Types of Cancers That Qualify for VA Benefits

Types of Cancers That Qualify for VA Benefits

Not so long ago, being diagnosed with cancer was virtually a death sentence. It is not true today as medicine and cancer treatment methods keep improving, but still, the “Big C” is probably one of the scariest diagnoses many can imagine.

Unfortunately, it is also one of the notorious risks of military service. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), about 175,000 Veterans receive medical treatment for various types of cancer through VA Healthcare. The VA also reports that about 50,000 cases of cancer are reported annually in the VA Central Cancer Registry. 

Cancer is considered a disability by law because of the long-term and often permanent changes the disease itself and its treatment can cause in a patient’s body. It means that if you were diagnosed with cancer during or after your military service, you are most probably entitled to VA disability benefits.

However, “Cancer” and “Cancer treatment” are very broad terms. So, let’s first dive into the classification of cancers according to the VA. It will help us understand which types of cancers qualify for VA benefits, how the VA rates these disabilities, and how to make sure you receive the maximum compensation you deserve.

Types of Cancer in VA Healthcare

There are over 200 types of cancer. People are mainly used to classifying cancers according to the organs attacked by the disease. For example, skin cancer or brain cancer.

Some cancers are gender-specific, i.e., only affect biological men or women. It is an important factor when we speak about cancers that qualify for VA disability benefits, as according to the latest reports, the number of VA facilities providing care for Veterans with female cancers has increased by 25% and keeps growing.

Cancers that specifically affect women are:

  • Ovarian Cancer
    It starts in the ovaries, which are the organs that produce eggs. This type of cancer is often not detected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen.
  • Cervical Cancer
    This cancer occurs in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Regular Pap tests are the best way to detect it and start treatment in the early stages.
  • Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer
    This one begins in the lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium. It’s the most common cancer affecting the female reproductive system.
  • Breast Cancer
    While men can get breast cancer, it mainly affects women. It develops in the breast tissues, commonly in the ducts or lobules.

The risk of these cancers increases in women who have to deal with large amounts of stress and physical overload as well as those who may be exposed to extreme temperatures toxins or suffer from Diabetes and metabolic disorders. All those are notorious factors and outcomes of military service and deployment.

Doctors usually group cancers according to the types of cells affected by cancer. According to this classification, there are 5 types of cancer:

  1. Brain and Spinal Cord Cancers
    Cancers that affect the central nervous system 
  2. Carcinoma
    Cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that cover internal organs 
  3. Leukemia
    Also known as white blood cell cancer. It starts in the tissues that produce blood cells (ex. bone marrow)  
  4. Lymphoma and Myeloma
    Cancers that attack the mechanisms of the immune system (ex. Spleen, white blood cells, and lymph glands)
  5. Sarcoma
    A type of cancer found in the connective or supportive tissues such as bone, fat, muscle, or blood vessels

However, when it comes to disability benefits, the VA prefers to use a different classification method: A Veteran’s exposure to certain hazards and specific conditions during the service, which could lead to the development of cancer. This classification eases and speeds up the rating procedure because it allows to recognition of cancers as presumptive service-connected conditions.

Here is the classification of cancer according to this principle:

Agent Orange Exposure

Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War, may qualify for benefits if they develop certain types of cancer:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea)
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Soft tissue sarcomas (excluding osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and mesothelioma)

Radiation Exposure

Veterans who were exposed to ionizing radiation during their service may qualify if they are diagnosed with:

  • Leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Bone cancer
  • Liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Urinary tract cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lymphomas (other than Hodgkin’s disease)

Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Exposure

Veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune and were exposed to contaminated water may develop certain types of cancer that qualify for VA benefits:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Adult leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma

Gulf War Veterans

Veterans who served in the Gulf War and developed the following cancers can be eligible for VA disability benefits:

  • Brain cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer

Other Service-Connected Cancers

Some cancers may not fall under any of the classification principles we mentioned above, but they still qualify for VA disability benefits if a Veteran provides evidence that establishes a direct link between their current diagnosis and military service. In other words, you need to prove that the cancer is “at least as likely as not” connected to the circumstances of your military service. Those can be:

  • Skin cancer (can be caused by prolonged sun exposure)
  • Mesothelioma (can be caused by asbestos exposure)
  • Testicular cancer (can be caused by prolonged exposure to extremely high or low temperatures)

The studies continue, and the VA constantly adds new cancers to the list of presumed service-connected ones. For example, recently 9 respiratory cancers were recognized as presumptive conditions for Veterans who served in:

  • The Southwest Asia theater of operations from August 2, 1990 to the present
  • Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, or Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War, from September 19, 2001, to the present

It means that even if you have filed a claim for VA disability benefits for your cancer and were denied, it is a good idea to keep in touch with the VA, follow the latest updates, and consult professionals, as today you may be able to appeal your case, file a supplemental claim and get a proper VA disability rate and benefits. 

VA Disability Rates for Cancer

Just like with any other disability, the VA assigns qualifying cancers diagnostic codes and rates them according to the Schedule of Rating. The rating system is based on the severity of the condition and its effect on a Veteran’s everyday life and ability to work.

While different types of cancer may vary in their effect on your life, the VA also has a general rating principle for cancer-based on its phase, treatment, and long-term effect on your body.

Here is how it works:

Active Cancer – 100%

For the period that a Veteran is undergoing active treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy) for active cancer, the VA automatically assigns them a 100% disability rate

Post-treatment Rating

  • 6-month Re-evaluation
    6 months after a successful treatment, the VA sets the date for a follow-up evaluation. This procedure is mandatory and aimed at reviewing a Veteran’s condition and assigning them a corresponding disability rate. Note that this evaluation can be scheduled only 6 months after you receive an official medical report that your cancer is in remission or cured.
  • Residuals Rating
    When cancer is considered in remission or entirely cured, the VA will identify and evaluate all residual conditions resulting from the cancer and its treatment. This may include issues like scarring, organ damage, chronic pain, or other complications.

    Each residual condition is assigned a specific diagnostic code based on the VA’s Schedule of Ratings and rated separately according to its severity and long-term effect on your health. The VA then combines these ratings using a combined rating formula to determine your overall disability rate.

In the case of cancer, the course of the disease, its treatment, and its long-term consequences can be extremely unpredictable. The VA disability rates after the active treatment period is over may vary anywhere from 0% to 100%.

Here are some of the examples of service-connected cancers and their VA rating principles:

Endocrine Cancer (D.C. 7914)
Neoplasm, malignant, any specified part of the endocrine system

  • Active treatment period – 100%
  • Examples of Post-treatment VA rating based on residuals:

    • Diabetes Mellitus (D.C. 7913)
      • 10% – Managed by restricted diet only
      • 20% – Requires insulin and restricted diet or oral hypoglycemic agent and restricted diet
      • 40% – Requires insulin, restricted diet, and regulation of activities
      • 60% – Requires insulin, restricted diet, and regulation of activities with frequent episodes of ketoacidosis or hypoglycemic reactions
      • 100% – Requires more than one daily injection of insulin, restricted diet, regulation of activities, with frequent hospitalizations or visits to a diabetic care provider
    • Cushing’s Syndrome (D.C. 7907)
      • 30% – Occasional symptoms and moderate impairment
      • 60% – Moderately severe symptoms with multiple endocrine and systemic disturbances
      • 100% – Severe symptoms with pronounced systemic involvement and debilitation

Gastrointestinal Cancers (D.C. 7343)
Malignant neoplasms of the digestive system, exclusive of skin growths

  • Active treatment period – 100%
  • Examples of Post-treatment VA rating based on residuals:

    • Pancreatitis, chronic (D.C. 7347)
      • 30% – Moderately severe; with at least four to seven typical attacks of abdominal pain per year with good remission between attacks
      • 60% – Severe; with frequent attacks of abdominal pain, loss of normal body weight, and other findings showing continuing pancreatic insufficiency between acute attacks
      • 100% – Frequent attacks of abdominal pain that are only partially relieved by standard therapy, with steatorrhea, malabsorption, diarrhea, and severe malnutrition
    • Chronic Liver Disease (D.C. 7345)
      • 20% – Chronic liver disease with at least one of the following: Intermittent fatigue, Malaise, Anorexia, Hepatomegaly and Pruritus
      • 40% – Progressive chronic liver disease requiring continuous medication and causing minor weight loss and at least two of the symptoms mentioned above
      • 60% – Progressive chronic liver disease requiring continuous medication and causing substantial weight loss and at least two of the symptoms mentioned above
      • 100% – Progressive chronic liver disease requiring the use of both parenteral antiviral therapy (direct antiviral agents), and parenteral immunomodulatory therapy (interferon and other); and for six months following discontinuance of treatment

Prostate Cancer (D.C. 7528)
Malignant neoplasms of the genitourinary system

  • Active treatment period – 100%
  • Examples of Post-treatment VA rating based on residuals:

    • Urinary Incontinence (D.C. 7527)
      • 20% – Requires the wearing of absorbent materials that must be changed less than twice per day
      • 40% – Requires the wearing of absorbent materials that must be changed two to four times per day
      • 60% – Requires the wearing of absorbent materials that must be changed more than four times per day, or requires the use of an appliance
    • Erectile Dysfunction (D.C. 7522)
      • 0% – ED is present but is not severe enough to qualify for compensation 
      • 10% – A noticeable impact on sexual function, which still responds to therapy and treatment
      • 20% – A consistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection, despite treatment or intervention, and a substantial impact on sexual function 

Respiratory Cancers (D.C. 6819)
Neoplasms, malignant, any specified part of the respiratory system exclusive of skin growths

  • Active treatment period – 100%
  • Examples of Post-treatment VA rating based on residuals:

    • Dysphagia (in case of swallowing issues) (D.C. 7203)
      • 30% – Moderate stricture of the esophagus
      • 50% – Severe stricture of the esophagus permitting liquids only
      • 80% – Severe stricture of the esophagus permitting passage of liquids only, with marked impairment of general health
    • Chronic Laryngitis (D.C. 6516)
      • 10% – Hoarseness with inflammation of cords or mucous membrane
      • 30% – Hoarseness with thickening or nodules of cords, polyps, submucous infiltration, or pre-malignant changes on biopsy

Understanding  Permanency for a Cancer Diagnosis

Another term you should keep in mind regarding the VA disability rating for cancer is Permanency.

Cancer can be assigned a permanent status in case there is medical evidence that a Veteran’s cancer is not likely to improve. In this case, the VA assigns a permanent total disability rating, which is not subject to any further re-evaluations.

Remember that in case a residual condition of your cancer and its symptoms prevent you from getting and holding employment, you can file for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). It is a form of VA disability benefit that provides monthly compensation equal to a 100% disability rate, even if your combined rate is not that high.

As you see, the VA disability rating for cancer leaves much room for maneuvering, which allows you to maximize your overall rate. However, it is crucial to collect all medical records and documentation during your treatment, report any symptoms that can be linked to the effect of cancer or its treatment, and contact qualified professionals who will help you sort and present the evidence correctly, building a strong case.

Final Thoughts

The very thought of getting diagnosed with cancer frightens most of us. However, for thousands of Veterans and their families, it is a harsh reality.

And while medical science is constantly evolving, increasing survival rates even for types and stages of cancer that were considered uncurable only a decade ago, it is our responsibility that Veterans who have to face this challenge get the maximum VA compensation they may deserve.

Book your Free 30-Minute Call with the VCU Veterans Specialist today and may it be one of the chapters in your heroic story. While doctors do everything in their power to help you defeat the disease, the VCU team will make sure that you and your family are taken care of properly during and after the journey. 

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