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Can I Get VA Disability for Migraines? What Veterans Can Expect

May 10, 2023

Headaches are one of the most common service-connected medical conditions suffered by veterans. And if you experience severe, prolonged migraine headaches, you know just how debilitating they can be.

The good news is that the VA recognizes migraine headaches can be severe enough to be worthy of VA disability compensation. According to the VA, more than 835,000 veterans received VA disability benefits for service-connected migraines in 2022, including nearly 60,000 new cases in fiscal year 2022 alone.

However, that doesn’t mean getting the benefits you deserve will be easy. It can be difficult to prove that your migraines are service-connected and that they are frequent and severe enough to interfere with work.

If you’re struggling with service-connected migraine headaches and believe you may be eligible for VA disability compensation, contact the Colonel today for a free consultation. The Karl Truman Law Office has decades of experience representing veterans and helping them get the VA benefits they deserve.

What Are Migraine Headaches? A Quick Overview

Migraines are a relatively common medical condition that typically causes moderate-to-severe headache pain. There are four common stages, although not all migraine sufferers experience all four: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome.

During the prodrome, you might notice early, characteristic warning signs that a migraine is coming. These can include mood changes, increased appetite, or neck stiffness.

During the aura phase, which can start before or during the attack phase, you might experience visual or sensory disruptions, such as “halos” or flashes of light, muscle weakness, or tingling.

During a migraine attack, sufferers often experience symptoms such as:

  • Throbbing or pulsating pain, often more on one side of the head than the other
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, or other senses
  • Nausea and vomiting

The migraine attack can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and may occur anywhere from once in a great while to several times per month or more.

Finally, during the post-drome, many people feel exhausted or confused for up to a day after the attack.

What Causes Migraines?

Unfortunately, it’s not always apparent what causes migraines for a given individual. Migraines don’t seem to have one specific cause, but may be related to several factors including your genetics, past injuries, or environmental factors.

Common migraine triggers may include:

  • Stress
  • Hormone changes
  • Certain foods or drinks (such as alcohol, caffeine, or foods that contain MSG)
  • Changes in weather
  • Changes in sleep patterns

One thing we do know is that military service, and especially military deployment, are risk factors for migraines. This may be particularly true if you saw combat, had a history of falls or concussions, or were regularly exposed to loud noises or intense visual stimulation in your role.

A recent clinical case study, published in 2020 by the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, noted that 20% or more of post-9/11 combat veterans experience either migraines or chronic daily headache (CDC) disorder.

An older study from 2008 found that 19% of veterans returning from 12-month deployments in Iraq had positive screenings for migraine, and another 17% had positive screenings for possible migraine.

Proving a Service Connection

To be eligible for VA disability benefits for migraines, you must be able to show the VA three basic things:

  • A current migraine headache diagnosis.
  • An in-service event or illness that can cause migraine headaches—for example, a concussion, neck injury, routine exposure to loud noises as part of your job, etc.
  • A link between the diagnosis and the in-service event, also known as a “medical nexus.” This is typically an opinion provided by one or more medical providers after they review both your service records and your medical records.

Your migraines don’t have to be a “primary” condition to qualify for VA benefits. Many veterans develop migraines as a secondary service connection for other injuries and disabilities, such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, tinnitus, a spinal injury, or even chemical exposure.

If you can link your migraines to a primary service-connected disability, you can still qualify for VA benefits even if your migraines don’t have a direct service connection on their own.

A woman with migraine pain

How the VA Rates Migraine Headaches

Your VA disability rating for migraine headaches will depend on both the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. The maximum rating for a migraine VA disability claim is 50%.

First, in order to qualify for a disability rating, your migraine attacks must be severe enough to be “prostrating.” In other words, the headaches are so severe that you have to stop what you’re doing and lie down for an extended period of time.

Here is the general breakdown:

  • A 50% disability rating is awarded for “very frequent, completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability.” While this language is problematically vague, if you generally experience migraine attacks more than once per month and those attacks force you to be absent from work or take sick leave, you could be eligible for a 50% rating.
  • A 30% disability rating is awarded for “characteristic prostrating attacks occurring on an average of once a month over the last several months.”
  • A 10% disability rating is awarded for “characteristic prostrating attacks averaging one in two months over the last several months.”
  • A 0% disability rating would be awarded if prostrating migraine attacks occur less frequently than once every two months.

As part of your claim, you may be required to attend a compensation and pension (C&P) exam or fill out a disability benefits questionnaire (DBQ). Be honest and open about the struggles you’re experiencing. If you forget details or try to minimize your symptoms, it could result in you obtaining a lower rating than you deserve.

RELATED POST: Was Your VA Disability Claim Denied? Here’s What You Should Do Next – Truman Law

Another Option: Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)

VA disability rating criteria can be extremely strict, and veterans often wind up with disability ratings that fail to accurately reflect how severely their condition impacts their day-to-day lives.

In the case of migraines, for example, the maximum disability rating is only 50%. However, if you are experiencing multiple severe migraines per month—say, one or more per week—you may not be able to maintain substantially gainful employment to any meaningful degree.

If this is your situation, you may be able to apply for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU). If approved, TDIU allows veterans to obtain disability benefits at a 100% rating even if they would normally have a lower rating under the regular schedule.

To succeed with this type of claim, you’ll need to provide substantial medical and occupational evidence. For example, this might include medical records of treatments you’ve undergone, a pain journal, work history records, or testimony from former employers and colleagues.

A woman discussing migraine pain with a doctor

How to Strengthen Your Claim for Migraine Headaches

Seek Regular Treatment and Follow Your Doctor’s Orders

If you experience regular prostrating migraine headaches, it’s important to seek out treatment, stay in regular contact with your medical team, and follow your doctor’s recommendations for managing pain and avoiding headache triggers.

The most obvious reason to work with a doctor, of course, is to help you be as healthy as possible. But it also means you will start to accumulate the kinds of medical records you’ll need to prove your case. You will probably need a doctor who can review your service records and provide a medical nexus opinion that convincingly connects your migraines to your time in the military.

Keep Detailed Records

There’s a lot of subjectivity in the VA’s criteria for a migraine headaches claim. For example, you might wonder how long you have to be prostrated for your migraine to count as a “prolonged attack”. The VA doesn’t say, specifically.

We recommend you keep a detailed headache journal. Record when you experience an attack, how much pain you felt, a thorough description of symptoms (nausea, aura, chills, etc.) and how long you had to lie down in a dark place. This journal can serve as important corroborating evidence when combined with records of your doctor visits, prescriptions, work absences/sick leave, and personal testimony from colleagues and loved ones.

Be as open, honest, and detailed as you can. Many veterans try to minimize their symptoms by pushing through pain or not complaining or seeking treatment when they’re struggling, but this will only hurt your VA claim in the long run.

Choose the Right “Sample” When Submitting Medical Evidence

As noted above, the frequency of a veteran’s migraine headaches determines the disability rating. But migraine attacks don’t always come at regular intervals. You might experience two or three in one month, then go several months without one.

To get approved for VA disability benefits, you’ll need to submit several months’ worth of evidence showing when your migraines occurred and how they affected you (records of treatment, headache journal entries, sick time used at work, etc.). But be careful not to choose too long or short of a window of time, especially if you’re near the “border” between different disability ratings. Choosing the right sample will help you get the maximum rating you’re entitled to receive.

Work with an Experienced VA Disability Attorney

VA claims are almost always complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating for applicants—especially those who are trying to handle their claim on their own. You may end up waiting months for your case to be reviewed, only to find out that, because you didn’t supply enough (or the right kind of) evidence, your claim was denied.

Migraines can be especially tricky cases to win for many reasons. Unlike many other types of injuries or illnesses, there are no “objective” tests or measurements for migraines. Symptoms tend to be self-reported, and veterans may not necessarily see a doctor after every migraine attack. Terms like “prostrating and prolonged attacks” aren’t always clearly defined and open to interpretation.

An experienced VA disability lawyer can work with you to ensure you have the detailed evidence you’ll need to file a successful claim or overturn an incorrect ruling on appeal. They can take away your anxiety and stress by taking care of all the necessary paperwork, collecting documents, and handling any appeal.

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Fight The VA and Win

Whether you are Army Strong, one of The Few and the Proud, Not for Self but Country, you Aim High, or are Always Ready, you have represented the colors of this great nation. No matter old or young, this country owes you a debt—especially if you have physical lasting effects of your time in service. Your benefits may only be a few forms away.

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Count on the Colonel

Whether you’re just starting out with your claim, recently received a denial letter, or simply believe that your VA rating for migraines is too low, contact the Karl Truman Law Office today for a free case evaluation.

As a U.S. Army veteran himself, Karl Truman understands the struggles veterans face and is passionate about helping servicemembers, veterans, and their loved ones. Our team has been standing up to the VA and helping veterans get the benefits they deserve for decades. To schedule your free consultation, contact our team today or call us at (502) 222-2222.


Veterans Benefits Administration (2023 February). Annual Benefits Report Fiscal Year 2022. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from

Williams, Karen A. (2020 November). Headache management in a Veteran population: First considerations. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, vol. 32(11), p.758-76. doi:10.1097/JXX.0000000000000539

Theeler, Brett J.; Mercer, Renee; Erickson, Jay (2008 June 2). Prevalence and Impact of Migraine Among US Army Soldiers Deployed in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Headache, vol. 48(6), p.876-882. doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.2008.01159.x

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.