As we mentioned in our blog on Parkinson’s disease from Agent Orange exposure, accurately rating Parkinson’s disease in a veterans disability claim is more complicated than some other disabilities. That makes it difficult for you to know if you are receiving the correct amount of benefits.
Because of the complexity, there is a good chance VA did not assign the proper disability rating percentage. This makes it even more important that you understand what goes into a proper disability rating. Then, you can read your Ratings Decision again to see if VA followed the proper methodology for rating Parkinson’s disease.
3 Basic Steps to a VA Disability Rating for Parkinson’s Disease
Rating Parkinson’s disease for VA purposes can be broken down in a few basic steps:
- Begin with the diagnostic code for Parkinson’s disease to find the “minimum rating”
- Evaluate each of the symptoms you have associated with Parkinson’s disease
- Calculate the combined disability rating for those symptoms
- Use the higher of the “minimum rating” for the disease itself or the combined rating of the symptoms
What Is the VA Diagnostic Code for Parkinson’s Disease?
As with all diseases and disabilities entitling veterans to VA disability compensation benefits, VA uses disability ratings schedules within the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”). Generally, each condition has a separate diagnostic code. The diagnostic code is a four-digit number and name.
Unfortunately, it is not as easy as looking for “Parkinson’s” within the CFR. Instead, Parkinson’s disease is rated using code 8004 – Paralysis agitans – which is another name for Parkinson’s disease. This diagnostic code assigns a 30% rating.
VA may stop there and only give you a 30% rating without further consideration. If they do, they have probably made an error. The 30% rating is only the first step, not the last, to a proper VA disability rating for Parkinson’s disease.
Likewise, if VA assigns a disability rating less than 30%, that is a huge red flag that they have gotten it wrong. You will notice that the disability table refers to that as a “minimum rating.” So, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s means an automatic minimum 30% rating. Unless you have minimal problems due to your Parkinson’s you probably qualify for a rating higher than the 30% minimum.
How Do I Get More Than a 30% Rating for My Parkinson’s Disease?
The next step is to look at the symptoms you have related to your Parkinson’s disease. But, if you look at the diagnostic codes immediately before and after “8004 Paralysis agitans,” you will not see anything else pertaining to this disease. So, what are the other symptoms VA should consider?
The Parkinson’s Disability Benefits Questionnaire (“DBQ”), also known as VA Form 21-0960C-1 , provides a good roadmap to a higher rating. This is the criteria a physician should use in your C&P examination to evaluate fully your particular stage of the disease. The symptoms include four main motor symptoms:
- Bradykinesia (slowed movement)
- Postural instability
For upper extremity issues, see diagnostic codes 8514 & 8515. For lower extremity issues, see diagnostic code 8520.
Other symptoms associated with various stages of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or speech problems (dysarthria) – use diagnostic code 7203 or 8210, respectively.
- Facial muscle paralysis – use diagnostic code 8207.
- Cognitive disorders causing occupational or social impairment – use diagnostic code 9310 or 9326.
- Bladder incontinence (neurogenic bladder)- diagnostic code 7542.
- Bowel problems – use diagnostic code 7332.
So Is My VA Rating for Parkinson’s Disease Equal to All the Ratings Added Together?
Unfortunately, no. Under VA rules, 4 plus 2 does not equal 6. Instead, it is more like 40% + 20% equals 50%. This is because VA uses combined disability ratings.
If you have advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease with several of the symptoms listed above, you quite likely should qualify for a 100% disability rating.
If VA does not award you 100% but rates one disability at 60% or more, or one at 40% with a total of 70% or more, you might qualify for 100% due to Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
Another thing the VA may not tell you – you may be eligible for Special Monthly Compensation, which means a payment greater than that for a 100% rating. Most veterans with Parkinson’s will probably qualify for SMC at some point.
What Should I Do if I Think I Should Be Receiving More in VA Compensation?
Parkinson’s is a terrible disease with many different possible symptoms. Each symptom needs to be rated individually and the combined rating then needs to be compared to the 30% minimum rating. If you already have a rating but your Parkinson’s disease has progressed, you probably need to file for an increased rating if your current rating is less than 100%.
I would be happy to talk to you if you have questions or need your claim reviewed. The best way to do that without any obligation or cost on your part is a free veterans disability consultation.