Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by the need to move the legs, usually at night or after you’ve been sitting for a long time. Sometimes called Willis-Ekbom diseases, RLS can start at any point in your life and will generally get worse over time. This syndrome is largely known as uncomfortable as opposed to dangerous. However, it can impact your quality of sleep, which can lead to larger health problems down the line.
Symptoms of RLS can include the following:
- Uncontrollable need to move the legs, particularly after you’ve been lying down or sitting for several hours.
- A feeling of relief after stretching or moving.
- Involuntary leg twitching at night
- Throbbing, pulling, aching, or crawling feeling within the limb
RLS is generally associated with the twilight hours but may be experienced at any point throughout the day. It’s associated with conditions like iron deficiency, diabetes, and Parkinson’s, though many people do experience it on an isolated basis.
Service Connection for Restless Leg Syndrome
There is no known cause for RLS nor is there an official test available. There does seem to be a genetic component to it, with up to 92% of people having a first-degree relative with the disorder. There’s also been a correlation between RLS and certain medications. Just because more research needs to be done though, doesn’t mean there isn’t a service connection. For instance, you may have developed this disorder as a result of being placed on certain allergy drugs when you were in the service. Talking with your doctor is the best way to connect the dots if you’re unsure of the original cause.
If you choose to file for RLS, you’ll need the following to begin a claim:
- A recent diagnosis of RLS from a qualified medical professional.
- A written description of service-related events that likely led to RLS.
- An official written opinion from a qualified professional that states the RLS is directly connected to service-related events.
Some people who have RLS barely even notice it. They may feel a little anxious at night but quickly get over the feeling. For other people though, the effects can be downright devastating. It can impair the ability to get any rest at all, and the relief from movement will be fleeting at best. Some have suggested that the worst-case scenarios are due to a severe dopamine imbalance, as this chemical is known to help the brain control the limbs
Because the severity can vary so much from person to person, it’s helpful for former service members to clarify the extent of the problem and seek treatment as needed.
Secondary Service Connection for Restless Leg Syndrome
A secondary service connection for RLS can be filed for service members who had a primary condition that they believe led to RLS. Because RLS is a somewhat inconclusive disease to begin with, it may be difficult to define what is primary and what is secondary.
One example that can illustrate this complexity can be found in service members who underwent a serious depression after leaving the service. Even after doctors tried multiple treatments, the symptoms of the condition have only been partially abated. After two decades of depression, the service member finds that they now have RLS.
To fully prove that the depression caused the RLS as a secondary condition, the service member will need to have a doctor state that one directly caused the other. As with showing the primary connection, the doctor will need to discuss the events that preceded the depression in an official letter and include a current diagnosis as well that discusses its relation to the RLS.
Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams for Restless Leg Syndrome
You need to first file a VA claim at the VA Regional Office (RO). This will usually be followed with a request for the applicant to meet with a VA doctor for a Compensation & Pension (C&P). In the case of RLS, this step is likely to be a certainty.
Because RLS is not well understood and doesn’t have the same body of research as other conditions, the opinion of the doctor is absolutely crucial. It’s all too easy to confuse the reasons for RLS, especially if a service member has more than one condition.
During the VA exam, the doctor will go over your medical history as well as what occurred during service. They’ll ask many of the same questions that your doctor asked you, though they may reach different conclusions. The VA doctor is not treating you for RLS, though they might deliver a different diagnosis that could potentially lead to new treatment options.
If the VA doctor does not agree with your doctor that you both have RLS and that it is in some way connected to the service, the RO may choose to deny your claim. After the RO has sent you their official ruling, you have the right to challenge the decision and appeal.
How does the VA Rate Restless Leg Syndrome?
RLS is rated per leg and generally starts at 10% (with the numbers rising depending on severity). In official reports, the VA compares RLS to neuralgia or a common nerve condition that causes a stabbing or burning sensation in the body due to an irritated nerve.
In one VA case, a service member argued that her RLS was worse than when she was initially assessed and that the frequency and severity of the feelings were such that she had a very difficult (if not impossible) time getting any quality rest.
The VA RO will consider additional evidence to come to their conclusions, such as how often the person saw a medical professional for their condition, whether the treatments had any mitigating effects, and how different doctors qualified the same symptoms.
If you need assistance with appealing a denied claim for restless leg syndrome, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free case evaluation!