Building a VA claim for Tendonitis
Tendonitis is an uncomfortable condition that can cause painful motion and limit the range of motion. If you developed tendonitis as a result of military service, you may qualify for disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In this guide, we will go over the VA disability rating for tendonitis, so you can build your veterans disability claim.
What Is Tendonitis?
Tendonitis is a condition of the musculoskeletal system in which the tendons in a joint becomes inflamed and irritated. This inflammation can cause pain and limitation of motion.
The joints in your body are the connecting force that gives you the ability to move without discomfort. But when you suffer from tendonitis, the joints can’t function properly. This can lead to pain for the afflicted, especially if they’re unable to take the time to rest and heal. When tendonitis develops, the tendon that links the bone to the muscle will become inflamed or irritated. Symptoms include:
- A gradual buildup of pain at the site of the tendon
- Sudden and severe pain at the site of the tendon
- Pain surrounding the tendon
- Limited motion in the joint
- Loss of shoulder range of motion (sometimes known as frozen shoulder)
- Crackling noise when moving the damaged tendon
- Stiffness or swelling of the joint
This condition is often associated with arm or shoulder pain, but it can occur anywhere in the body. This includes areas on the lower extremities, such as the knee joints. Tendonitis is sometimes called tendinopathy, a catch-all term for all tendon issues. However, it is not to be confused with a related condition called tendinosis, which is a degenerative disease that does not include the trademark inflammation of tendonitis. Chronic tendonitis can lead to tendinosis though, so it’s important to be aware of how your joint pain is progressing.
Service Connection for Tendonitis
Tendonitis can be both caused and exasperated by repetitive tasks when on the job, which is why you can file for disability through the VA if your condition is related to the time you spent in military service. You will need the following three items to get your veteran’s benefits claim started:
- A recent diagnosis of tendonitis from your doctor
- A description of the events in the service that led to tendonitis
- A letter (medical nexus) from your doctor that confirms your tendonitis was caused by your time in the service
Regardless of which branch you served under or whether you were in combat during active duty, it’s common for all service members to perform manual labor. Shoveling, throwing, painting, cleaning: these common activities can all lead to tendonitis, which is to say nothing of the daily physical conditioning required for service members. You can file for veterans’ disability so long as the in-service occurrence or incident happened during your official time with the military. (The incident does not need to have happened when you were officially on base and on duty.)
For example, let’s say that you were tasked with removing heavy items from pallets every day. While you always lifted with your back, eventually you began to feel a twinge in your shoulder, a twinge which only worsened every day thereafter. This could eventually lead to a serious case of tendonitis down the line. You can also file for tendonitis if you learned an extracurricular hobby during your time with the military. So if you took up gardening and developed tendonitis from the repetitive digging, this is still a valid VA claim.
Secondary Service Connection for Tendonitis
While the most common way for tendonitis to develop is through repetitive motion, it can sometimes be caused by an injury. If the initial injury was related to your time in the military, you can file for both conditions under a primary and secondary service connection.
For instance, let’s say that you broke your left knee due to a direct blow during a routine training session. After the knee injury was healed, you developed both chronic bone pain and tendonitis. Under the VA disability rating system, you can claim bone pain as the primary service connection and tendonitis as the secondary. The VA disability rating for knee tendonitis would reflect this.
To file a claim for this, you’ll need to have a recent diagnosis of tendonitis, as well as an official statement from your doctor that links the primary and secondary medical conditions together. It’s a similar process as the primary connection, but you’ll need to make it clear to the doctor how one is related to the other.
Service Connection by Aggravation: What if You Were Diagnosed With Tendonitis Before Service?
The VA may still approve disability claims even if you were diagnosed with a medical condition prior to joining the service. The technical term these types of cases is service connection by aggravation. If your condition was made worse by your time in the service, then it will count toward your overall disability rating. However, this can be difficult to prove for tendonitis because tendonitis has a tendency to get worse over time — regardless of whether you’re in the military or not. In this case, you’ll likely need to show that your tendonitis progressed faster than the expected rate due to the physical demands of the service.
Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams for Tendonitis
Veterans are required to submit all necessary paperwork to the appropriate VA Regional Office (RO). Once the RO has reviewed your case, they will usually contact you via mail or phone to schedule a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam. These procedures are a way for the VA to confirm your doctor’s findings.
A C&P exam is not like a standard doctor visit. The medical professionals who examine your tendonitis are not there to treat your condition or prescribe medication that will eliminate the pain. Instead, they’re reviewing the information from your doctor, asking questions about the injury, and assessing whether it can be traced back to your time during the service.
Even under the best of circumstances, it’s difficult to attribute tendonitis to any one specific event. The VA’s doctor will consider factors like the severity of the pain and any undiscovered underlying conditions that could explain the problem. For example, they might consider joint pain that is caused by a benign tumor or osteoarthritis.
Once the doctor has finished up, they’ll write their findings in an official report and send it to the RO for review. If the RO denies your request, you’ll have the option to appeal either by submitting additional information or by requesting a different person review your case.
Evidence for Tendonitis Claims and Appealing Under the AMA system
The evidence for tendonitis is generally the inflammation or irritation of the joint. The doctor may conduct a number of tests, including imaging through X-rays or MRIs, in order to prove the condition. They will consider how different tasks affect the joints and whether the in-service incident was likely to have caused the tendonitis. Stiffness, swelling, and reported pain along with any internal imaging will be compared against the incident described during the service to assess the likelihood of the connection.
If the VA doctor does not agree with either your or your doctor’s statements, the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) allows you to challenge an unfavorable case. You’ll have three ways to do this, depending on your preferred path:
- Submit additional evidence (e.g., physical X-rays, a second doctor’s opinion, further remarks from your original doctor) to the RO to strengthen your tendonitis claim
- Appeal to the VA Board directly. With this option under the AMA, you can skip the RO entirely and go straight to a higher authority.
- Request a different review from a specialized party at the RO. Your case will be considered by another person at the RO, one who will likely have more experience with tendonitis.
How does the VA Rate Tendonitis?
The VA uses a schedule for rating disabilities. This rating schedule for physical disabilities like tendonitis is based on a percentage scale, with each percentage representing a different degree of disability. A score of 100% means that a veteran is unable to work or care for themselves. All ratings are rounded to the nearest 10th, and standard tendonitis is given a 10% minimum rating. However, it should be noted that some veterans have been given higher ratings based on the severity of their condition. For example, a person with a ruptured Achilles heel and a bent joint may receive 20% due to the limitation of flexion or motion in the ankle.
Disabled veterans can file a VA disability claim for tendonitis along with other service-related conditions. After everything is reviewed and finalized, you will be given a combined rating. This combined percent rating is a number that will represent your physical capacity when determining compensation packages or benefits.
TDIU for Tendonitis
If you’re unable to work due to your tendonitis, Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability may be an option for you. This benefit ensures that you receive higher VA disability compensation, so you won’t need to work at a position that will only aggravate your condition and potentially lead to more serious mobility issues. To qualify, you’ll need to reach a disability rating of 100, which may be achieved if you’re filing for tendonitis as a part of a larger mobility claim. This higher rating will qualify you for special monthly compensation based on functional loss of the joint.
Have Questions About Your Veterans Disability Claim?
If you received a lower VA rating for chronic tendonitis than anticipated, or if your claim was denied, contact the team at Hill & Ponton. Our knowledgeable veterans’ disability lawyers can assess your claim, so you can earn adequate VA disability benefits. We evaluate each VA disability claim individually, so contact us today to get started.