Living with chronic pain can have a negative effect on a Veteran's overall quality of life. Often, this leads to depression and anxiety. When these conditions are related to a Veteran's military service, they may be entitled to a higher VA disability rating.
Understanding the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain
Acute pain is pain that is related to a specific injury or illness. This type of pain disappears when the body has had a chance to heal. Chronic pain is pain that persists for an extended period of time—generally defined as a minimum of three to six months. It can vary in severity and may have periods of remission, but it stubbornly persists despite medical treatment. It may be described as a feeling of general stiffness and soreness or a more specific aching, shooting, stabbing, stinging, burning, or throbbing pain.
Chronic pain can be caused by a number of factors. Some examples of common causes of chronic pain in Veterans include:
- Nerve damage
- Injuries that fail to heal properly
- Complications from past surgeries
- Side effects of cancer treatment
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Migraine headaches
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ)
How Chronic Pain Can Lead to Depression and Anxiety
There is a circular relationship between chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. Being in pain results in life changes that increase a person's risk of depression or anxiety. Struggles with depression and anxiety can then increase a person's perception of how severe their pain is.
Some of the reasons that chronic pain can lead to depression and anxiety include:
- When pain interferes with a Veteran's ability to work, they may experience financial stress that negatively affects their mental health.
- Relationships with family and friends can be strained when they don't know how to provide the support a Veteran needs.
- Chronic pain can keep a Veteran from enjoying the hobbies or special interests that once were a source of joy.
- It is often hard to sleep with chronic pain, so a Veteran may struggle with fatigue that increases their symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Chronic pain can lead to loss of appetite, which can cause malnutrition that negatively affects mood and behavior.
Treating depression and anxiety can help a person cope with their chronic pain, just as treating chronic pain can result in an improvement in mental health. However, because there are so many individual variables to consider, the process of finding an effective treatment plan can be time-consuming. A Veteran may need to see several different care providers and try a number of medications or therapies to determine what best fits their needs.
Challenges in Receiving VA Disability Benefits
Receiving VA disability benefits for chronic pain can be difficult because there is no specific diagnostic code for pain. Identifying the underlying cause of the pain can help ensure that a Veteran receives the appropriate rating, although it may be possible to win cases where benefits are denied due to no diagnosable pathology on appeal thanks to a 2018 Federal Circuit Court decision known as Saunders v. Wilkie.
When chronic pain leads to depression or anxiety, Veterans may struggle to receive an appropriate disability rating because their symptoms haven't been fully documented. The VA relies on medical records when assigning disability ratings, and many Veterans aren't comfortable being honest with their care provider about the full extent of their condition. Lay statements from family, friends, and co-workers, as well as a Veteran's own personal journal entries, may be used to provide a more accurate picture of their condition.
When chronic pain, depression, and anxiety are keeping a Veteran from substantially gainful employment, they may need to seek Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. This will require submitting vocational evidence to demonstrate how service-connected impairments limit a Veteran's earning potential.
How We Can Help
Working with an experienced Veterans benefits attorney can help you strengthen your case by ensuring that you have all of the evidence necessary to support your claim for chronic pain as well as secondary depression or anxiety. The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, works with Veterans suffering from chronic pain who are having trouble accessing their VA benefits to ensure that all of their primary and secondary conditions are fully compensated. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.