Esophageal Cancer, GERD, and Veteran's Disability Benefits (2023)

When a veteran suffers from multiple conditions like GERD and esophageal cancer, it can be hard to tell which is the secondary connection.

Esophageal cancer is a serious and potentially fatal condition. One risk factor for this type of cancer is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While GERD itself is not typically a cause of death, it can lead to esophageal cancer as a secondary condition.

If you are a veteran and developed esophageal cancer or the spouse of a veteran who died of esophageal cancer, you might be eligible to recover VA disability benefits or VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC). VA disability benefits and VA DIC are tax-free forms of compensation available to former service members or their families.

Esophageal cancer can lead to tragic results. Recovering compensation can help a family cover specific expenses and reduce the financial burden created by this condition. If you are a veteran or qualifying dependent, take the time to learn about the potential benefits available through the VA.

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In this article about Esophageal Cancer VA benefits:

  • Understanding Esophageal Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer Symptoms
  • Different Cells Lead to Esophageal Cancer
  • Who is at Risk of Esophageal Cancer?
  • Esophageal Cancer and GERD
  • Barrett’s Esophagus and Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer and GERD Veterans Disability Claims
    • Direct Connections Between Esophageal Cancer and Military Service
    • GERD And Direct Connection to Military Service
    • GERD as a Secondary Condition to PTSD
    • GERD as a Secondary Condition to COPD
  • Esophageal Cancer as a Secondary Condition to GERD
    • Esophageal Cancer VA Disability Rating
  • Rating Tables for VA Disability Ratings
  • Calculating VA Disability Payments
  • When Spouses and Children Can Collect DIC
  • VA DIC and Esophageal Cancer
  • Appealing a VA Disability Claim Denial
  • Frequently Asked Questions about GERD and Esophageal Cancer

Understanding Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer develops in the tube that runs through your throat and into your stomach. This tube is your esophagus, and it helps to push your food down your throat and into your stomach. This type of cancer is a particularly dangerous one, leading to many deaths in the United States every year. Statistics indicate that esophageal cancer is ranked sixth in the world in terms of cancer deaths.

Esophageal Cancer, GERD, and Veteran's Disability Benefits (1)

Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

In the early stages of esophageal cancer, you might not notice anything wrong. As the disease progresses, a person may experience several symptoms. Sometimes it may be a challenge to determine the difference between GERD and esophageal cancer symptoms. A person suffering from esophageal cancer may experience:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pain, burning, or pressure
  • Coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Heartburn
  • Worsening indigestion

Signs of dying of esophageal cancer will include additional symptoms such as the onset of pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and fluctuations of moods and awareness. Doctors may screen you for this condition if you suffer from Barrett’s Esophagus or other complications that place you at an elevated risk for esophageal cancer.

One of our VA disability lawyers goes over the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions list in this video:

Different Cells Lead to Esophageal Cancer

Not all types of esophageal cancer will include the same cells. There are two common forms of this cancer and other rare forms.

  • Adenocarcinoma: This form of cancer begins in the low part of the esophagus in the music-secreting glands. Adenocarcinoma causes most cases of esophageal cancer in America and is more common in white men.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This cancer appears higher in the esophagus and involves flat cells that line a person’s esophagus. This form of cancer is more common globally than adenocarcinoma.
  • Rare Forms of Esophageal Cancer: Lymphoma, sarcoma, small cell carcinoma, choriocarcinoma, and melanoma cells all may also lead to esophageal cancer, but are far less common than the other two varieties.
Cancer VA Disability Benefits

Who is at Risk of Esophageal Cancer?

Many factors will increase a person’s risk of esophageal cancer. One of the most significant risk factors is having GERD. Other than reflux disease, the following factors make a person more inclined to develop esophageal cancer:

  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Regularly drinking very hot liquids
  • Smoking
  • Bile reflux
  • Achalasia (when your esophageal sphincter will not relax)
  • Radiation treatment in the upper abdomen or chest
  • A diet that lacks fruits and vegetables

Barrett’s esophagus also puts a person at risk of the disease. If you have this condition, your doctor may choose to screen you for esophageal cancer.

Use our VA Disability Calculator to estimate your combined VA rating and monthly entitlement here.

Esophageal Cancer and GERD

GERD can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as heartburn and reflux. This condition takes place when your stomach acid escapes the stomach and travels into your esophagus. Some people will also have GERD but will not experience any symptoms.

If you regularly suffer from GERD, strong stomach acids can damage your esophagus and lead to an increased risk of esophageal cancer, particularly adenocarcinoma. In some cases, GERD is a symptom of esophageal cancer, so it is worth getting checked if this symptom suddenly begins causing you discomfort.

Fortunately, not everyone who suffers from GERD will develop this condition, and it can take many years for the damage to cells to grow into cancer. However, if you do have GERD, you should learn about the risk factors.

How to Receive VA Disability Benefits for GERD and Acid Reflux

Barrett’s Esophagus and Cancer

Barrett’s Esophagus occurs when stomach acid enters the lower part of your esophagus for more prolonged periods, leading to damage to the esophageal lining. About ten to fifteen percent of people with GERD develop this condition. Over time, this acid in the esophagus may lead to dysplasia, which involves the presence of precancerous cells. Patients with Barrett’s Esophagus have a higher risk of cancer than those with GERD.

When it comes to how long it takes for Barrett’s Esophagus to develop into cancer, the answer is that it may take many years. Identifying the condition will likely mean the need for more cancer screenings.

Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.

Esophageal Cancer and GERD Veterans Disability Claims

VA disability benefits can cover GERD and various types of cancer. Of course, if you seek benefits for any condition, you will need to illustrate a service connection for that diagnosis.

Direct Connections Between Esophageal Cancer and Military Service

The VA presumes that conditions relate to a person’s time in service if the veteran suffered exposure to something known to cause the condition. Esophageal cancer may relate to time in the service through a direct connection in cases where the veteran experienced radiation exposure.

Suppose you or a family member suffered exposure to radiation during their time in the service. In this case, the VA may presume that esophageal cancer, and many other types of cancer, are service-related and therefore qualify for disability benefits.

The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.

GERD And Direct Connection to Military Service

If your doctor diagnosed you with GERD during your time in the military, and you can show that the diagnosis occurred during your time on active duty, you may be able to connect GERD to time in the military. Your doctor or another medical expert may need to illustrate that the condition is related to your time in service.

GERD as a Secondary Condition to PTSD

In many cases, GERD will be a secondary disability claim. If you suffer from a service-related condition, and that condition or treatment for that condition causes a secondary condition, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits for the secondary condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among veterans because of the potentially life-threatening and tragic encounters service members experience. PTSD involves anxiety and stress, which can cause a person to overdevelop stomach acid. This acid may lead to GERD and related symptoms.

The medications that treat PTSD may also lead to GERD. In either case, GERD can become a secondary condition to PTSD, but both conditions are service-related. In fact, even veterans who previously experienced GERD may claim disability benefits if the PTSD or medication to treat PTSD worsened the GERD symptoms.

Guide to a 100% Permanent and Total PTSD Rating

GERD as a Secondary Condition to COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that leads to obstructed airflow. If you have COPD, you may experience mucus production, coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. Service members who faced exposure to toxic gases are at a high risk of developing COPD.

COPD can irritate your esophagus and may eventually cause GERD. The medications that you take to treat COPD may also lead to GERD as a secondary condition.

Can You Get VA Disability for COPD or Chronic Bronchitis?

Esophageal Cancer as a Secondary Condition to GERD

If you suffer from service-related GERD, and that reflux leads to esophageal cancer, cancer could be a secondary condition. In these cases, you would claim esophageal cancer secondary to GERD. There may be other GERD secondary conditions, including Barrett’s esophagus, which could qualify for disability benefits.

Esophageal Cancer VA Disability Rating

The VA rates disabilities based on percentages. The higher your disability percentage, the more benefits you will recover. GERD diagnosis can lead to a ten percent, 30 percent, or even 60 percent disability rating. The percentage varies depending on how much the symptoms impact a person’s life and ability to work. To obtain a 60 percent rating, the GERD would have to cause severe pain, blood in the person’s stool, and vomiting.

If you have esophageal cancer, the symptoms that further impact your life could lead to a secondary condition and a higher VA disability rating. If esophageal cancer causes you to be unable to work, you may qualify as 100 percent disabled.

The VA doesn’t usually give 100% TDIU for just a single disability. They typically add up disabilities and veterans meet the criteria like this:

1. You have at least 1 service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling, or 2 or more service-connected disabilities—with at least 1 rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more—and
2. You can’t hold down a steady job that supports you financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of your service-connected disability. Odd jobs (marginal employment), don’t count.

Taken from

Rating Tables for VA Disability Ratings

The current payments for a 100 percent disabled esophageal cancer VA rating would be $3,621.95 a month for a veteran without any dependents. Adding a spouse, parents, and children will increase those payments.

Calculating VA Disability Payments

The amount of compensation available to a veteran varies based on their condition, their rating, other service-related conditions, and their dependents. If you have multiple service-connected disabilities, you may wish to use our free veteran disability calculator.

Determining VA benefits gets particularly complicated when you have multiple conditions. The math needed to determine your overall disability when you have several conditions can be confusing. For instance, if you are 50 percent disabled with one condition and 30 percent with a second condition, your overall rating is not 80 percent disabled, but 65 percent. However, the VA only works in intervals of tens, so you would then round up to 70 percent. Fortunately, the VA maintains a chart that can help you determine your rate of benefits.

When Spouses and Children Can Collect DIC

Only certain veteran deaths qualify for DIC benefits. The VA will require that you indicate that:

  • The individual died while on active duty or during training, or
  • Died from a service-connected injury or illness, or
  • Qualified for VA compensation for a service-related condition that was completely disabling for a period of time, even if the person did not die from that condition.

In cases where the DIC benefits depend on a totally disabling condition, there are additional requirements, including:

  • conditions existed for a minimum of ten years before their death, or
  • The condition started at the time of their release from service and lasted at least five years immediately preceding their death, or
  • The condition lasted at least one year before their death if they were a prisoner of war and died after September 30, 1999.
DIC Benefits for Widows

VA DIC and Esophageal Cancer

If you are the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died of service-related esophageal cancer, you may qualify for VA DIC. Spouses will have to indicate that they have fulfilled one of the following requirements:

  • Married to the veteran before January 1, 1957
  • Married to the veteran fifteen years or less after their discharge
  • Married the veteran for a minimum of one year
  • Share a common child with the veteran, even if they are not married, so long as they resided with the veteran up until their death—if separated, they must also not be at fault for that separation.

Children of veterans can also recover benefits as long as they:

  • Are not married
  • Are not covered by compensation a surviving spouse is collecting
  • Are under eighteen or under 23 and attending school

Parents of a service member may also qualify for DIC if they:

  • Are the biological, adoptive, or foster parent of the deceased veteran
  • Have an income below a certain amount (which varies depending on additional circumstances)

In the case of parents, the veteran’s death must be:

  • In the line of duty, during active duty, training while on active duty, or in the line of training while on inactive duty, or
  • Died from a service-related condition

Unlike spouses and children, parents cannot recover benefits when the individual dies of an unrelated condition but experienced a fully disabling condition.

Appealing a VA Disability Claim Denial

The VA may deny your claim for benefits for several reasons. You may not have provided as much information as needed, you could have missed a deadline, or the VA may not believe that your condition is related to your time in the service.

Family members who qualify for VA DIC benefits may also find that the VA improperly or unfairly denied their claim. The initial response is not the final word. It is possible to challenge the VA’s ruling.

If the VA denies your claim for disability benefits or DIC, you can hire a veteran’s benefits lawyer to appeal your case. We can help you complete the paperwork and meet the technical requirements for filing a revised claim.

At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to better serve disabled veterans in difficult times.

Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.

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Frequently Asked Questions about GERD and Esophageal Cancer

If my GERD is treatable with over-the-counter medicine, can I still get a VA rating for it?

Yes. Just because you can get medicine to treat the symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have the condition, so apply for those benefits. This will affect your rating, but you should still be working on getting your application in if you have service-connected GERD.

Will the VA rip me off and deny my GERD caused my esophageal cancer and only give me disability for one condition?

The VA is required by law to give you the highest rating they can for your symptoms. If a GERD rating gets you a higher rating for the same symptoms as acid-reflux or esophageal conditions, they are required to give you that. That’s why working with a VA disability lawyer is so important. We know what to look for in your claim.

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