If your migraine symptoms leave you hiding in a dark room from the pain, it may qualify as a “prostrating migraine” under the VA’s rating system.

Have you ever experienced a migraine so severe that it left you lying in a dark room, incapacitated, recovering for hours? If so, you’ve likely experienced what’s known as a “prostrating migraine” — a type of migraine that can leave people completely debilitated.

Interestingly, “prostrating” isn’t necessarily an everyday term that people use to describe their migraine episodes. But if you’re applying for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for chronic migraine, you’ll need to become familiar with what the term means.

Below, we share more about what a prostrating migraine is, what the symptoms look like, and how people with chronic migraine symptoms may qualify for disability benefits through the VA.

When the VA is deciding whether someone is eligible for disability benefits, they assign a disability rating. A disability rating from the VA not only determines whether someone can receive benefits but also the benefit amount they receive each month.

The term “prostrate” means to stretch out flat on the ground. A prostrating migraine is a severe migraine that causes a person extreme pain, weakness, and exhaustion. People who experience prostrating migraine symptoms often find themselves needing to lie down in a dark and quiet room.

When you’re applying for VA disability benefits because of chronic migraine, the agency uses the term prostrating to determine if your migraine symptoms are severe enough to qualify for benefits. According to the VA, there are four disability ratings that you can receive:

  • 50% disability rating: you experience migraine episodes “with very frequent and completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability”.
  • 30% disability rating: you experience prostrating migraine attacks roughly once per month (over the last several months).
  • 10% disability rating: you experience prostrating migraine attacks averaging one in two months over the last several months.
  • 0% disability rating: you experience prostrating migraine episodes less frequently than every few months.

If you’re applying for VA disability benefits solely for chronic migraine, 50% is the highest disability rating that you can receive. However, if your migraine episodes are a symptom of another service-based disability, your combined rating may be higher than 50%.

Migraine symptoms can vary in type and severity, but there are four primary stages of a migraine that cause symptoms:

  • Prodrome: begins 1–2 days before the migraine attack and causes symptoms like fatigue, irritability, food cravings, and depression.
  • Aura: affects some people with migraine and causes visual, movement, speech, and sensation-related symptoms.
  • Attack: causes symptoms like pulsing, throbbing, or pounding pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and increased light and sound sensitivity.
  • Postdrome: occurs after the migraine attack and causes symptoms like emotional changes and dull head pain.

Prostrating migraine episodes can cause any number of the symptoms above, but the defining feature is that the pain and exhaustion of a prostrating migraine are severe and debilitating.

Chronic migraine is one of the most commonly reported disabilities in military veterans. In one study, which took place over the course of 12 years, researchers found that roughly 5.3% of veterans reported living with migraine symptoms.

If you’re a veteran who experiences prostrating migraine attacks, you may qualify for disability benefits through the VA. When applying for benefits, you’ll need to share details about your condition, including your diagnosis, medical history, and frequency and severity of your symptoms.

You may also qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) for migraine. However, the eligibility requirements are different.

Under the SSA, migraine headaches are not a qualifying condition for disability benefits on their own. But if you have another condition that is a qualifying disability and migraine is a symptom of that condition, you may qualify for benefits for that condition instead.

Your migraine symptoms may also qualify for SSA benefits if they “medically equal” an analogous listing such as epilepsy.

Some of the other migraine-related conditions that might qualify for SSA benefits include:

With both forms of disability, you’ll need to submit medical documentation proving that your migraine episodes are so severe that you cannot sustain employment because of them.

Treatment is essential in reducing not only the frequency and severity of chronic migraine but also in preventing them.

Medications are an effective first-line treatment for prostrating migraine attacks and can include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help with reducing pain symptoms during a migraine attack. However, experts advise caution to not overuse OTC medications as these can make headaches worse.
  • Self-care strategies: While your instinct may be to hold still, movement and self-care can help bring relief. You can try gentle stretching, a shower or hot bath, and muscle tension relief techniques like Gua Sha massage to help ease migraine pain and nauseous feelings.
  • Prescription pain medications: When OTC medications do not work, prescription pain medications can offer stronger pain relief for prostrating migraine symptoms.
  • Prescription preventive medications: Some people with chronic migraine symptoms also benefit from taking preventive medications to reduce the frequency of their migraine attacks.

Another important treatment approach for prostrating migraine attacks is learning what triggers your attacks and working diligently to avoid them. Some of these triggers might include:

  • certain foods and drinks
  • hormonal changes
  • stress and anxiety
  • not getting enough sleep
  • not eating or drinking enough
  • strenuous exercise
  • temperature or environmental changes

Cost and coverage for prostrating migraine episodes

Most health insurance plans offer prescription drug coverage that covers the basics when it comes to prescription medications for migraine episodes. If you have a diagnosis of chronic migraine, it’s likely that your plan will offer some sort of medication coverage.

Several off-label and experimental treatment options may also help treat chronic migraine. However, insurance companies don’t typically cover these options unless you can prove that other treatments haven’t been effective.

The cost and coverage of treating prostrating migraine symptoms can vary, depending on the type of treatment and whether you have insurance. If you’re curious about what your plan or disability benefits cover, you can reach out to the company directly to ask.

Was this helpful?

Millions of people live with migraine symptoms that are so severe they cause significant disability in their daily life. One of the qualifying conditions for receiving VA disability benefits for migraine is experiencing frequent and debilitating prostrating migraine attacks.

If you’re a veteran who experiences severe migraine episodes that make employment difficult, there is help. Consider reaching out to your doctor and the VA to discuss whether you may qualify for benefits.