Disabled veterans with neck conditions

Neck Impairments

The hazardous and physically demanding tasks associated with military service put veterans at risk of developing musculoskeletal issues in the neck and elsewhere. Orthopedic conditions affecting the neck are rated and compensated differently depending on the diagnosis and the degree of disability, so it’s important to work with your doctor and/or orthopedic specialist to get the correct diagnosis and to record your symptoms as early as possible. Understanding the condition causing your chronic neck pain will also help you get the most effective treatment.

Which Neck Conditions Are Eligible for Service Connection?

The VA disability rating system separates orthopedic conditions affecting the spine into neck conditions (the cervical spine) and back conditions (the thoracolumbar spine). For the purposes of calculating a veteran’s total disability rating, back and neck impairments are treated as separate disabilities (except for unfavorable ankylosis of both segments, which is treated as a single condition).

The VA’s Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for evaluating neck conditions tells VA examiners to consider the following eleven neck conditions:

-Mechanical cervical pain syndrome

-Cervical sprain/strain

-Cervical spondylosis (degenerative joint disease of cervical spine, also called neck arthritis)

-Degenerative disc disease

-Foraminal stenosis/central stenosis

-Intervertebral disc syndrome

-Radiculopathy (often occurs as a secondary condition to another impairment)

-Ankylosis of the cervical spine

-Myelopathy

-Ankylosing spondylitis of the cervical spine (neck)

-Vertebral fracture (vertebrae of the neck)

Other conditions and types of neck pain may also be eligible for service connection and compensation. Be sure to talk to your treating physician and your VA examiner in depth about your symptoms, service history, and medical history. This gives you a better chance of receiving the correct diagnosis, treatment, and VA disability rating.

Proving Service Connection and Unemployability for Neck Impairments

If your neck pain began during or was made worse by your military service, you are eligible for service connection and VA disability benefits. To prove service connection to the VA, assembling your service medical records, military personnel files reflecting an in-service accident, diagnosis, or change of duty to due neck issues, and any private medical records you have will help you establish a correlation between your military service and the progression of your neck condition. Sworn declarations from fellow servicemembers, friends, family members or others familiar with the veteran’s neck condition can also help verify that the condition was caused or made worse during the veteran’s military service.

As you can see by reading the rating schedules below, the highest possible schedular rating for any single neck impairment is 60 percent, for veterans with severe intervertebral disc syndrome (IVDS). Other neck impairments have maximum schedular ratings of 40 percent or lower. However, the pain and limited mobility associated with neck impairments can make it all but impossible to perform ordinary daily tasks, let alone work a regular job. This is especially true for veterans with other service-connected impairments, such as cervicogenic headaches or mental health conditions.

If you are unable to work due to your neck condition, getting maximum monthly benefits will usually require a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (a TDIU rating). In addition to your service medical history, personnel files, employment history, and other medical records, other supplementary evidence may need to be submitted. This may include sworn declarations, opinions from medical and vocational experts, and other documents. Your professional veteran advocate will make it clear exactly what you need to do in order to win a TDIU rating.

VA Disability Rating Schedules for Neck Conditions

Neck Muscle Injuries

Injuries to the neck muscles are compensated differently depending on the muscles affected and the severity of the impairment.

Diagnostic Code 5320, Muscle Group XX

Function: Postural support of body; extension and lateral movements of spine.

Spinal muscles: Sacrospinalis (erector spinae and its prolongations in thoracic and cervical regions).

Cervical and thoracic region:

Severe: 40%
Moderately Severe: 20%
Moderate: 10%
Slight: 0%

Diagnostic Code 5322, Muscle Group XXII

Function: Rotary and forward movements of the head; respiration; deglutition (swallowing).

Muscles of the front of the neck: (Lateral, supra-, and infrahyoid group.) (1) Trapezius I (clavicular insertion); (2) sternocleidomastoid; (3) the “hyoid” muscles; (4) sternothyroid; (5) digastric.

Severe: 30%
Moderately Severe: 20%
Moderate: 10%
Slight: 0%

Diagnostic Code 5323, Muscle Group XXIII

Function: Movements of the head; fixation of shoulder movements.

Muscles of the side and back of the neck: Suboccipital; lateral vertebral and anterior vertebral muscles.

Severe: 30%
Moderately Severe: 20%
Moderate: 10%
Slight: 0%

Musculoskeletal Neck Conditions

Conditions affecting the cervical spine (the bones of the neck) such as fractures, cervical strain, spinal stenosis, ankylosing spondylitis, and spinal fusion are usually evaluated using the General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine:

General Rating Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine

Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine: 100%

Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine: 50%

Unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine; or,
forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine 30 degrees
or less; or, favorable ankylosis of
the entire thoracolumbar spine: 40%

Forward flexion of the cervical spine 15 degrees or
less; or, favorable ankylosis of
the entire cervical spine: 30%

Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than
30 degrees but not greater than 60 degrees; or, forward
flexion of the cervical spine greater than 15 degrees
but not greater than 30 degrees; or, the combined range
of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than
120 degrees; or, the combined range of motion of the
cervical spine not greater than 170 degrees; or,
muscle spasm or guarding severe enough to result in an
abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour such as
scoliosis, reversed lordosis, or abnormal kyphosis: 20%

Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater
than 60 degrees but not greater than 85 degrees; or,
forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than
30 degrees but not greater than 40 degrees; or,
combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine
greater than 120 degrees but not greater than 235
degrees; or, combined range of motion of the cervical
spine greater than 170 degrees but not greater than
335 degrees; or, muscle spasm, guarding, or localized
tenderness not resulting in abnormal gait or abnormal
spinal contour; or, vertebral body fracture with loss
of 50 percent or more of the height: 10%

The exception to this is intervertebral disc syndrome (IVDS). IVDS is evaluated either using the General Formula for Diseases and Injuries of the Spine (above), or the Formula for Rating Intravertebral Disc Syndrome Based on Incapacitating Episodes (see below). The VA is required to use whichever formula gives the highest combined rating when all of the veteran’s disabilities are evaluated together.

Formula for Rating Intervertebral Disc Syndrome Based on Incapacitating Episodes

With incapacitating episodes having a total duration
of at least 6 weeks during the past 12 months: 60%

With incapacitating episodes having a total duration
of at least 4 weeks but less than 6 weeks during
the past 12 months: 40%

With incapacitating episodes having a total duration
of at least 2 weeks but less than 4 weeks during
the past 12 months: 20%

With incapacitating episodes having a total duration
of at least one week but less than 2 weeks during
the past 12 months: 10%

Win Total Disability Benefits for Your Neck Condition

If you are a veteran who cannot work due to your service-connected neck condition and/or other impairment, having a team of experienced veteran advocates working for you gives you the best chance of winning total disability benefits. If you are totally unable to work but received a combined disability rating of less than 100 percent, winning a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (a TDIU rating) will allow you collect total disability benefits without meeting the schedular requirements. Over more than 25 years of representing veterans, the award-winning disability advocates at Friedman Disability have helped more than 5,000 veterans win TDIU ratings from the VA. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping veterans with neck conditions prove service connection and get the maximum possible disability benefits. Our fee is 20 percent of your past-due benefits ONLY if we win your claim. For a free evaluation of your VA disability claim, call 800-742-5035 today, or visit https://veterans-disability-lawyers.com/contact-us.