If you sustained an ankle injury during military service, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. This may also be true if you had an existing ankle injury that was aggravated by active duty service. By gathering evidence and proving service connection, you may be able to present a favorable VA disability claim.
What Is Ankle Instability?
Ankle instability is a chronic condition that is often caused by an acute injury such as an ankle sprain. There are two types of ankle instability: mechanical and functional. Mechanical instability occurs when the ankle is physically unstable and unable to be weight-bearing. Functional instability refers to a feeling that the ankle may “give out” at any time.
Ankle instability can cause pain and may make it hard to engage in everyday activities, especially those that involve being on your feet. Some of the symptoms of ankle instability include:
- Inability to walk without fear of rolling the ankle
- Loss of balance
- Walking with a limp
Not every incident will include all of the symptoms listed above, and there may be other issues caused by this condition. Some ankle injuries will also cause frozen ankle joints, limitation of motion, or interference with normal range of motion.
Service Connection for Ankle Instability
The key to obtaining a VA disability rating for ankle instability is to prove service connection. Proving a direct service connection is the most common way to do this. There are three elements necessary for a successful direct service connection claim. These are:
- A Current Diagnosis: You must have a recent diagnosis of ankle instability by a medical practitioner.
- In-Service Occurrence or Incident that Caused or Aggravated Claim: You must be able to point out an incident, accident, or series of events that led to the injury or an aggravation of an existing injury. Examples of occurrences that lead to ankle instability may include a slip and fall injury; rolling your ankle while marching, running, or walking in service; or injuring your ankle in active combat.
- Medical Nexus Connecting the Disability to the Occurrence: Your doctor or other medical professionals must be able to connect the stated occurrence with the resulting ankle instability.
Secondary Service Connection for Ankle Instability
Another way of obtaining a VA rating for ankle instability is by proving a secondary service connection. A secondary service connection occurs when you can connect your ankle instability with another service-connected injury or issue.
For instance, you may have broken your right foot during combat (the service-connected injury). However, later on, you may have developed ankle instability on the left ankle. If your doctor can prove that the ankle instability on the left side was caused due to you favoring your right ankle because of your broken foot, that could prove secondary service connection for your ankle instability. This is one way that injuries that occur after service can still have service-connection.
Service Connection by Aggravation for Ankle Instability
If you were diagnosed with ankle instability before you entered active service, it may still be possible to prove service connection to receive VA disability benefits. This would occur if your ankle instability was aggravated by something that occurred during service. For example, the physical requirements of military service, like training and combat, could have make an existing ankle injury worse. In this case, you may be able to obtain service connection by aggravation—a valid type of service connection, according to the VA.
Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams for Ankle Instability
After you file a claim through the Veteran’s Administration, the VA may ask you to have a compensation and pension exam (C&P exam). It is vitally important that you show up to your scheduled C&P exam or reschedule if you are unable to attend. This exam may be a requirement for your ankle instability rating.
A C&P exam is a basic medical exam focused on your ankle instability. The doctor in charge of the exam will assess your injury, talk to you about your medical history as it relates to this case, and determine if its service connection applies.
Veterans should keep in mind that they have the right to the results of their C&P exam. However, you might not receive these results if you don’t ask for them. Having the details of the exam will be helpful if you receive an unfavorable result and plan to appeal your claim for higher disability compensation.
Evidence for Ankle Disability Claims and Appealing Under the AMA System
When you receive an unfavorable disability rating, you have a number of options available to you to appeal the claim. In these cases you may need to put together a number of details to appeal. These details can include information from your medical doctor as well as laypersons who have details about your injury. You may obtain evidence from fellow military service members, as well as others who can provide evidence that you have suffered from ongoing ankle instability and that it affects you in your day to day life. If the ankle injury prevents you from working, details from your employer may be helpful too.
After submitting this evidence to the VA, you may be able to fill out a notice of disagreement (NOD) to request an appeal. If the appeal process moves forward, you will have the chance to provide additional evidence supporting your claim.
VA Disability Ratings for Ankle Instability
The VA rating schedule for joint problems, including ankle instability, is based on the range of motion as well as other specific criteria that affect the joints and musculoskeletal system. The VA may require documentation that shows the range of motion of the ankle. This documentation may include medical records, notes from a medical practitioner, or physical evidence like x-ray images.
In many cases, ankle instability itself would receive a rating of between 0 and 20% on the rating schedule. However, the ankle instability may occur in conjunction with other issues, such as knee pain, and leg pain. The VA might note the presence of other conditions and award the veteran an even higher VA disability rating. Arthritis of the ankle joint is a common condition that can occur with ankle instability. Arthritis and ankle instability together might lead to a higher disability rating.
Have Questions About Your VA Disability Rating For Ankle Instability?
If you are experiencing an ongoing ankle injury or functional loss of the joint, it can be frustrating if your VA benefits claim is denied or awarded a low rating. If you are struggling to obtain adequate veterans benefits, contact the team at Hill & Ponton. Our team of veterans disability and social security disability attorneys will work with you to build an effective VA claim or appeal your current rating. Hit the red button above for a free case evaluation.
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