Over 30 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes. This condition can cause a wide range of complications, including making it difficult to hold steady employment. If you’re a veteran, your diabetes may qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by the body’s inability to properly regulate blood sugar. There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that results in the pancreas producing little or no insulin. The condition is typically diagnosed in children and teens. Between 5% and 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, develops over a period of many years due to genetics and lifestyle factors. With Type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but can’t use it effectively. Between 90% and 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes.
VA disability benefits are not available for people with Type 1 diabetes but might be available for those who have Type 2 diabetes.
How Diabetes Is Rated
As with other conditions, Type 2 diabetes is rated by the VA according to the degree to which it impacts a veteran’s life. Ratings are on a scale from 0% to 100% in 10% increments. Higher percentage ratings equate to higher monthly compensation, which is why it’s vital that your claim accurately describes all of your symptoms.
At the low end, your diabetes will be considered 10% disabling if it can be managed by diet alone. At the high end, your diabetes will be considered 100% disabling if you need insulin injections more than once per day.
Type 2 diabetes is considered to be presumptively service-connected for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used in Vietnam and some areas of the Korean Demilitarized Zone to clear the jungle. If you were exposed to Agent Orange, your diabetes is assumed to be service-connected no matter when it first appears.
You can also receive a presumed service-connection for your diabetes if you are diagnosed in service or symptoms are present to a compensable degree within one year of discharge. You do not need to have been exposed to Agent Orange if you are diagnosed within the correct timeframe.
If you don’t qualify for a presumed service-connection, you need to prove your case using your medical and service records to establish a link between your military service and the diabetes diagnosis. You must show a current diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes that occurred during or after your military service, as well as a specific event during your military service that triggered your condition. Your treating physician will need to provide a statement that says they believe your condition is due to the event in question.
Prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated but you have no other symptoms of diabetes, can make winning your claim a challenge. If your medical records show evidence of prediabetes before your military service began, you’ll face an uphill battle getting approved for disability benefits.
Compensation for Secondary Service-Connected Conditions
When blood sugar levels are controlled with medication and lifestyle changes, people with diabetes can lead active lives. However, poorly controlled diabetes is linked to a wide range of disabling health conditions.
If you win a service-connection for your diabetes, any complication that arises out of your diabetes diagnosis may qualify as a secondary service-connected disability. Some of the common secondary conditions associated with diabetes include:
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Kidney dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke
- Erectile dysfunction
Proper documentation is essential to receive full compensation for any secondary service- connected conditions—especially if you are seeking Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. Working with a skilled attorney is the best way to ensure you have the evidence needed to win your case.
Do You Need to Speak With a Veterans Benefits Lawyer?
If you need to speak with an experienced veterans benefits lawyer, please contact us online, or call our Virginia Beach office to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Suffolk.