For a person suffering from lupus, a condition that is often silent and hard to notice without medical guidance, day to day work can be challenging. Debilitating pain and limited access to relief may make it nearly impossible to complete the work you need to as a component of military service or other employment. Learning more about the disability rating for lupus may shed some light on what to expect and determine if you may qualify for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Here are some details of the VA’s disability rating for this autoimmune disease.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease. It impacts the function of the immune system, causing the immune system to attack the body’s organs and tissues. Lupus can impact a wide range of organs in the body, including blood cells, joints, skin, the brain, lungs, and the heart. While it can be devastating in terms of pain and overall health, it is difficult to diagnose due to the symptoms of this condition mimicking other conditions.
Common symptoms of Lupus
Some of the most common symptoms of lupus include:
- A butterfly-shaped race on the face that covers the cheeks on either side and the bridge of the nose
- Skin lesions that worsen with sun exposure
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Fingers and toes that become blue or white in color when exposed to stress or cold
- Chest pains
- Dry eyes
A person with lupus may not know they have the condition until they are tested and treated on a comprehensive level. In some cases, it can take years for this diagnosis to occur, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes, observing the signs and symptoms of lupus in other people may help to indicate what’s happening. This video on the symptoms of lupus may be a good starting point. Learning to live with lupus can also be helpful for many people.
Service Connection for Lupus
For those who have military service, it may be possible to seek out a service-connected disability for the condition. This may allow a person to obtain VA disability benefits that may help to minimize the need to work especially in those where it is difficult to do so. For those with this autoimmune disorder, it’s essential to know what to expect from the VA and how to establish a direct service connection.
In order to receive disability benefits, a person must meet three criteria through the VA disability rating process. That includes:
- Have a current medical diagnosis of lupus from a recognized medical doctor
- Have an in-service incident or occurrence that aggravated lupus in some way
- Have a medical nexus connecting the diagnosis of lupus to the in-service occurrence
What does that mean for lupus sufferers? First, it means you must have a formal diagnosis from a doctor of lupus. This may be a sub-form of it, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, for example. Then, show some type of incident that occurred as a result of the lupus that is interacting with military service. For example, many people with this condition have debilitating pain that impacts their joints. It may impact mobility and the ability to stand for long periods of time. Others may have chest pains or headaches that are debilitating that are worsened during periods of high stress. Others who have lupus suffer aggravated conditions and symptoms when they are exposed to the cold, which may occur in some types of work you may do.
What type of exacerbations does working cause for your condition? To obtain veteran’s disability, you must show that the work you do as an active duty professional impacts your health in some way due to your condition. Skin conditions may be heightened when exposed to cold temperatures, which leads to infectious diseases and risks of skin damage, for example. You may have chronic fatigue that puts you at risk of making mistakes when operating machinery.
Secondary Service Connection for Lupus
Many people struggling with lupus battle multiple body system problems. This may make it more challenging to know if you’ve developed a secondary problem that relates from the aggravation of your lupus, such as when engaged with work duties. However, this condition does worsen with heightened temperatures, drops in temperature, and stress.
Some complications that may be applicable for disability benefits include a higher risk of joint deformities from engaging in activities in extreme temperatures, kidney failure due to the onset of chronic symptoms, and a higher risk for conditions such as bone fractures and stroke.
A service-connected illness like lupus can cause some other types of illness or injury to you. That’s what a secondary service connection is. Lupus may have led to a heart attack, stroke, or other complications to your health. Keep in mind, you must have evidence that the service connected disability caused the onset of this secondary condition.
Secondary Connection by Aggravation
It’s also possible that a service connection may be applied by a service connection through aggravation. This can apply to lupus in many cases. In this method, a person has a pre-existing condition – you may have had lupus before joining the military, for example. Now that there are working in the military, their condition has worsened as a result of the work they do. This means the condition has worsened more so than the natural progression of the condition. With lupus, this may apply to situations where the type of work being done has worsened the pain or led to bone fractures or skin lesions.
Compensation & Pension Exams for Lupus
The Compensation and Pension exam is the process that all veterans claims like this must go through. Specifically, it is a process that looks at how severe impairment of health is from the condition based on medical history, symptoms, and other information, including a physical examination. It is critical to go to the C&P exam to ensure you have access to this process.
During this process, there are typically a series of questions that you need to answer. Don’t feel that you need to be perfect here – be honest about what’s occurring and how that impacts your ability to do the work you do. You may be asked to list any types of complications you have from your condition, such as nutritional deficiencies, the part of the body impacted, the development of conditions like sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis (and proof of this), as well as other factors. You can expect the process to take under 30 minutes in most cases.
Prior to the exam, work with your attorney at a law firm if you decide to get help to learn more about the types of questions you may have and how to properly answer them. Be sure you understand your condition, the types of incidents it has led to that impact your ability to work, and any secondary conditions you may have resulting from the work you do due to your condition.
If you receive an unfavorable examination, disabled veterans may be able to apply for disability compensation again. The key here is to ensure you are working with an attorney who can help to determine what did not go the way it should so that changes can occur. This may lead to an increased rating for your immune disorders.
How does the VA Rate Lupus?
Many factors play a role in your ability to obtain veterans benefits from a lupus diagnosis. The examiner will rate your VA disability claim on the following factors:
- 10%: Exacerbations occur one or two times per year with symptoms during the past two years
- 60%: The exacerbations experienced occur two or three times per year and typically lasted a week or more at a time
- 100%: There are acute and frequent exacerbations, and these have a serve impairment of health
The VA will look at a person’s unemployability – can you work with this condition and, if so, how much?
TDIU for Lupus
There is the possibility of getting TDIU (total disability based on Individual Unemployability) with lupus. To do so, it must be obvious that the condition has created severe outcomes for you. This may include experiencing seizures or being unable to have the mobility you need due to complications from the condition.
What to Expect from Disability Compensation
If you have dysfunction from lupus and it is impacting your ability to work or working is putting you at a higher risk for complications such as flare-ups, you may qualify for disability benefits. However, to have a higher rating to do this, you need to demonstrate just how difficult this is, which is often done best with plenty of data to support your needs.
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