The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints connecting the jawbone to the skull and the associated jaw muscles. TMJ disorders can cause pain around the jaw area, difficulty chewing, difficulty opening/closing the mouth, locking of the jaw joint, grinding of the teeth (bruxism), as well as aching pain in the ears (which are just above the TMJ). TMJ disorders may have many causes, but known risk factors include PTSD, stress, and trauma to the head/TMJ area, making veterans one of the most at-risk populations for TMJ disorders.
TMJ disorders may be directly service-connected, or they may be rated as a secondary condition caused or aggravated by another service-connected condition (such as PTSD). Schedular ratings for TMJ disorders are enumerated under 38 CFR § 4.150, Diagnostic Code 9905. Ratings are based on a veteran’s range of motion when opening the jaw and their ability to eat unprocessed foods (as evaluated by a physician). For veterans able to eat only specially prepared foods, with a maximum unassisted vertical jaw opening distance of 10 millimeters, the highest possible schedular rating for TMJ disorder is 50 percent.
However, TMJ disorders can impact much more than your ability to bite and chew. For veterans with severe TMJ, verbal communication can be extremely painful, and their speech may be harder to understand. Coupled with the irritability caused by severe, chronic pain, this can make working any kind of job difficult to impossible. For these kinds of claims, the legal path to full monthly benefits is a TDIU rating: total disability based on individual unemployability. So long as a veteran’s service-connected condition makes it impossible to work, there is no minimum schedular or combined disability rating to qualify for TDIU. If you or a loved one needs help appealing the VA for full monthly benefits for a TMJ disorder, our firm is ready to help, along with our trusted network of doctors and vocational experts.