Veterans can be awarded service-connected disability compensation for various heart conditions. The VA evaluates cardiovascular conditions using the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, diagnostic codes 7000 through 7123. To get compensation for your heart condition, you must meet the requirements of one of three methods designated by the VA in the rating schedule, and you must be able to prove a causal link between your military service and your heart condition.
Methods of Evaluating Heart Conditions
To be evaluated by the VA for a heart condition, you will have to make sure that your doctor diagnoses your condition using one of the methods the VA recognizes. These methods are described below.
If there is any medical evidence that you have had congestive heart failure, then your heart condition can be rated according to how frequently you have episodes of heart failure. The more frequent the episodes, the higher your rating will be.
Heart conditions can also be evaluated by what is called "metabolic equivalents" (METS). This is a medical test that is performed while you are exercising. The idea is that your heart's ability to provide oxygen so you can exercise indicates how well your heart is functioning. Often this test will involve exercising on a treadmill. The more symptoms you have at higher levels of exercise, such as dizziness or fatigue, the higher your assigned rating will be.
Finally, heart conditions can be evaluated by looking for left ventricular dysfunction. Basically, the way the heart's ventricle releases blood from the heart each time your heart beats is measured to evaluate the severity of your heart condition. A special test is required to perform this measurement, called a "multigated acquisition scan," or MUGA. This test measures your ejection fraction, your heart's ability to pump blood.
Even if you have a diagnosis of a heart condition, if your heart condition is not medically evaluated in accordance with one of the above methods, the VA will not award you compensation.
Direct Service-Connection for Heart Problems
Heart conditions can be service-connected for disability compensation purposes by the same methods used for any other disability. Obtaining direct service connection for your heart ailment requires:
- diagnosis of a current heart condition per above rules
- evidence of an incident in service that caused the heart ailment, and
- medical evidence showing that the incident in service actually caused the heart condition.
Presumptive Service Connection for Heart Conditions
Presumptive service connection, available for certain veterans with certain heart conditions, means that the VA will "presume" that your heart condition is service-related based on your diagnosis alone, without your having to prove that something in your military service caused it.
For example, Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange and who develop ischemic heart disease can be entitled to presumptive service connection. (For more information, read Nolo's article on getting disability compensation for Agent Orange illnesses.)
Other veterans with at least 90 days of continuous service can be eligible for presumptive serivce connection for conditions such as arteriosclerosis, endocarditis and myocarditis. A list of all medical conditions that can be compensated on the based on presumed service connection can be viewed in the VA regulations.
Even if presumptive service connection is not available, veterans can still obtain benefits on the basis of direct service connection (described above). See Nolo's article on ways to establish service-connection for other ways to prove a service connection for the purpose of obtaining disability compensation.
VA Ratings for Heart Conditions
The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities has several codes under which heart disease can be evaluated. The appropriate code will be determined by whether you have had a myocardial infarction (a heart attack), heart failure, valvular disease, or surgery, such as a heart bypass. For each code, the VA has several different fixed ratings, depending on your symptoms or episodes. Here is how some of the more common heart problems are rated.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
A typical heart condition is coronary artery disease, when the arteries become hard, narrow, blocked, or stretched. CAD can be evaluated by an EKG, testing done on a treadmill, cardiac catheterization, or angiography. Cardiac catheterization is a procedure where a catheter is inserted into your heart so the doctor can look at it. Angiography is a method for taking x-rays of your blood vessels.
For CAD, your rating will be determined by the results of a treadmill stress test (METs) and/or the frequency of episodes of heart failure, if any. For example, if you've had more than one episode of acute congestive heart failure in the past year, but it is not designated as chronic heart failure, your rating will be 60%.
Hypertension is high blood pressure. Often you may have hypertension but not experience any symptoms. However, if you have hypertension for a long time or you do not take medication, you can develop organ problems leading to problems with vision, breathing, headaches and more. You are entitled to a separate disability rating for any organ problems you may have in addition to hypertension.
If, as a result of hypertension, you develop coronary heart disease or other heart problems, then you can also obtain a separate disability rating for the heart problem.
Heart attacks are rated at 100% for three months after they have occurred. After three months, the rating will be reevaluated; factors determining the new rating include METS testing as well as frequency of heart failure, if any, and the severity of ventricular dysfunction, if any.
Coronary Bypass Surgery
If you have coronary bypass surgery, you will receive a 100% rating for three months. After three months, your rating will be adjusted under the same factors as for heart attacks, above.
How to Apply for Disability for your Heart Condition
You can make an application for VA disability compensation online, by filing an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension, or you can call your VA regional office. To learn more about how to apply, read Nolo's article on applying for VA disability benefits.