What Is Frostbite?
Frostbite is an injury that results from the freezing of skin and underlying tissues. Skin that is exposed to cold, windy weather is most vulnerable to frostbite, but frostbite can also occur on skin covered by gloves or other clothing. When the body is cold enough, the circulatory system moves more blood into the torso to keep the vital organs warm. This leaves the peripheral extremities at risk of developing frostbite due to the lack of blood flow in combination with the cold weather.
Frostbite usually occurs in several stages:
- Frostnip. This mild form of frostbite presents as cold, red skin. Continued exposure may lead to numbness in the affected area. As the skin warms, tingling and pain may occur. Frostnip does not permanently damage skin.
- Superficial frostbite. This type of frostbite appears as reddened skin that then turns white or pale. The skin may begin to feel warm – a sign of serious skin involvement. If frostbitten skin undergoes rewarming at this stage, the skin might appear mottled, and the individual with frostbite may notice stinging, burning, and swelling at the affected site. A fluid-filled blister may eventually develop 12 to 36 hours after rewarming.
- Deep (severe) frostbite. As frostbite progresses, it begins to affect the tissues underneath the skin. The skin will turn white or bluish gray, and the affected area may experience numbness, and possibly lose all sensation of cold, pain, or discomfort in the area. Joint or muscles may become stiff or no longer work. Large blisters typically form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming, and afterwards, the area may turn black and hard as the tissue dies.
Frostnip is a milder form of frostbite that doesn’t cause permanent skin damage. Oftentimes, individuals with frostnip can use simple first aid measures and warming of the skin to treat the condition. However, frostbite always requires medical attention because it can damage skin, tissues, muscle, and bones if not treated quickly enough. Possible complications of severe frostbite include nerve damage and infections.
While in the military, service members who deploy to or travel through locations that experience extreme cold are at risk of developing frostbite during their service. In the event that a veteran did develop frostbite during his or her service, he or she is eligible to apply for service connection for that condition within the VA disability system and possibly receive compensation.
How The VA Rates Frostbite
Under 38 CFR § 4.104, the VA evaluates frostbite according to the severity of the residual issues it causes for the veteran and how it affects the veteran’s daily functioning.
Diagnostic Code 7122: Cold injury residuals
- 30 – Arthralgia or other pain, numbness, or cold sensitivity plus two or more of the following: tissue loss, nail abnormalities, color changes, locally impaired sensation, hyperhidrosis, X-ray abnormalities (osteoporosis, subarticular punched out lesions, or osteoarthritis)
- 20 – Arthralgia or other pain, numbness, or cold sensitivity plus tissue loss, nail abnormalities, color changes, locally impaired sensation, hyperhidrosis, or X-ray abnormalities (osteoporosis, subarticular punched out lesions, or osteoarthritis)
- 10 – Arthralgia or other pain, numbness, or cold sensitivity
The VA shall evaluate any amputations of the fingers or toes that occur as a result of frostbite, or complications such as squamous cell carcinoma at the site of a cold injury scar or peripheral neuropathy, under the proper diagnostic codes for those conditions. The VA will also assign ratings for any disabilities that result from the frostbite, such as Raynaud’s disease or muscle atrophy, under their respective diagnostic codes unless they are used to support an evaluation for the rating of the veteran’s frostbite injury.
Getting Help With Your Frostbite Claim
If you are a veteran who experienced frostbite in service and who now experiences continuing problems as a result of that injury, you likely qualify for VA disability benefits. If you are interested in completing an initial application for VA disability, or would like help appealing a VA decision regarding your existing frostbite rating, please contact our office today. Our veterans disability lawyers are experienced in getting veterans with your condition the compensation they deserve.