40 percent disability rating. A special disability rating of 20 or 30 percent applies to veterans who received a surgical recommendation from their doctor but are not a candidate for surgery. Whether a veteran receives a 20 or 30 percent disability rating depends on if the plantar fasciitis is unilateral, affecting only one foot, or bilateral, affecting both feet.
TDIU for Plantar Fasciitis
TDIU stands for total disability individual unemployability. Veterans who qualify for TDIU must demonstrate they are unable to maintain gainful employment due to a 100 percent combined disability rating. Because the maximum rating for this foot injury is 40 percent, veterans applying for TDIU must have at least a 60 percent disability rating from one or more primary or secondary conditions to qualify for TDIU.
Contact Hill & Ponton for Additional Help with VA Disability Claims
Navigating the VA disability claims system can be challenging, regardless of the specific disability. The legal firm of Hill & Ponton is here to help. We invite veterans to get a free online evaluation for your VA disability claim.
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