If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with costochondritis (inflammation of cartilage between rib and sternum), you may be wondering what your disability rating could be. In this blog post, we will discuss how VA rates costochondritis and provide some information on how to establish service connection for this painful condition.
We will also briefly talk about TDIU and how it relates to costochondritis pain. Finally, how to apply for benefits if your sternum is in pain from service!
What is costochondritis?
Costochondritis is a condition that causes pain and tenderness in the costosternal joints, which are located between each rib’s costal cartilage. It usually affects one side of your body but both sides of the body can have affected parts throughout many veterans’ daily living.
Many veterans may resume physical activity once returning home that could lead to occasional incapacitating exacerbations. The pain in the rib cage and chest area may often spread to involve other areas around costosternal joints such as shoulders or upper back area.
Tenderness may be felt when pressing on the sternum, rib cage, or affected costosternal joint(s), although it can also occur without any potential causes besides tenderness itself (e.g., due to stress).
Common Symptoms of Costochondritis
- Chest pain, especially when taking a deep breath or coughing. Some vets may think the pain is a heart attack due to the severe pain.
- Tenderness and pain in the costosternal joints (between each rib’s costal cartilage)
- Pain that may radiate to other areas around costosternal joints such as shoulders or upper back area
Costochondritis and Tietze syndrome are often mistaken for each other, as they share many of the same symptoms like chest pain. However, Tietze syndrome is a rarer condition and usually only affects one costosternal joint rather than multiple like costochondritis does.
How to get service-connected VA disability benefits for costochondritis
If you are a veteran and you have been diagnosed with costochondritis, you may be able to establish service connection for the condition. There are several ways to do this:
Direct Service Connection: This is the most common way to get service connected for costochondritis. You must show that your costochondritis was directly caused by an event or incident during your military service.
In order to qualify, you will need a nexus statement which confirms a medical connection. You can get your medical doctor who is treating you for orthopedic issues to fill it out and give their opinion about your costochondritis and how it’s likely that it could have been caused or aggravated from a specific injury or certain assignment in active duty.
Remember there are 3 necessary items to prove service connection.
- You need a current diagnosis of the disability, or you need to have a disability.
- There must have been an event in service that can be associated with your disability.
- You need a nexus (link) between your disability and military service. So, evidence like military records, medical records, documents from your station, etc. that can help prove your claim.
Secondary Service Connection for Costochondritis
If costochondritis was caused by another service-connected condition, some veterans may be able to get VA disability benefits for it through secondary service connection disability claims.
In this case, you must show in your VA claim that your costochondritis is a result of and directly related to a primary service-connected condition. This can be done with medical evidence linking the other conditions.
Costochondritis Service Connection via Aggravation
If costochondritis was not caused by an injury or illness in service but it did worsen during your military service, then you may still be able to file a VA disability claim through service connection via aggravation.
In order to qualify for this type of VA disability benefits, you must show that costochondritis existed before entering military service and that it was made worse during active duty time period by using the VA rating system and rating criteria.
C&P Exams for costochondritis
In order to establish service connection for costochondritis, you will need satisfactory evidence, such as medical evidence from a doctor or other medical professional who can diagnose your condition based on the severity of your symptoms.
In addition to proving you have costochondritis, you will need evidence that shows how costochondritis is related to an injury or disease which occurred while serving on active duty (such as chest trauma).
VA Disability Ratings for Costochondritis
Costochondritis is a condition that is not specifically coded in VA ratings so it doesn’t have its own diagnostic code. But, VA recognizes that it is a legitimate disability and so it borrows appropriate diagnostic codes from similar conditions. Typically, the code used is for conditions that affect the muscles in the chest area. This is 38 CFR 4.731 in Diagnostic Group 5321. Typically, that diagnostic code is the one used in Group XXI which stands for muscle groups of respiration or thoracic muscles groupings on our body’s surface layers. The VA rates this condition from 0 to 20 percent based on severity of symptoms.
TDIU for Costochondritis
This is a benefit which provides monthly compensation and healthcare benefits to veterans who are unable to work due to a service-connected disability.
If costochondritis is your only service-connected disability, it may be difficult to have TDIU granted. However, if costochondritis is combined with other service connected disabilities that reach the required level of severity for a higher combined rating (70%), then TDIU may still be awarded even though costochondritis itself does not reach the required level of severity.
Need help appealing your denied VA claim for costochondritis?
If you are denied service connection for costochondritis, you have the right to appeal. However, if costochondritis was awarded service connection but they lowballed the disability rating they gave you, you may also appeal that. Make sure your symptoms line up with the rating they gave you. You can check out the VA rating code sheets which they usually send in the rating decision mail.
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