Yes, migraine headaches may be recognized by the VA as a service connected disability.
The Process of Determining Eligibility
The burden is on the patient to convince the VA they suffer from debilitating migraine headaches.
The more details the doctor writes in your medical record, the more likely the VA will be to accept a diagnosis of migraine headaches. VA specialists usually place more confidence in what is printed in a patient’s medical record than in what the patient may share in an application.
Before filing a claim with the VA, talk with your doctor about your migraines. Include the following details:
- how often you experience migraines,
- if the migraines cause you to feel weak, and/or
- if the migraines force you to lie down in a dark, quiet room for hours or days on end,
- how your life is impacted by your headaches.
It is important to tell your doctor every detail you can think of concerning both your symptoms and how they impact your day-to-day life (i.e., how often do headaches prevent you from going to work or school, or do headaches impact your ability to supervise and assist your children). A medical report that simply notes you have two migraines each month doesn’t tell the VA rating specialist much about your incapacity. If your records reflect you are having prostrating headaches that force you to recline in a dark, quiet room for multiple days, the rating specialist receives essential information about your condition.
Your Burden of Proof
To receive disability benefits for migraine headaches, you must prove that your headaches are caused or severely aggravated by your military service. In addition to proving you have debilitating migraine headaches, you must also be able to provide evidence of the following service-related conditions at the time you file a claim:
- A specific event or incident occurred during your military service that caused your migraines;
- Your migraines began during the period you were in service; or
- Your migraines were caused by another condition that is service related.
Documents You Need to Provide
Migraines are not easy to diagnose, and you are going to have to provide documentation. This step is critical to qualify for VA benefits.
You must provide a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional (a neurologist, ophthalmologist, or migraine specialist) showing your headaches are migraines. In addition to the diagnosis, the records must show the following:
- How often you have migraine headaches,
- The severity of your migraines,
- Whether migraines require you to leave work or school, and
- If you must retire to a dark, quiet room to relieve the headache.
It is good to keep a journal of these four statistics and copies of documentation of time lost from work every time you experience a migraine headache.
The VA Rating System for Migraines
The VA rating system places migraine headaches somewhere between 0% to 50% disability.
First, a VA headache specialist determines whether your migraine is “prostrating.” This term is used to rate how serious a headache must be to qualify for disability. For a headache to qualify as “prostrating,” the patient must experience weakness which forces him/her to lie down during the occurrence of the migraine.
After reviewing your medical records, the VA employs four possible ratings to headache claims based on their frequency and severity.
- Migraines are determined to be “not prostrating,” meaning they occur less than once every two months.
- If the VA determines your migraines are infrequent and don’t force you to lie down, leave work, or otherwise incapacitate you, they will probably deny your application for disability.
A 10% rating means the veteran suffers from “prostrating” migraines at the moderate pace of one every two months.
A rating of 50% is the highest awarded for migraines and is defined as having “very frequent completely prostrating” prolonged migraines which result in severe economic hardship for the veteran.
Individual Unemployability (IU) Due to Migraines
The fourth option is not automatically awarded. However, if you believe your migraines are so frequent that you are completely unable to
hold a job, you may be eligible for Individual Unemployability (IU). IU is part of a VA disability compensation program that will award 100% compensation to a veteran even if his/her service-connected disability was not rated at 100%.
You must meet the following criteria to qualify for IU:
- A veteran must be unable to maintain “substantially gainful employment” due to a service-related condition. Note that the VA does not consider minimal or minor odd jobs as “substantially gainful employment.”
- The veteran must have a service-connected disability that was rated at 60% or higher.
- The veteran must have two or more service-connected disabilities, and at least one of them must have been rated at 40% or higher. Their combined rating must be 70% or higher.
What if You Know You Don’t Meet the Criteria for Individual Unemployability
It’s possible that you may not meet any of the listed criteria for IU eligibility. If so, special consideration may still be given to your claim if you can show that your disability demonstrates unusual or exceptional circumstances that interfere with your earning ability. For example, if your condition requires frequent hospitalizations and you’re unable to consistently show up to your job, this might be considered an exceptional situation.
If you do receive IU compensation, be prepared to complete an annual employment questionnaire so the VA can determine your continued eligibility.