Spondylitis Association of America
Hello all,

I am new to this board (or any board really). Veteran of the USAF (2003-2007, w/ 1 tour in Iraq). I worked on ground radar for the 4 years of my service.

I was recently diagnosed with AS after about 15 years of trying to figure out the reason for my pain (SI joints mainly, but mid back, knees, hips, shoulders, sternum and lets just say - upset stomach...). I had given up looking for help on many occasions and had convinced myself I was just being soft (one can only be told so many times that its just muscular or sciatic or as one doctor put it "in my head"). I took my first Enbrel shot this week and am hopeful to see results!

When I was discharged (honorably), I considered applying for benefits base on the lower back pain. I ultimately decided the money was meant for veterans with disabilities more severe than "lower back pain" and I did not apply.

Long story short - I am wondering if anyone has had a similar situation and applied for benefits from the VA after the fact. Did you have any success (whether its 5%, 20%, etc). I am considering applying (what's the worst that can happen?).

I am not angry, but can't help but think this diagnosis could have/should have come much earlier in my life - perhaps I could have started Enbrel (or similar) sooner and 1) not been in pain and 2) not have as much bone growth in my SI joints (and probably vertebrae). Logically it would seem I might be entitled to something because of that, but who knows.

Not sure if people read these, but figured it was worth a shot! Thanks in advance for any/all input.

Many of us also went many years without a diagnosis. I'm not a vet so I can't help you on that question. What I can do is to encourage you to maintain movement as you age. The TNF blockers (Enbrel Remicade etc) do assist in the process of slowly disease progression. On this issue, you may want to consult with a Rheumatologist if not already seeing one, and working with your doctor to determine best treatment if any is best for you. Aside from the questions of benefits which you may be entitled to, make excellent choices about treatment.

I flew as an RN medevac in the Arctic, and spoke with the older guys who initiated the advent of radar in Alaska. Pretty cool science.
Thanks for your input. I am seeing a Rheumatologist right now and tomorrow will be my second shot of Enbrel (weekly). I definitely need to get better at maintaining movement - currently I am a little too flared up and it is painful to walk, but once the medicine kicks in I hope to get back into a "normal" routine.

The radar technology is interesting stuff. I worked on both Airport surveillance (new tech) and tactical ground radars (much older and outdated equipment).

Interesting that you are an RN. I was just accepted into Nursing school. How were you able to deal with the disease/pain while nursing (especially ICU/Medevac). I would imagine that was/is no easy task!
It takes a relief of acute pain and sheer will. I used Voltaren NSAID for many years and it was the only thing which took the pain to a level I could perform. I was also contending with frequent bouts of Uveitis in my right eye. This was 9 years before Remicade. I like to think I'm strong but there were days when it was very difficult but you know the work itself and the people around me kept me buoyed up. i also used long acting Tylenol, hot tubs and Aspercreme.

Now the best thing I did was I did not tell anyone. So they saw me as an equal. If I limped a day, I said I twisted my ankle of some other white lie. If my eye was red, I said yah doc gave me some drops. Nursing is a go-to job and fast paced. I remember being duty bound to succeed and I did. After Remicade life got easier and I had experience as an RN so I was not terrified daily of accidentally harming a patient. The last 10 years have been very good to me with a reduction in symptoms and no flares really for many years.

Get that pain under control...Keep your cards close to your chest... and push through. =)

Hope you still are checking for replies. I was discharged from the the USAF (1972-1976) and worked on radar jamming equipment (ECM for electronic counter measures). I am now a retired RN. I had similar feelings about veteran disability benefits. I didn't decide to apply but was TOLD to apply and it seemed more like an order. I had a knee injury and had surgery while on active duty. I was grateful for the care I received and never felt disabled afterwards. I applied and expected a 0% rating at best but if denied that would not have bothered me. I ended up being rated 30% which at the time was probably $75 per month. I was handy while working toward my a BS degree - not in nursing but something else -- nursing came later. I paid taxes and considered it a tax rebate.

I haven't been diagnosed with AS but the symptoms are "AS like" but actually something else I guess. Anyway, my take on getting approved for VA disability so long after the fact --- probably difficult. AS is largely heredity and therefore you were prone to it... you would have to prove that military service caused it or made it worse. I think there are valid reasons for why military service may have triggered it but hard to prove because nobody seems to know exactly why it occurs except it seems largely genetic. That's just my opinion.

If the condition was diagnosed in the military, and you were being treated for it in the military, and your military records document it OR certain military activities made it worse and that was documented than maybe there is a good chance. The "upset stomach" part you mentioned makes a case for a related disease called reactive arthritis which apparently is very similar to AS. It seems like it may depend on who makes the diagnosis.

I say -go for it! Good luck with nursing school. The process of applying and exposure to the VA way will be a useful medical experience. Immune system diseases are only beginning to be understood. Keep us posted.
Howdy all. I was diagnosed with Diffuse Intervertebral Spondylo Hyper-Ostosis back in 2000ish - long before getting health care from the VA. I served in SEA flying intel missions into Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam(s), and other guest appearances to the north - 72,3,4. One of the Army's more stellar fixed wing pilots managed to splash us on the runway to the extent that my butt busted through the webbed seat and turned me into a pretzel. No problem, just a back ache. I was young and in seriously good shape. Fast forward to the late 70s, I'm in machine shop accident, and am ultimately diagnosed with spondylolesthesis L5, S1 and elsewhere, all of it pre-existing condition! Had to be that West Pointer who never learned the art of "flare out"..

Now, all that stuff is fused. I assumed my idiopathic DISH was moving up my spine. I got into a pissing contest with the VA radiologists who kept referring to back xrays as Ankylosing Spondylitis. I do not have the HLAB27 marker. I guess now you don't need it, or, Pig Pharma managed to get AS diagnosis tweaked in order to give them another million potential patients to whom they can sell $4500/month. Yes - I'm a cynic.

There's no way I can prove the aviation incident. I know it was my first major back event in my life. But - the wings stayed on and we all went back to work. No claim. Even if I did, I am baffled that people are able to make claims for AS. How is it that something congenital or idiopathic can become service connected?
I became symptomatic when I was in the Navy and went to numerous doctors who wouldn’t take me serious. Had I been diagnosed in the MilitaryI would have been medically discharged (which is one of the reasons you can claim AS Windguy. The Navy didn’t take care of me medically like it should have and my disease progressed, aggressively for 8-9 years, causing fusion in my spine and many other issues). Anyway, it took me 5 years after the initial claim for the VA to approve a 40% rating for my AS and that was with the help of legal representation. My military medical records proved that my AS became active while serving and was never proper;y treated. My civilian medical records prove that the disease progressed for years after as well. When I put my claim in I highlighted the area that showed the VA the early symptoms with Medical reports from Medical journals to reference so they didn’t have to work as hard. What I found out through my legal representative was that they had doctors who were not qualified to rate my AS, since they were not specialists in the area, one of the doctors didn’t even know what AS was, it was ridiculous. Anyway, I would go for it. And always appeal! The VA seems to have a history of hoping people will just give up.
Windguy, I don't think you should assume that it is not service related. Yes there is a gene associated with AS (HLA B27) but not everyone with this gene develops AS just like not everyone with the BRCA gene develops breast or ovarian cancer. In the case of AS it appears that it takes a triggering event to activate the disease. The gene just makes you more susceptible to it. It also appears likely that any kind of overload on your system can be that triggering event (stress, injury, bacterial infection). If you were at war, it is likely you had all of these. And that's not even addressing the amount of equipment you carried around daily which stressed already vulnerable joints. I would encourage veterans to file a claim and fight for your rating. You deserve it.
Originally Posted by Windguy
How is it that something congenital or idiopathic can become service connected?
A condition can be rated as service-connected if caused or aggravated by your service. I've seen many Veterans receive SC for conditions they had prior to their service (not a Veteran, but work for the VA, originally as a benefits counselor). Sometimes it really doesn't make any logical sense but other times it does. Each case is potentially different.
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