Eye disabilities are extremely common among Veterans. In fact, eye injuries and vision disorders are the fourth most common disabilities after hearing loss, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
According to the VA about 250,000 Veterans receive some sort of benefits for eye-related disabilities every year. Eye ailments often first manifest during military service, or are a direct outcome of combat-related injuries or exposure. Sometimes Veterans notice the first symptoms of vision disorders many years after their service.
Either way, if you suffer from an eye condition and believe that it is related to your time in service, you are probably eligible for VA disability. VCU helps you navigate the procedure of claiming your benefits and increasing your VA disability rate based on your eye-related condition. But first, here’s what every Veteran should know before filing for VA disability for eyesight impairment. We’ll cover:
- Why eyesight conditions are so common among Veterans
- Which eye conditions are eligible for VA disability benefits
- Pro Tip on claiming astigmatism as VA disability
Eye-related Disabilities Among Veterans
During your military service, you often get exposed to factors that can affect your eyesight or even lead to injury and loss of an eye, partial or full blindness:
- Combat-related Injuries
Combat situations run the highest risk of eye injuries due to exposure to blasts, shrapnel, or other traumatic events. These injuries can lead to conditions such as traumatic cataracts, retinal detachments, and corneal damage.
- Environmental Exposure
Harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme sunlight, sand, dust, and debris, increase the risk of eye conditions like pterygium and cataracts.
- Chemical Exposure
Exposure to chemicals during your service can also have adverse effects on your health. Chemical exposure can lead to conditions such as chemical burns, conjunctivitis, or other forms of eye irritation.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD may have vision-related symptoms due to the psychological and physiological effects of stress.
Except for these direct factors that can have an immediate effect on your eyesight, there can be secondary eye-related conditions (or secondary disabilities), which may not be directly linked to your time in the military, but still increase your chances of receiving VA disability benefits or increase your rate.
Secondary Eye Conditions Among Veterans
Secondary eye conditions often develop when a Veteran`s main service-related disability worsens. It can be a result of neglect, inefficient or erroneous treatment, or a natural disease progression.
Here are the most common examples of secondary eye conditions:
- Diabetic Retinopathy
If you have service-connected diabetes, you may develop diabetic retinopathy as a secondary condition. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision problems and potentially blindness.
Some service-connected conditions or medications that increase intraocular pressure (fluid pressure of the eye) may lead to secondary glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve and can even lead to vision loss.
- Medication Side Effects
Some medications you may be prescribed for your service-connected condition may have eye-related side effects. For instance, certain medications used to treat psychiatric conditions sometimes cause vision impairments.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)-Related Eye Symptoms
PTSD may come with eye problems like light sensitivity, eye strain, or dry eyes due to the physiological and psychological effects of stress.
- Traumatic Cataracts
Head injuries or trauma during your service may end up in traumatic cataracts as a secondary condition. Cataracts are clouding of the eye’s natural lens, and they are often caused or aggravated by physical trauma.
To establish a secondary service connection for such eye conditions, you will need to provide medical evidence that links your primary service-connected disability and the development or worsening of the secondary eye condition.
There are three scenarios that make your vision disorder eligible for a VA disability rating:
- In-service Disability
You can link an injury or disease that happened during your military service directly to your current condition.
- Pre-service Disability
You have proof that you had an eye ailment before you joined the military, and this condition worsened during your service.
- Post-service Disability
The symptoms of your vision impairment appeared after your discharge, but you can prove the link between the current condition and your military service.
If you can prove one of these scenarios, the VA will assign you a disability rate and relevant compensation.
VA Disability Rates for Eye-related Conditions.
The VA disability rates for eye conditions, like all other service-connected disabilities, are determined based on the severity of the disorder and how much it affects your life and well-being.
Here is a general overview of current VA disability rates for various vision-related conditions:
- Loss of Vision
If you suffer from partial or total vision loss due to a service-connected eye condition or lost one or both of your eyes due to such condition or in-service injury, you may receive a disability rating of up to 100%.
- Visual Impairment
Various visual impairments are usually rated between 10% and 60% depending on their severity and response to treatment. It is the most common VA disability rate range for eye-related conditions.
- Specific Eye Conditions
The VA provides specific disability rates for certain eye conditions based on the Diseases of the Eye paragraph in the Schedule of Ratings. Cataracts (code 6027), Glaucoma (code 6012), and other eye conditions are assigned a specific diagnostic code and specified disability rate in this table.
- Secondary Conditions
If the eye condition is a secondary condition related to a primary service-connected disability, the VA will consider the impact of the secondary condition on the overall disability rating.
If you have multiple service-related disabilities, VA will use a complex formula to calculate a combined disability rate. You can use the VCU Rate Calculator to estimate your combined rate.
But keep in mind that the final decision remains with the VA and will depend on numerous factors and all the evidence that you will be able to provide.
Pro Tip: You Can Claim Astigmatism as a VA Disability
Astigmatism is one of the most common eye conditions. Statistically, 1 in 3 people suffer from this impairment. And while it is not considered a serious eye disease, every person with astigmatism will confirm that it can greatly affect everyday life.
The good news is you can claim astigmatism as a VA disability. Whether you have been diagnosed with astigmatism before, during, or after your military service, once it develops into a Central Visual Acuity of 20/40 or worse, your visual impairment falls under diagnostic codes 6065 through 6066, which can provide you with a VA disability rate or increase the existing one.
It is only one of the numerous tips and insights that the VCU team gladly shares with Veterans and their families in order to help them make smart and informed decisions regarding their disability claims and maximize their benefits!