Does the Department of Veterans Affairs assign disability ratings to those who suffer from migraines?
This is an important question–more than 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches (also commonly referred to simply as suffering from “migraine”) and since the United States military is thought to be a cross-section of American society, it makes sense that the question of migraines as related to VA disability benefits would need addressing.
A 2017 article published on the Department of Veterans Affairs official site notes that military members who have been deployed are “more likely” to develop migraines or migraine-like symptoms. Those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries are more prone to them, and there are other conditions which may also lead to the development of migraine attacks.
New migraine sufferers learn their condition is on a spectrum–not all who have migraines experience identical symptoms, or pain intensity. Not all attacks are severe, and not all migraines are mild. Your experience will definitely vary.
What Are Migraines?
In order to discuss how the VA reviews and rates the condition, we have to understand how the Department of Veterans Affairs interprets the symptoms we know today as migraines.
The American Migraine Foundation describes migraine attacks as having distinct stages, which include:
- A “pre-headache” known as prodrome. This can last hours or days with varying symptoms.
- Some migraine sufferers experience something called “aura” as a phase of a migraine attack. This refers to blurry vision, the appearance of geometric patterns, perceptions of flashing lights, loss of vision or blind spots.
- The onset of a headache may be experienced as pain on one side or both sides of the head. This can last days, with pain that ranges from minor to totally debilitating.
- The postdrome phase is thought of as a “hangover” occurring at the end of the headache phase. Not all migraines involve a postdrome, but when they do there can be dizziness, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, and other problems.
Not all sufferers experience all of these symptoms, and not all sufferers experience them in the same intensity.
How The Department Of Veterans Affairs Defines Migraines
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Department of Veterans Affairs list of relevant medical conditions (under their Health Benefits section) does not include a description of migraines. To find the information, it’s necessary to dig deeper.
The VA lists migraines under the VA Schedule of Disabilities in the section titled Neurological Conditions and Convulsive Disorders, under a subsection labeled “Miscellaneous Diseases.” In this section we find that the VA does seem to prioritize the effects of the migraine attack (whatever the symptoms might be) over splitting hairs about what might or might not be part of the migraine experience.
What the VA is interested in here (and for all the other conditions listed in this section of the VA Schedule of Disability Ratings) has more to do with establishing a connection between military service and the migraine, and whether any condition (including migraines) listed in the section meets criteria advised for evaluators:
“Consider especially psychotic manifestations, complete or partial loss of use of one or more extremities, speech disturbances, impairment of vision, disturbances of gait, tremors, visceral manifestations, etc., referring to the appropriate bodily system of the schedule.”
The VA wants to know that the condition being evaluated has some connection with military service–causing or aggravating a condition. The VA examiner must determine where the patient fits into the VA rating scale of severity of the problem:
Migraine sufferers may experience:
- “Very frequent” migraines that result in “complete prostration” with prolonged symptoms that can seriously interfere with the ability to maintain a job.
- Prostrating attacks averaging once a month over several months.
- Prostrating attacks averaging one in 2 months over several months.
- Less frequent attacks than any of the above.
The VA may rate the first category at as much as 50% disability, with a sliding scale downward after that. The lowest disability rating you can get with migraines is zero, for the last item in our list.
Condition Definitions And VA Disability Percentages
The definition of “prostrating” in this context has to do with being bedridden due to your condition–the longer you cannot do anything but lie down when experiencing an attack, the higher your chances are of being awarded a higher VA disability percentage for the condition.
Remember that your ability to work and maintain employment is an important factor in such ratings–if your condition is “very frequent” the ability to maintain a job may be an important factor in the rating.
And that is one reason why it is crucial to submit supporting documentation from civilian doctors who may have treated you, “buddy letters” from co-workers and colleagues attesting to the nature and severity of your condition, etc.
Some veteran advocacy sites warn VA claims applicants that you should be evaluated on the potential harm to your employability; some report that veterans may be asked (improperly or not) to prove they HAVE experienced unemployability due to migraine.
If you are able to do so, you definitely should, but for those who feel their claims are being reviewed on the basis of whether they have actually experienced financial hardship as a result of their condition it may be wise to seek the assistance of legal counsel or get the help of a Veteran Service Officer or a VSO organization.
Disability claims are never one-size-fits-all, but there are some common rules to keep in mind when submitting a claim related to migraines. The first is to get all available supporting documentation to reinforce your claim that your condition is service-connected. The second is to avoid delays in submitting your claim–the longer you wait post-service to do so, the more limited your options might be depending on circumstances, current regulations, or future changes/additions to the existing rules.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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