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Hello community, This is my first post, so hopefully, I'm posting it correctly! I have a service-connected disability in my lower back for 'Lumbar Strain' at 10% in 2012. (L4/L5) - I'm also currently 34 years old. Since then, I received ~4 or 5 epidurals through the VA and then 1 nerve blocker procedure through the VA as well in 2013/2014. Also, here it showed the beginning sign of DDD on L4 only. I moved abroad in 2015, and from 2015-2017 I would take hydrocodone either 5 or 10mg very often for the lower back pain. Through the Foreign Medical Program abroad in 2018, I was seen twice for my lower back and recommended for more back injections, but then moved to another country and had to start the process over again. In November 2018, I went to the ER room because I was unable to get out of bed by myself. I was in the hospital for 6 days on a pain medicine drip and finally ended with another nerve block injections on both sides of the spine. Here the doctor also stated that the DDD is now on L4/L5/S1. My questions: 1) I'll want to get seen for the 'Range of Motion' as I think I fit the criteria for an increase to 20%. If I live abroad how can I get this evaluated by the VA? I assume having a doctor where I'm at currently do the exam and provide notes to file with my claim? 2) Epidurals - Because I've received these injections and nerve block procedures, what should I be claiming for these? I don't know how to properly claim this and what disability I believe should be associated with the information I've provided. 3) DDD - Same as #2. What should I be claiming for this? Also, if there's any other information you need, please let me know and I'll answer to the best of my knowledge. Thank you in advance for your help. -Conrad
Ok, first let me say, I am sorry for the long winded post, and also if this is not in the proper place. I served on active duty USAF for 7 years from 2003 to 2010. Prior to joining, there were no instances of ever having back problems or even a day of back pain. During my service, I had several documented lower back pain clinic visits. Most of the time, I was given a exemption from physical training and some Ibuprofen. On three occasions, I was sent to physical therapy and to chiropractic services. Never were there any advanced imaging tests performed. After I separated in 2010, I did not file any claims for disability. I continued to have back problems that I would go see my primary care physician for and would be treated with muscle relaxers and/or steroids. In 2012, a friend that I kept in touch with from service told me I should go and file a claim, so I did. I filed for three issues (knee pain, back pain, and shoulder pain) on the advice of my VSO. The knee pain I had before I went in and it was documented before I went in, so I figured that to be a waste of time. The shoulder pain was just a click in my shoulder that was not really painful and caused no difference in my daily life so I did not see that as relevant. However, the back pain did not start until I joined service, and had become an issue that was more often painful that it was not painful. So I filed, and went to my C&P and they did an X-ray and ROM test for all three claims. Several months later I got a letter in the mail (to the wrong name) but with my information, that all three of the claims had been deemed not service connected. I was fresh out of college and just starting a new job, with newborn son, and basically running in every direction just to get day to day things accomplished and at the time the back pain while a pain in the butt, was more of a nuisance than anything else. So from that time until last 2015, I have been treated by my PCP approximately 2 or 3 times a year with steroids and muscle relaxers for lower back pain, and have seen a chiropractor on occasion. In 2015, I had a flare up of back pain, that sent me to my doctor, this was different, it was the same pain but much more intense. The PCP said it sounded like a herniated disc, but that they would treat it with physical therapy. I asked "can we please do an MRI to confirm"? His response was that the MRI is an expensive test and that it is better to do the physical therapy and see if it gets better. Well over a 3 month period of physical therapy it did gradually get better but did not return to the same. Then, 1 month ago, while picking up a pair of shoes, I could not stand back up, every attempt to straighten my lower back was met with excruciating pain. I was home alone with 3 children, my wife was at work. My youngest (7 months old at the time) was in his crib crying, and I was stuck on my hands and knees. I called my wife who came home to help. But when she attempted to help me stand, my legs were numb (like not there numb), the pain in my lower back when attempting to stand sent me into screams of pain. We had no choice but to call for an ambulance to take me to the ER. When they placed me on the stretcher and straightened my lower back, for the first time in my life, I blacked out. At the ER they finally ordered an MRI, and it was confirmed I had a herniated disc, with several fragments pressing against the nerve root. They referred me to a neurologist and he recommended I let it wait 4 weeks to self heal and then determine if I wanted surgery. Two weeks in, I called him and said schedule the surgery. I had paid radiating down my right leg. I was unable to sit, drive, stand, walk. The only thing I could do was lay on my side with my knees bent 30 degrees. He performed the surgery and said that things were worse than the initial MRI, he said he did remove several bone fragments from my nerve root, and that I had sever disc degeneration to the point that there is almost no disc left. He said I am likely looking at fusion in the next 5 to 10 years. So, now that brings us to present day. I have called a different VSO and scheduled an appt. I am going to re-file my claim. Is there any chance of this turning out favorably for me?
Okay, so this is going to be hard to believe for anyone reading this, and it's fine if you don't because it happened to me and I'm still having hard time believing it. Back in 2014 I got into an argument with a VA dermatology doctor about putting me on Accutaine/ Isotretinoin for Cystic Acne. I showed her that I hadn't finished the treatment as a civilian due to entering the service and the same thing happened upon getting out, but she wouldn't put me on it and claimed no sane doctor would. I went to a civilian dermatologist and she recommended I be put on the treatment on the first visit. Furthermore, the civilian doctor said I would be a "perfect candidate" for the treatment. I brought this back to the VA dermatologist and she was furious. She stuck to her decision, and brought in a fellow dermatologist to back her up, and man she brought in identified himself as a dermatologist and backed her up and that was about it for that situation... Almost two years later, this past March 7th, I had an appointment for a GERD disability claim, and a lower back pain disability claim. The examiner was none other then the dermatologist my psycho dermatologist doctor brought in to back her up. It took me a while to remember where I had seen him before, but halfway through the exam it hit me. However, he didn't recognize me. He also didn't seem to know anything about the human body because when I tried to explain to him that a bad knee day equals a bad lower back day he tried to tell me this did not matter. This was quite shocking and disturbing to hear because my chiropractor has told me that the two issues are connected, and so did my knee surgeon. Then last week I went to pick-up a buddy of mine at the ER due to a really bad sinus infection, and when I went to the front desk to get my friend I see the same guy who was my C&P examiner and who supposedly was a dermatologist treating patients in the ER!! What the hell is going on here? Is this dude even a doctor at all? Has anyone experienced such a thing?
I recently finished a series of C&Ps for various conditions and I was hoping to get some input on just what exactly it all means - I was wondering what if any kind of rating might I be looking at? Is there a possibility for getting back pay? What can I do (possibly in an appeal) to do more to strengthen my case? At this point my case should be done with the gathering evidence phase (I can't check because ebenefits is being weird). All C&P's are done and everything that needed to be turned in is (I hope). The first C&P/DBQ I'd like assistance with is my claim for "Lower Back Condition". Originally I had claimed "chronic lower back pain" only to later find out that really isn't a thing and thus I was denied. When I went in for this most recent exam the reviewing doctor first went to my C-File and saw that I had claimed "chronic lower back pain" back in 2004. He then went into my military treatment record and found considerable amounts of treatment records for several issues in my lumbar spine and beyond. "They should have connected you back in 2004" he said to me. Sufficed to say that his positive first impressions put me a little more at ease with the C&P (which normally turns me into an anxious, nervous wreck). I've now gained access to the DBQ and would like any information that you well informed folks could provide. I've cut it down as much as I thought I could. If a question is missing and/or option is missing assume it wasn't checked. All non-pertinent information I cut out and did some heavy editing as far as formatting goes. Here it is: Back (Thoracolumbar Spine) Conditions Disability Benefits Questionnaire Indicate method used to obtain medical information to complete this document: [X] In-person examination Evidence review --------------- Was the Veteran's VA claims file (hard copy paper C-file) reviewed? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, list any records that were reviewed but were not included in the Veteran's VA claims file: VA medical records. 1. Diagnosis ------------ Does the Veteran now have or has he/she ever been diagnosed with a thoracolumbar spine (back) condition? [X] Yes [ ] No Thoracolumbar Common Diagnoses: [ ] Ankylosing spondylitis [X] Lumbosacral strain [ ] Degenerative arthritis of the spine [ ] Intervertebral disc syndrome [ ] Sacroiliac injury [ ] Sacroiliac weakness [ ] Segmental instability [ ] Spinal fusion [ ] Spinal stenosis [ ] Spondylolisthesis [ ] Vertebral dislocation [ ] Vertebral fracture Diagnosis #1: LS strain, chronic, with LLE radiculopathy Date of diagnosis: 2000s 2. Medical history ------------------ a. Describe the history (including onset and course) of the Veteran's thoracolumbar spine (back) condition (brief summary): During military service, the Veteran did develop chronic left lower back pain with radiation down the left buttock to the calf. On 6/10/2003, an MRI of the LS spine was performed with the following findings: Broad based posterior/central disc bulging at L4-5 without associated neural impingement. After service discharge in 2004, the Veteran continued with intermittent lower back and LLE problems. Repeat lumbar MRi in 2009 was read as normal. Currently he continues with chronic daily left lower back pain with LLE weakness and paresthesias. He is taking Ibuprofen and has a TENS unit as needed. He deniesbowel/bladder/sexual dysfunction related to his lower back. b. Does the Veteran report flare-ups of the thoracolumbar spine (back)? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, document the Veteran's description of the flare-ups in his or her own words: Increased pain and stiffness c. Does the Veteran report having any functional loss or functional impairment of the thoracolumbar spine (back) (regardless of repetitive use)? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, document the Veteran's description of functional loss or functional impairment in his or her own words. Stiffness/LLE radiculopathy 3. Range of motion (ROM) and functional limitation -------------------------------------------------- a. Initial range of motion [X] Abnormal or outside of normal range Forward Flexion (0 to 90): 0 to 75 degrees Extension (0 to 30): 0 to 20 degrees Right Lateral Flexion (0 to 30): 0 to 30 degrees Left Lateral Flexion (0 to 30): 0 to 30 degrees Right Lateral Rotation (0 to 30): 0 to 30 degrees Left Lateral Rotation (0 to 30): 0 to 30 degrees If abnormal, does the range of motion itself contribute to a functional loss? [ ] Yes (please explain) [X] No Description of pain (select best response): Pain noted on exam on rest/non-movement If noted on exam, which ROM exhibited pain (select all that apply)? Forward Flexion, Extension Is there objective evidence of localized tenderness or pain on palpation of the joints or associated soft tissue of the thoracolumbar spine (back)? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, describe including location, severity and relationship to condition(s): There is localized tenderness over the bilateral paralumbar muscles and the left SI joint and left sciatic notch. b. Observed repetitive use: Is the Veteran able to perform repetitive use testing with at least three repetitions? [X] Yes [ ] No Is there additional loss of function or range of motion after three repetitions? [ ] Yes [X] No c. Repeated use over time Is the Veteran being examined immediately after repetitive use over time? [ ] Yes [X] No If the examination is not being conducted immediately after repetitive use over time: [X] The examination is neither medically consistent or inconsistent with the Veteran's statements describing functional loss with repetitive use over time. Does pain, weakness, fatigability or incoordination significantly limit functional ability with repeated use over a period of time? [ ] Yes [ ] No [X] Unable to say w/o mere speculation If unable to say w/o mere speculation, please explain: Not currently flared up. d. Flare-ups Is the exam being conducted during a flare-up? [ ] Yes [X] No If the examination is not being conducted during a flare-up: [X] The examination is neither medically consistent or inconsistent with the Veteran's statements describing functional loss during flare-ups. Does pain, weakness, fatigability or incoordination significantly limit functional ability with flare-ups? [ ] Yes [ ] No [X] Unable to say w/o mere speculation If unable to say w/o mere speculation, please explain: Not currently flared up. e. Guarding and muscle spasm Does the Veteran have guarding or muscle spasm of the thoracolumbar spine (back)? [X] Yes [ ] No Muscle spasm: [X] Not resulting in abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour Provide description and/or etiology: Left lower back muscle spasm is noted today. Localized tenderness: [X] Not resulting in abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour Guarding: [X] None f. Additional factors contributing to disability In addition to those addressed above, are there additional contributing factors of disability? Please select all that apply and describe: [X] None 4. Muscle strength testing -------------------------- a. Rate strength according to the following scale: 0/5 No muscle movement 1/5 Palpable or visible muscle contraction, but no joint movement 2/5 Active movement with gravity eliminated 3/5 Active movement against gravity 4/5 Active movement against some resistance 5/5 Normal strength Hip flexion: Right: [X] 5/5 [ ] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Left: [ ] 5/5 [X] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Knee extension: Right: [X] 5/5 [ ] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Left: [ ] 5/5 [X] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Ankle plantar flexion: Right: [X] 5/5 [ ] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Left: [ ] 5/5 [X] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Ankle dorsiflexion: Right: [X] 5/5 [ ] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Left: [ ] 5/5 [X] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Great toe extension: Right: [X] 5/5 [ ] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 Left: [ ] 5/5 [X] 4/5 [ ] 3/5 [ ] 2/5 [ ] 1/5 [ ] 0/5 b. Does the Veteran have muscle atrophy? [ ] Yes [X] No 5. Reflex exam -------------- Rate deep tendon reflexes (DTRs) according to the following scale: 0 Absent 1+ Hypoactive 2+ Normal 3+ Hyperactive without clonus 4+ Hyperactive with clonus Knee: Right: [ ] 0 [ ] 1+ [X] 2+ [ ] 3+ [ ] 4+ Left: [ ] 0 [ ] 1+ [X] 2+ [ ] 3+ [ ] 4+ Ankle: Right: [ ] 0 [ ] 1+ [X] 2+ [ ] 3+ [ ] 4+ Left: [ ] 0 [ ] 1+ [X] 2+ [ ] 3+ [ ] 4+ 6. Sensory exam --------------- Provide results for sensation to light touch (dermatome) testing: Upper anterior thigh (L2): Right: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Left: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Thigh/knee (L3/4): Right: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Left: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Lower leg/ankle (L4/L5/S1): Right: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Left: [ ] Normal [X] Decreased [ ] Absent Foot/toes (L5): Right: [X] Normal [ ] Decreased [ ] Absent Left: [ ] Normal [X] Decreased [ ] Absent 7. Straight leg raising test ---------------------------- Provide straight leg raising test results: Right: [X] Negative [ ] Positive [ ] Unable to perform Left: [ ] Negative [X] Positive [ ] Unable to perform 8. Radiculopathy ---------------- Does the Veteran have radicular pain or any other signs or symptoms due to radiculopathy? [X] Yes [ ] No a. Indicate symptoms' location and severity (check all that apply): Constant pain (may be excruciating at times) Right lower extremity: [X] None [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Left lower extremity: [X] None [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Intermittent pain (usually dull) Right lower extremity: [X] None [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Left lower extremity: [ ] None [X] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Paresthesias and/or dysesthesias Right lower extremity: [X] None [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Left lower extremity: [ ] None [X] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Numbness Right lower extremity: [X] None [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Left lower extremity: [ ] None [X] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe b. Does the Veteran have any other signs or symptoms of radiculopathy? [ ] Yes [X] No c. Indicate nerve roots involved: (check all that apply) [X] Involvement of L4/L5/S1/S2/S3 nerve roots (sciatic nerve) If checked, indicate: [ ] Right [X] Left [ ] Both d. Indicate severity of radiculopathy and side affected: Right: [X] Not affected [ ] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe Left: [ ] Not affected [X] Mild [ ] Moderate [ ] Severe 10. Other neurologic abnormalities ---------------------------------- [ ] Yes [X] No 12. Assistive devices --------------------- [ ] Yes [X] No 13. Remaining effective function of the extremities --------------------------------------------------- [X] No 14. Other pertinent physical findings, complications, conditions, signs, symptoms and scars ----------------------------------------------------------------------- a. Does the Veteran have any other pertinent physical findings, complications, conditions, signs or symptoms related to any conditions listed in the Diagnosis Section above? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, describe (brief summary): Vital signs are stable; Lungs are clear; Heart is without m/g/r; Abdomen is soft, and without masses or organomegaly or tenderness; Genitalia are normal, no hernias or testicular lesions, the testicles and epididymii are tender to touch bilaterally; b. Does the Veteran have any scars (surgical or otherwise) related to any conditions or to the treatment of any conditions listed in the Diagnosis Section above? [ ] Yes [X] No 15. Diagnostic testing ---------------------- a. Have imaging studies of the thoracolumbar spine been performed and are the results available? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, is arthritis documented? [ ] Yes [X] No b. Does the Veteran have a thoracic vertebral fracture with loss of 50 percent or more of height? [ ] Yes [X] No c. Are there any other significant diagnostic test findings and/or results? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes, provide type of test or procedure, date and results (brief summary): Repeat lumbar MRI has been ordered and is currently pending; when completed and reported, I will review it and add any additional comments as indicated. 16. Functional impact --------------------- Does the Veteran's thoracolumbar spine (back) condition impact on his or her ability to work? [X] Yes [ ] No If yes describe the impact of each of the Veteran's thoracolumbar spine (back) conditions providing one or more examples: The Veteran's current lower back condition would limit his ability to perform repetitive heavy lifting, pushing or pulling. 17. Remarks, if any: -------------------- The Veteran is claiming service connection for a lower back condition. Opinion: It is as least as likely as not that the Veteran's current lower back condition is proximately due to or caused by military service. Rationale: The C file was reviewed. The STRs do document a two year history in 2002 of chronic lower back pain with LLE radiculopathy. This is also noted on separation exam in 2004. I was able to elicit the same symptoms ongoing today, as well as to confirm this on phyiscal examination. Repeat lumbar MRI has been ordered since the last study was in 2009; when completed and reported, I will review it and add any additional comments as indicated. Thus, the service connection is substantiated. 12/23/2015 ADDENDUM STATUS: COMPLETED The Veteran underwent a lumbar MRI on 12/21/2015 with the following findings: L3-4: Mild facet arthrosis with minimal posterior disc bulge L4-5: Mild facet arthrosis with minimal posterior disc bulge L5-S1: Mild facet arthrosis with minonal posterior disc bulge ------END------- Any help interpreting this would be greatly appreciated. The "service connection is substantiated" is pretty straight forward. I'm curious whether or not I have a chance at getting the SC backdated to my original claim. It seems to me (a total non expert) that the evidence is there to support it. I am also curious about whether or not I can refute some of the conclusions that this doctor came to. While an awesome C&P doctor a back expert he is not. Since the writing of the C&P I had a chiropractor evaluation who found several more things than this doctor did. I'm curious if any of it will be enough to make a 10% difference when the rating comes down. In addition I am curious if within my C&P as well as the most recent chiro consult if there isn't evidence for a possible future claim for nerve pain in my lower body. "Many times spinal conditions have other conditions that contribute to the severity of the spinal condition. For example, many spine conditions also cause radiculopathy. These secondary conditions can sometimes be independently ratable." In my C&P I believe I meet all these conditions. I am diagnosed with lumbosacral strain - chronic, as well as Lower Left Extremity radiculopathy. In addition the C&P also diagnosed me with LLE weakness and paresthesias. The following is a list of conditions that the Chiropractor diagnosed me with just 8 days after the C&P doctor finalized his report. ----------Chiropractic Evaluation-------------- LOCAL TITLE: PM&R CHIROPRACTOR CONSULT RESULT STANDARD TITLE: PHYSICAL MEDICINE REHAB CONSULT DATE OF NOTE: DEC 31, 2015@11:04 Midback pain: medial scapula, left worse than right Quality: Burning (small area "about the size of a dime") Radiating: Patient Denies 0-10: 9/10 Timing: Intermittent Worse: working in a "hunched" or bent over position. Better: Standing up /stretching Low Back Pain: Thoraco-lumbar and lower L4-5-S1. Quality: Dull/Ache/sometimes sharp/Throbbing Radiating: buttock/thigh and foot ("tasered"), left worse than right 0-10: 6-7/10 Timing: Intermittent Worse: Standing/coughing while bent over Better: changing positions/activities Trunk ROM: Flexion:Mod dec Pain:Severe Extension:Mild dec Pain:No pain Rotation:Mild dec Pain:No pain Lateral Flexion:Mild dec Pain:No pain Muscle Atrophy: No Seated SLR: Positive L Supine SLR: Positive R (low back pain) Hip hyperextension test: Positive R Kemps test: Negative R L Spinous Process Tenderness: T3-7, L2,3, Right SI Myofascial Tenderness: Bilateral Rhomboids, Thoraco-lumbar paraspinals bilaterally. Lumbar MRI 12/21/2015 Impression: 1. Mild facet arthrosis and minimal disc bulges of the lower lumbar spine without thecal sac or neuroforaminal stenosis. Oswestry Disability Index Questionnaire Section 1 -- Pain Intensity: 2. The pain is moderate at the moment. Section 2 -- Personal Care (Washing, Dressing, etc.): 2. It is painful to look after myself and I am slow and careful. Section 3 -- Lifting: 2. Pain prevents me lifting heavy weights off the floor, but I can manage if they are conveniently placed e.g. on a table. Section 4 -- Walking: 1. Pain prevents me walking more than 1 mile. Section 5 -- Sitting: 3. Pain prevents me from sitting more than one-half hour. Section 6 -- Standing: 2. Pain prevents me from standing for more than 1 hour. Section 7 -- Sleeping: 2. Because of pain, I have less than 6 hours sleep. Section 8 -- Sex Life (if applicable): N/A Section 9 -- Social Life: 3. Pain has restricted my social life, and I do not go out very often. Section 10 -- Traveling: 2. Pain is bad but I manage journeys over two hours. DISABILITY INDEX SCORE: 38% Segmental Dysfunction: L3LP, RPIN, RAI_Sacrum, T3LP, T5LP Assessment: 1. Lumbar: Segmental dysfunction 2. Lumbar: strain 3. Pelvic: Segmental dysfunction 4. Sacrum: Segmental Dysfunction 5. Thoracic: Segmental dysfunction Alright. If you've made it this far thanks for taking the time to read this massive wall of text. If you have some information or experience to offer let me thank you in advance!