A reader wrote in with this question: “I am a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. Five years ago, my doctor diagnosed me with peripheral neuropathy. Am I eligible for any disability pay?”
Unlike so many other questions, this one has an easy answer, and that answer is yes! Unless you have a dishonorable discharge, you are likely eligible for VA disability pay.
What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is an umbrella term for various conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system sends messages from one part of your body to another (for example, from your brain to your intestine). Simply speaking, peripheral neuropathy means that one or more nerves in your body are damaged. There are more than 100 types of PN. Many people think this condition only affects people’s extremities (i.e., hands and feet). However, PN can affect any part of the body.
It can be either symptomatic (meaning it is the result of something else) or idiopathic (meaning your doctor cannot determine an exact cause). Experts estimate that 30 million people suffer from some kind of peripheral neuropathy.
How Does Peripheral Neuropathy Feel?
This is a complicated question because each person’s experience may vary. PN can manifest in various physical sensations, such as numbness, tingling, and pain. These sensations can affect any part of the body and range from mild to severe. Related side effects may also include:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of balance
- Impaired vision
Can It Be Cured?
The short answer is no, doctors can never cure or sometimes even fully treat most cases of peripheral neuropathy.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t remedies available to help ease symptoms. Because each experience is different, doctors might treat PN symptoms in a variety of ways, such as:
- Prescription painkillers
- Topical medications
- Physical or talk therapy
- Surgery (if needed)
Do All Veterans Have It?
Not everyone who suffers from PN is a veteran. However, the VA presumes Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides have peripheral neuropathy “when the disease appears within one year of exposure to a degree of at least 10% disabling by VA’s rating regulations.”
If this is true for you, you may qualify for both VA disability compensation and healthcare. If you served in Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone, or other areas of known Agent Orange exposure, you might also qualify for a free Agent Orange registry exam.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
While the reason is often unknown, research shows that certain things are more likely to cause peripheral neuropathy, such as:
- Diabetes. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the most common type doctors diagnose, and it can result in losing one or more lower limbs.
- Chemotherapy. According to studies, about 40% of cancer patients undergoing chemo treatments suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
- HIV/AIDS. PN affects about 1 in 3 HIV/AIDS patients (33%).
- Autoimmune disorders.
- Injuries/other types of physical trauma.
Why Does the Cause Matter?
The root cause of your PN matters when applying for VA disability pay. Above all else, you must show your PN directly resulted from your time serving in the military.
The VA rates and categorizes all disability claims into different categories called “diagnostic codes.” Because many different things can cause peripheral neuropathy, there are many diagnostic codes for it.
It’s also very important to fill out the right forms when you apply for VA disability for PN. The general form is here. But if you have diabetic peripheral neuropathy, this is the correct form.
VA disability ratings for PN can range from 10% to 80%, but the higher numbers only apply in the most extreme cases (i.e., complete paralysis). Most ratings for veterans fall between 10% and 40%, depending on the problem’s severity. in general, the more severe your neuropathy, the higher your VA disability rating. It’s important to note that the VA can apply this evaluation to each affected area. In other words, if PN affects both legs at 20%, the total VA disability rating can be 40%.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
It’s hard enough to get through your daily tasks when dealing with neuropathy pain. We can connect you with a local, experienced attorney to help you get the most benefits possible in the shortest amount of time.
Ready to have a VA-accredited attorney review your claim free of charge? Click the button below to start your free, no-obligation claim evaluation online now!
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.