What Is The VA Rating for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition associated with repetitive motion. If you developed carpal tunnel as a result of military service, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
This guide will outline how to prove service connection for carpal tunnel, as well as how the VA rates this condition when processing disability claims.
What IS Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects the dexterity of your hands and wrists. It can ultimately limit movement due to the pain or discomfort when adjusting to different tasks. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a muscle injury though, but a compression of a nerve in the hand.
Known as localized neuropathy of the median nerve, the contraction of the tunnel can ultimately cause the following symptoms:
- Tingling sensations in the fingers or hand
- Numbness or loss of sensation in the fingers or hand
- Weakness in the hand
- Inability to hold objects (especially if pinching with your thumb)
- Shock-like sensations through fingers or hand
- Difficulty making a fist
- Pain that extends through the forearms and shoulders
Carpal tunnel is most often associated with office workers in cubicles but can be caused by any job with repetitive motions, such as those performed in the service. This nerve condition will usually begin with mild symptoms but then gradually build to disruptive levels. It can often be mistaken for arthritis or ligament damage because they both mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel.
Service Connection for Carpal Tunnel
When applying for VA disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome, you will need to prove service connection. There are several ways to do this. The first is proving a direct service connection.
Carpal tunnel does not have to stem from being in the military. Anything that irritates the nerve tunnel can eventually cause it to either collapse the narrow passageway or impact the synovium tissues that supply lubrication to the fingers. However, if you were subjected to constant, repetitive tasks in the service that would cause carpal tunnel, you can apply for a service connection.
To file a claim, you’ll need the following official documentation:
- Medical nexus (letter) from your doctor that states your carpal tunnel was caused by your time in the service
- A current diagnosis of carpal tunnel from your doctor
- A full description of the events leading up to carpal tunnel
For instance, if you were in charge of transcribing reports for a superior officer for several years, you may have noticed carpal tunnel symptoms. By the last few months, you found that the pain had progressed to the point where you could not hold a coffee mug anymore. This represents a prime opportunity to file for a primary service connection.
Please note that you do not need to be officially on-duty to file for disability. So, if you took up writing while you were in the service to cope with stress and developed carpal tunnel in your dominant hand from your hobby, this will be evaluated with the same gravity as if you had been working in an official capacity.
Secondary Service Connection for Carpal Tunnel
You can file for a secondary service connection for carpal tunnel if you believe that the condition stemmed from another disability that was developed during your time in the military. As with the service-connected disability, you do not need to have developed carpal tunnel while you were on base in order to claim a secondary-service connection.
For instance, you may have broken your pinky finger while you were loading a truck for a routine mission. You were treated by a doctor and given appropriate supplies for recovery, but the pinky didn’t heal correctly and left you with intermittent pain for the rest of your life. If you were forced to adjust your hand movements to accommodate the new pain, it could have eventually put strain on your wrist and led to carpal tunnel. Whether you develop it several months or several decades later, you may still be able to show a secondary service connection.
A doctor can help you understand more about the ripple effects that one injury can place on your body. Should you apply for a secondary service connection, you’ll need an official opinion from your doctor that confirms that the primary injury led to the secondary one (as well as a description of the preceding events and a recent diagnosis of carpal tunnel). This will serve as key medical evidence during your claim.
Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams for Carpal Tunnel VA Rating
When you make an official request through the VA, you’ll need to send all documentation to the Regional Office for review. After authorities look at the information, they’ll likely reach out to you to request a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam. This is an important step in the VA disability benefits claims process, as it gives the VA another official opinion as to the severity of your condition.
During the C&P exam, you’ll see a doctor that the VA has approved. This doctor has already established a relationship with the RO and is expected to present factual evidence aligned with the VA’s standards. During the exam, you’ll be evaluated for carpal tunnel based on tests like X-Rays to dexterity tests. Because carpal tunnel can easily mask as a number of other chronic conditions, this exam can ensure that you received the correct diagnosis.
Once the doctor has come to their own conclusions, they’ll send the information to the RO so they have what they need to make a final decision. Please note that C&P exams will not treat you for carpal tunnel or any other condition you may have. Instead of prescribing a medication or a treatment plan as your doctor would, the VA doctor is there to opine on your condition and what rating it merits.
How does the VA Rate Carpal Tunnel?
The VA rating for carpal tunnel is generally 10%, but they may give it a higher rating based on the severity of the condition and the hand that it inflicts. The VA will evaluate both the right hand and left hand separately, adding the two ratings together for a final number. If you’re right-handed and filing for both sides, for instance, you may receive a disability rating of 20% and 10% for the left hand (non-dominant hand).
Your case will be individually assessed by the RO in order to provide a fair number. While the discomfort in your hands can severely affect your performance on the job, it is extremely unlikely that it will qualify you for total disability.
Have Questions About Your VA Claim for Carpal Tunnel?
If you’re filing a VA disability claim for carpal tunnel, or recently had a claim denied, the professionals at Hill & Ponton are here to help. We value attorney-client relationships, and our social security and veterans disability attorneys are available to assess your claim, give legal advice, and represent you. Contact our law firm today for a free case evaluation.