Exposure to chemical or other environmental hazards while on active duty may lead to skin disorders that arise while in the service or after arriving home. Some veterans also experience lasting effects of scars from injuries and burns. You may be eligible for service-connected disability compensation for your skin condition.
Establishing Direct Service Connection for Skin Conditions
To be eligible for disability compensation based on the theory that the skin disease was directly caused by military service, the veteran needs to show that the skin condition arose while on active duty. The following must be established to prove the disability is service-connected:
- a current diagnosis of a skin condition
- evidence of an incident in service that caused the skin condition, and
- medical evidence (a doctor's opinion) connecting the current skin condition to the incident in service.
Presumptive Service Connection for Skin Conditions
In some cases, veterans can establish service connection for a skin condition with providing actual proof that an incident in service caused the disability. This is called presumptive service connection. Some skin conditions eligible for presumptive service connection (in limited circumstances) are chloracne and leprosy in Vietnam veterans; chronic skin conditions such as dermatitis in Gulf War veterans; and pellagra and frostbite in former POWs. (For information about all of the diseases eligible for presumptive service connection, see 38 CFR 3.309.)
Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange and who develop chloracne (or a similar disease) within one year of exposure to herbicides may be eligible. However, to be eligible, the chloracne must have been at least 10% disabling (per the VA schedule of rating disabilities) within the one-year period.
Gulf war veterans with chronic skin conditions such as dermatitis or with chronic undiagnosed skin disorders can be eligible for presumptive service connection at any time if the condition can be rated at 10% or higher.
Even if presumptive service connection is not available, you can still qualify for benefits if you can prove a direct service connection (described above). See our article on the different ways to establish service-connection for the purpose of obtaining disability compensation.
Disability Ratings for Skin Conditions
Skin conditions are rated according to the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities under Section 4.118, under diagnostic codes 7800 to 7833.
Scars From Burns or Injuries
You may be unaware that, in addition to be eligible for disability compensation for an underlying physical injury, you may also be eligible for additional monthly compensation on the basis of the scar the injury left. In addition to a rating for the scar itself, you can also be eligible for another separate rating based on how painful the scar is. Scars are evaluated under diagnostic codes 7800 to 7805.
Scars on the head, face, or neck are rated based on skin loss and how many facial features have been disfigured. For example, if a scar disfigures the nose only, a 10% rating may be given. Pairs are features are rated together, meaning that if both ears are scarred, only one rating of 10% will be assigned.
Ratings on scars on areas of the body other than the head, face, or neck are generally based on the size of the scar.
Dermatitis or Eczema
Ratings for dermatitis or eczema are rated based on how frequently medication is needed to control outbreaks and what percent of the body is affected. For instance, if at least 5% of the body is affected and requires medical treatment, a 10% rating will be assigned. If 40% or more of your skin is affected, and you have had to be on medication nearly constantly for the past year, then a 60% rating is warranted.
Chloracne is rated based on how much of the face and neck it affects and whether it is superficial or deep acne. Deep acne has more inflammation and visible infection, whereas superficial acne is less inflamed. Compensatory ratings are only assigned for deep acne. Ratings of 30% are available for deep acne only when it is on 40% or more of your face and neck.
If you have what the VA considers superficial acne, no matter how much of your body it covers, the only rating available is 0%. A 0% rating will not entitle you to disability compensation but will make you eligible for health care and other benefits.
Other compensable skin conditions include skin infections, psoriasis, and acne. If you don't see an evaluation of your skin condition here, you can look for the diagnostic code for your disability in Section 4.118, skin conditions, of the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities.
How to Apply for Disability Based on Your Skin Condition
You can file an application for VA disability compensation online by completing an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension or by calling your VA regional office. To learn more about the application process, read Nolo's article on applying for VA disability compensation.