Court orders new measures to assess intermittent pain

Veterans in Georgia who have a service-related disability have some familiarity with the VA rating system for disabilities. The rating has a direct effect on the vet's disability pension. The higher the disability rating, the higher the vet's monthly pension is.

Some methods of rating are fixed and can be tested. For example, disabilities for eyesight and hearing can be measured through testing. However, other disability conditions, such as pain from musculoskeletal injuries, are more difficult to rate. This is especially true when pain caused by an injury may vary from day to day with the veteran.

In the past, the VA has placed a low priority to complaints of pain, especially when injury flareups do not occur in the presence of a medical professional. As such, many vets received lower ratings than they may have been entitled.

In a recent decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the court found the method for evaluation of periodic exacerbations of pain as inadequate in a disability determination. In the case, the veteran argued that the examiner failed to adequately assess intermittent pain for severity, frequency and its effect on the functionality of the veteran.

The court determined that the VA examination procedures did not go far enough to ascertain this element of the disability claim. In the future, the court determined that the VA should strive to schedule medical examinations at a time when the veteran's pain is at its worse. If an examination at this time is not possible, the examiner must consider outside evidence, such as statements of the veteran as well as friends and family. Most importantly, the examiner must demonstrate to the board that he or she took steps to ascertain the level and frequency of pain.

Intermittent pain due to a musculoskeletal injury can affect the day-to-day functions of a vet. Flareups can cause missed work, missed social activities and failure to perform ordinary activities. Because it can affect the disabled veteran's life, a more stringent standard for assessing its effect is a welcome change in VA aid and attendance policy.

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