VA Disability Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) has a wide range of VA ratings depending on the severity and limitation of movement of the hand. It results from the compression of the median nerve inside the tunnel because of some external force, repetitive motion, fractures, nerve damage, etc.

Any form of irritation or pinching of the median nerve can be counted as carpal tunnel syndrome. Veterans can get it in many ways during their service and receive VA compensation benefits for the condition. Filing the claim with the appropriate evidence will do the trick.

Continue through this article to explore more into carpal tunnel syndrome so that you can better prepare when submitting your claim.

Understanding the Carpal Tunnel and the Syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway going through our wrist and hand. Inside it are the flexor tendons that link the forearm muscle with the fingers and thumbs. There is also the median nerve inside that transfers signals in and out between the hand and the brain.

The carpal tunnel is surrounded by carpal bones on all sides and the transverse carpal ligament on the side of the wrist.

Now, the median nerves let us control our wrists, thumbs, and fingers and feel things with those parts. So, compression of this nerve can result in many symptoms like weakening, tingling, or numbness of the wrist. It is what the medical world calls the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Aside from the discomfort in the wrist and palm, carpal tunnel syndrome can bring various symptoms. Their severity, frequency, and persistence are factors that the VA evaluates when deciding your rating. Let’s look at these symptoms below-

  • Sharp (needlelike), pinching, shocking, or burning feeling.
  • Tingling or numbness in the affected hand traveling upwards in the arm.
  • Pain in the hand (especially at night).
  • Weakening of the hand and accidental dropping of things due to clumsiness.
  • In a severe case, the patient may struggle to grip things, lose dexterity, and have limited movement.

Possible Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Veterans

Service members must perform various tasks during their line of duty. Their jobs may be pretty unpredictable. As a result, a service member has many reasons to get CTS. If you can show a strong reason behind your CTS being service-related, it will be easier to get the VA compensation. Some possible reasons a veteran may develop CTS are-

  • Injury: It is not uncommon for a service member to receive an injury during their service. The damage on their palm or wrist may compress the median nerve sooner or later. Falling on your hands at the wrong angle or getting hit in your hand by a heavy object can injure the arm.
  • Fracture: similar to an injury, the fracture of the wrist bone may also be the reason behind a veteran’s CTS. The condition may not arrive immediately and only appear after the service unit has already been discharged from the service.
  • Repetitive Hand Movement: One of the most common reasons for CTS for service members and regular civilians is repetitive hand motion. Military units may have to use a mouse to monitor enemy activities constantly, carry heavy objects, drive vehicles, or do any such work requiring them to move their hand in specific patterns.

At first, this may irritate their palm and wrists. Continuing the processes may result in CTS.

CTS may appear within one year of discharge or even later. The sooner it comes, the easier it will be to establish a service connection. You may need to report to your doctor about any task requiring repetitive hand movement during your service or any specific injury to the wrist so they can write a nexus letter for you.

How VA Rates Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

VA rates carpal tunnel syndrome under 38 CFR § 4.124a. The diagnostic codes of the radicular groups (8510 to 8513) state that if multiple nerves have damage, they are often rated together based on the ones with the major involvements or the whole radicular group. Meanwhile, the diagnostic code for median nerve paralysis is 8515.

With that out of the way, let’s look at VA’s rating criteria for CTS. The possible ratings are 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, and 70%. The VA will count the condition of each hand carefully and divide them by multiple levels-

  • Mild Incomplete Paralysis
  • Moderate Incomplete Paralysis
  • Severe Incomplete Paralysis
  • Complete Paralysis

A complete paralysis includes the following symptoms. A veteran may need to have one or multiple of these symptoms to qualify for a complete paralysis rating-

  • The patient can’t move their index and middle fingers from an extended position than normal. The limitation applies both to side-to-side and up-down movement.
  • The patient can’t move their thumb from a straight and stuck position right beside the index finger when the hand is flat. It also includes a significant amount of muscle atrophy at the base of the thumbs (thenar eminence), known as the Ape Hand.
  • The hand is extended towards the ulnar side and stuck.
  • Total or partial inability to remain in a proper pronation position (palm downward or inward).
  • The flexion of the middle fingers is feeble, and the index fingers are absent.
  • Inability to form a fist.
  • Inability to move the distal phalanx of the thumb (the tip).
  • Inability to keep the thumb in an opposition and abduction position.
  • Weakening of the wrist flexion and pain.

Aside from many other symptoms, pain and limitation of movement range are the two primary criteria that VA takes into account when rating. It also includes whether the condition is in the dominant or non-dominant hand. If you are right-handed, your dominant hand is your right one, and your left hand is your non-dominant one.

So, let’s look at the VA’s rating for different CTS paralysis conditions.

Paralysis LevelVA Rating for the Dominant HandVA Rating for the Non-Dominant Hand
Mild Incomplete10%10%
Moderate Incomplete30%20%
Severe Incomplete50%40%

Essential Pieces of Documents to Submit When Filing for CTS

Like many other disabilities, you must submit some essential evidence with your claim to prove your statements. Of course, the disability must be service-connected. Consider collecting the following reports-

  • Medical diagnosis information of carpal tunnel syndrome, including service treatment and medical reports from a VA or private doctor. An eligibility review from the VA Disability Coach also counts as a piece of valuable evidence.
  • A nexus letter from a doctor. The physician must be capable of finding the connection between certain events from your service and your disability after you hand them the details. For example, you may have to tell them that you had to carry heavy loads repetitively during your service and provide evidence of it so they can draw the service connection.
  • A statement in support of your claim. It’s not mandatory, but you don’t want to miss this valuable document. In the statement form, you should write down how your CTS affects your career, social aspects, and life.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Secondary to Other Conditions

If your CTS happened because of another condition, it is secondary. If the primary one is service-connected, then you can also get a VA rating for CTS for secondary-service-connected disabilities. Some conditions that may cause CTS are as follows-

Final Note

Since there are many ways to get carpal tunnel syndrome for a veteran, you need to be specific about your reasoning for it being service-connected in your claim. Proving your CTS condition using the proper medical reports should be pretty straightforward.

Once the VA approves your claim, you may also get the SMC-K benefit for your CTS if it is severe to the point of non-functionality to any or both hands. SMC-K is a payment that you can get simultaneously with your regular monthly compensation payment.