How to Get a 20% VA Rating for Your Back Disability

Many veterans have back disabilities as a result of their military service.  Unfortunately, proving that you have pain in your back from an injury is not necessarily sufficient to get a rating from VA.

VA has particular rules that determine the correct VA rating for back disabilities.  Understanding these rules can help improve your chances of receiving the correct rating.

VA uses the term “thoracolumbar spine” to refer to what most people would call their back.  This articles will focus on VA’s rules for rating disabilities of the thoracolumbar spine.

Man in chair holding lower back in pain What is the thoracolumbar spine?

The thoracolumbar spine is what most people refer to as their back.  Think of it as your middle and lower back.

It is actually composed of two parts of the spine:

  1. The thoracic spine which is made up of twelve vertebral bodies
  2. The lumbar spine which is made up of five vertebral bodies

The other part of your spine is what we would commonly call your neck.  VA uses medical terminology and refers to your neck as your “cervical spine”.  Look for me to discuss how VA rates cervical spine disabilities in future articles.

How to get a 20 percent VA disability rating for your thoracolumbar spine

VA has two methods from rating thoracolumbar spine disabilities.  The most common way that VA rates thoracolumbar spine disabilities is a range of motion formula.   VA looks at the flexion that you have at your waist and whether is is limited as a result of your back disability.

A 20 percent rating requires your flexion to be pretty limited.  VA defines it as forward flexion greater than 30 degrees but less than 60 degrees.  So, if your back disability significantly limits your ability to bend at the waist, you could qualify for a 20 percent rating or higher.  VA will often looks to the examinations from your doctors or physical therapists to determine whether and how much your range of motion is limited.

Middle aged man holding lower back in pain Are there other ways to get a 20 percent VA rating for the thoracolumbar spine?

Sometimes, I find that veterans with significant back disabilities have pretty good range of motion.  So, they do not qualify for a 20 percent rating under VA’s range of motion rules.

VA does provide three other ways to get a 20 percent thoracolumbar VA rating.

  1. Combing range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than 120 degrees
  2. Muscle spasm or guarding severe enough to result in an abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour such as scoliosis, reversed lordosis, or abnormal kyphosis
  3. Intervertebral disc syndrome with incapacitating episodes of at least 2 weeks but less than 4 weeks in the last year

What does VA mean by combined range of motion?

Combined range of motion focuses on range of motion other than your forward flexion.  The doctor should measure forward flexion, extension back, your lateral, which is again the side to side bending, and then rotation which is twisting on an axis.

The doctor should take measurements of each of those. If the measurements add up to be not greater than 120 degrees total, then that would also qualify you for a 20 percent rating.

How can I qualify for a 20 percent rating for an abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour?

Some veterans have good range of motion but have an abrnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour from muscle spasm or guarding.  These veterans can also qualify for a 20 percent rating.

If your back disability affects how you walk, you might certainly qualify for this rating.  Also, diagnostic testing performed by your doctor may demonstrate scoliosis, reversed lordosis, or abnormal kyphosis.

Man with his hand on his head having trouble sleeping from pain

What does VA mean by incapacitating episodes?

As I mentioned above, veterans can also qualify for a 20 percent VA rating by showing at least 2 weeks of incapacitating episodes in the last year.   This applies most often to veterans who have periods where their back flares up or goes out, and they simply are unable to do much of anything.  This really takes a toll on veterans and should be factored in by VA.

Fortunately, VA does factor that in. It’s another way to rate a spinal condition.  Having back pain or some limitations alone will not be enough to qualify for the 20 percent VA rating since VA defines incapacitating episodes.

In VA’s rules, incapacitating episodes means signs and symptoms that your doctor says require bedrest that your doctor orders.  The good news is that the episodes do not have to be two weeks in a row.  You just have to have a total of at least two weeks in the last year.

VA’s rules also provide that VA should use whichever method of rating your thoracolumbar spine which provides you with the higher rating.  So, if you qualify for a ten percent using range of motion and a 20 percent using incapacitating episodes, then VA should assign you a 20 percent rating.

Can I get a rating higher than 20 percent if my back disability is more severe?

Yes.  You can qualify for a VA rating between 40 percent and 100 percent depending on how severe your disability is.  I discuss thoracolumbar VA ratings of 40 percent or higher in this article.

Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims.  He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.

You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.

I could not have asked for a better lawyer to represent my worker comp. case. Any questions I had during the process was always answered in a timely manner. Mr. Perkins really cared about insuring that I wasn't being taken advantage of during this process and helped us reach a settlement that I feel comfortable with. I would recommend this firm to my parents or children.syndel Laber
I'm so thankful and grateful for all the hard work Jason, Tina and Liz did for me. They went above and beyond to get the best outcome for me. They took the to explain everything that was going on with my case again I'm so thankful grateful and happy with the outcome of my workers comp case.Adrian Adams
First off, I must say thank you again to the office of Perkins Studdard. I appreciate all the hard work and dedication your office has shown to achieve a successful and happy outcome. You have forever changed my family’s life! Also, I wanted to give a special shoutout to Jessica Hyatt for her excellent attitude, advice, and overall professionalism throughout every step of this process. This journey has finally been complete after more than a decade of being denied and almost giving up. However, two of my old coworkers advised me that the office of Perkins Studdard had also successfully helped them achieve their proper rating too. Needless to say, this has been one of my best decisions in life. I can now sleep a little better and stress free knowing I finally got what I deserved all along. Once again, thank you for everything! And shoutout to Travis Studdard, “we did it.” Respectfully, Jonathon FloresJonathon Flores
My family and I are so grateful for Jason Perkins and his team. Jason explains thing's to detail and walks you through every step of your case. I would highly recommend Perkins Studdard for your legal needs. Thank you so much Jason and Tina!Chapin & Lea Anne Warner
The best I know for workers comp attorney'sDenise Williams
Jason really has helped me so much through this hard experience I have went through! And the ladies in the office was wonderful with any and everything I had questions about! I highly recommend using this lawyer office to everyone and Jason Perkins for sure!! Thank y'all for everything and making it easier to get through this long though experience! James HammittJames Hammitt
Thank you so much ! I received excellent representation from the entire Perkins Studdard Law firm, my VA claim was resolved and granted in a timely manner, they were hands on with me during the entire process. I would definitely recommend the firm to any veteran deciding to file a VA claim.Darrell Lynn
I would like to thank the law firm of Perkins-Studdard (Travis) and his team, for performing such an outstanding job, at every possible level, during my recent situation with the VA Disability Claims . From the first time I called and spoke with Mr Studdard with an overview of my situation, until the final settlement was executed (successfully I may add), I always felt that I was in good hands with this firm. Everyone in the office, Jessica, and April were responsive, approachable, knowledgeable, good listeners, and extremely professional. Mr. Studdard was realistic of the circumstances and of the potential difficult process that would lay ahead, should I proceed. I can’t say enough about Travis, and I will always be thankful to him. Travis was committed, and he instilled a real sense of confidence during both the highs and the lows. He ultimately prevailed and the outcome was very much in my favor. Of course, each case is different on its own merits and one can never predict how things ultimately will turn out. All I know is that the settlement far exceeded my expectation. Mr. Studdard has been a blessing to me. I strongly recommend that anyone who would find themselves in a similar legal situation with the VA to contact Law Offices of Perkins Studdard for a consultation. It was a very positive experience given the circumstances. Thank you again, I shall forever be in your debt.Concetta Hogg
Mr. Perkins, I cannot express enough how thankful I am for your exceptional representation. Your hard work, expertise, and unwavering commitment to my case have left an indelible mark. Thanks to you, I can now move forward with my life, confident that justice has been served.Esli Roque
Travis and his team have been a blessing for me and my family. They have done an amazing job in helping me navigate the VA appeals process. They kept their eye on the ball all the way through the long, difficult and confusing process. I highly recommend Travis and his team because thanks to their professionalism and know how, I got the benefits I deserve.Daniel patriot

Related Posts


Font Size: