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Navigating Benefits: VA Disability Rating For Cancer In Remission Explained

Last updated: March 24, 2024

Cancer is a formidable adversary, but with advancements in medical science, many individuals find themselves in remission, marking a significant milestone in their health journey. For veterans, this journey intertwines with the complexities of the VA disability rating system, which acknowledges the lasting effects of cancer even after remission. 

This blog will discuss the VA rating for cancer in remission, the types of cancers that are recognized, the connection between certain cancers and military service, and the nuances of remission diagnosis and treatment.

Overview Of VA Disability Rating For Cancer In Remission

Many veterans pay a high price for their time in service. Besides their physical and emotional scars, many veterans are also disabled by debilitating health issues that prevent them from working or enjoying their lives. Cancer is one of these conditions, which can drastically reduce a veteran's quality of life. 

Cancer-related disabilities are the 17th most common VA claim. Many of these claims are from veterans dealing with active cancer, but what happens after you go into remission? Though cancer in remission is a serious condition, many recovering cancer patients can enjoy long and healthy lives. However, the risk of cancer recurrence is always present, and patients may experience lasting physical and emotional side effects.

Veterans recovering from cancer may be eligible for disability benefits, health care, and other benefits. Many veterans develop cancer as a result of their service in the military. Exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation, traumatic injuries that puncture the skin, and other factors can all increase your risk of developing cancer. Agent Orange exposure, Burn Pit exposure, and radiation exposure are among the top risk factors for veterans.

Types Of Cancer

Various types of cancer exist, each with unique characteristics and challenges. We must understand how each type of cancer differs and the specific considerations the VA takes into account when determining VA disability ratings.

Respiratory Cancer

When a veteran is diagnosed with lung cancer (or any type of respiratory cancer), they are typically considered to have active cancer. This means the cancer is actively growing and may be causing symptoms or pain. However, when cancer is in remission, it no longer poses an immediate threat. It may not require ongoing treatment or monitoring.

Despite being in remission, however, respiratory cancer can still significantly impact veterans. This is because cancer often leaves lasting effects, such as reduced function in the affected body part or organ, which may cause chronic pain or other symptoms. Many veterans who recover from lung cancer still require outpatient oxygen therapy. As long as you’re on oxygen therapy, you’ll maintain your 100% VA disability rating.

Breast Cancer

As long as the cancer is active, the VA rates breast cancer at a 100% disability rating level. In order to qualify for a VA rating for breast cancer, you must prove that your service caused or aggravated your condition. You’ll also need an active diagnosis of breast cancer, an in-service event that led to your cancer, and a medical nexus linking your service to your cancer.

Most cancers, including breast cancer, are rated at 100% temporarily. The VA will generally keep your 100% VA rating in place as long as your cancer is active. This rating generally stays in place six months after your cancer goes into remission or is being actively treated. Therefore, your VA disability rating for breast cancer in remission will start at 100%. After six months of remission, you’ll be rated based on the residual symptoms that remain.

Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer of the pancreas begins in the pancreatic tissues. This organ is located behind the stomach's lower part in the abdomen, horizontally behind the pancreas. The liver produces hormones that regulate blood sugar and releases enzymes that aid digestion. When a veteran is diagnosed with active pancreatic cancer that is service-connected, the VA typically awards them a disability rating of 100 percent. The rating lasts as long as the cancer remains active and for six months after treatment has concluded, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer typically starts in the innermost lining of the bladder, which is a balloon-shaped organ in the pelvis that stores urine. The VA rates bladder cancer based on the residuals of the disease. For instance, renal dysfunction as a residual of bladder cancer can be rated by the VA at intervals of 0%, 30%, 60%, 80%, or 100%, based on severity. Additionally, urinary frequency can be rated at 10%, 20%, or 40%, depending on the frequency of urination required by the veteran throughout the day or night.

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer originates in the kidneys, two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, located behind the abdominal organs, with one on each side of the spine. Active or malignant kidney cancer is covered under the VA's diagnostic code 7528. Veterans diagnosed with this type of cancer are granted a 100% disability rating for up to six months after the last treatment.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the liver. The liver, located in the upper right portion of the abdomen beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach, performs several vital functions, including detoxifying harmful substances in the body. Veterans diagnosed with active liver cancer are typically granted a 100% disability rating by the VA for up to six months following their last treatment.

Brain Cancers

Brain cancers are a group of cancers that originate in the brain or in tissues close to it, such as in the brain-covering membranes. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant. If a veteran is service-connected for an active brain cancer, the VA typically assigns a 100 percent disability rating. This rating continues for as long as the cancer remains active and for an additional six months following the cessation of any treatment.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that begins in the tissues that connect, support, and surround other body structures, including muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and tendons. This condition can occur anywhere in a person’s body; however, the most common types occur in the abdomen, arms, and legs. The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences has found evidence of a positive association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and soft tissue sarcomas. As a result, the VA presumes certain soft tissue sarcomas in veterans are related to their exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. 

The VA rates soft tissue sarcoma under 38 CFR § 4.73, Schedule of Ratings – Muscle Injuries, Diagnostic Code 5329. When this type of cancer is active, VA assigns a temporary total, 100 percent disability rating. This rating continues for six months following the cessation of any treatment. If the cancer is no longer active, it will be rated based on any lasting symptoms, residuals, or complications.

Service-Connected Cancers

Service-connected cancers refer to specific types of cancers that are presumed to be directly related to a veteran's military service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes these cancers and provides compensation and benefits to affected veterans. The recognition of these cancers is based on scientific evidence and research that links certain exposures during military service to the development of specific cancers.

Recent Additions To The Presumed Service-Connected List

The VA has recently added nine new cancers to the presumed service-connected list. These additions are based on the latest scientific evidence that suggests a direct link between exposure to particulate matter during military service and the development of these cancers. The newly added cancers are:

  • Bladder cancer

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Parkinsonism

  • Ischemic heart disease

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

  • All chronic B-cell leukemias

  • Prostate cancer

  • Multiple myeloma

  • Lung cancer

Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War or in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are particularly at risk. The VA has determined that these veterans were likely exposed to particulate matter, which has been linked to the development of the aforementioned cancers.

Compensation And Benefits

Veterans diagnosed with any of the service-connected cancers are eligible for disability compensation from the VA. This compensation is designed to provide financial support to veterans and their families, acknowledging the sacrifices they made during their military service. Additionally, the VA offers medical care and support services to help veterans manage their health conditions and improve their quality of life.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Cancers In Remission

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, the term "remission" is one you're likely hoping to hear from your doctor. It signifies a significant milestone in your care and long-term health. However, the concept of remission is more intricate than merely concluding treatment.

Types Of Remission

There are two primary types of remission:

  • Partial Remission: This means that while the cancer is still present, the tumor has reduced in size. In cancers like leukemia, there's a decrease in the cancer spread throughout the body. Some doctors might advise patients to consider their cancer as "chronic," akin to heart disease. It's a condition that requires ongoing monitoring. Being in partial remission might allow patients to pause treatment as long as the cancer doesn't resume growth.

  • Complete Remission: In this state, tests, physical examinations, and scans indicate that all signs of your cancer have disappeared. Some medical professionals might also refer to complete remission as "no evidence of disease (NED)." However, this doesn't imply a cure. For both remission types, the reduction or absence of cancer signs should persist for at least a month.

It's essential to understand that there's no definitive way for doctors to ascertain that all cancer cells in your body have been eradicated, which is why many refrain from using the term "cured." If any cancer cells do resurface, it typically occurs within the 5 years following the initial diagnosis and treatment. Some cancer cells might remain undetected in the body for years post-treatment. If a cancer returns post-remission, it's termed a "recurrence." This recurrence can manifest in the original location or a different body part.

It's natural for patients to harbor concerns about potential recurrence. Every individual's situation is unique, and predicting outcomes is challenging. Nevertheless, it's imperative for patients to maintain regular check-ups with their healthcare provider, even in the absence of symptoms. Follow-up care can encompass physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging tests, ensuring that any signs of cancer or complications related to treatment are promptly addressed.

Understanding VA Disability Rating

Navigating the VA disability rating system for cancer in remission can be challenging. However, with the right information and support, veterans can ensure they receive the benefits they deserve. If you or someone you know is looking to get a VA disability rating for cancer in remission, don't hesitate to reach out for help and support. Veterans deserve our thanks and support, especially when facing tough battles like cancer.

Find out how to check your VA claim status by checking out our detailed guide. Visit Disability Help and browse through the available resources to learn more.

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Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
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