Veterans who suffer from disabilities related to their service can seek compensation, but what many might not be aware of are secondary service connections. These are conditions that develop as a result of a primary service-connected disability. By recognizing and filing for secondary conditions, veterans might be eligible for higher disability ratings, leading to increased monthly compensation.
Primary vs. Secondary Service Connection
When veterans seek compensation for disabilities related to their military service, they often come across the terms “primary service connection” and “secondary service connection.” While both paths can lead to VA compensation, understanding their differences is crucial for a successful claim.
A primary service connection is the most direct form of service connection. In this case, a veteran must demonstrate that their disability directly resulted from an event, injury, or exposure that occurred during their active military service. For instance, if a veteran sustains a leg injury during combat training and later develops related mobility issues, the leg injury and its subsequent complications would be considered primarily service-connected.
On the other hand, a secondary service connection involves a more indirect link between a disability and military service. Here, a veteran’s service-connected disability leads to or aggravates another medical condition. To claim compensation, the veteran must show that the secondary condition wouldn’t have arisen (or worsened) without the primary service-connected disability. For example, if a veteran receives compensation for a knee injury and later develops back pain due to altered gait from the injured knee, the back pain might be considered secondarily service-connected.
When a veteran has a medical condition that existed prior to their military service or developed independently of their service, and this condition is worsened by a disability that is service-connected, the VA might grant service connection on a “secondary basis” due to aggravation.
Establishing Secondary Service Connection
You must first show that you have an additional medical condition. You cannot file for secondary connection for a condition that might, but has not yet, developed. The second condition must be a direct result of the primary service-connected disability or is made worse because of the already connected condition. Demonstrating this link is crucial. Medical opinions and records can be invaluable in establishing this connection. This usually involves obtaining a statement from a medical professional that establishes the cause-and-effect relationship between the two.
When the claim is based on aggravation, veteran must provide evidence that the additional condition has worsened beyond its natural progression and that the worsening is due to the service-connected condition.
Examples of Conditions That May Be Secondary
This is just a brief list of conditions and how they may be granted as a secondary service-connected condition. You can find more detailed articles about secondary conditions on our website.
Hypertension due to PTSD: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition that many veterans experience after witnessing or being part of traumatic events. The chronic stress and anxiety associated with PTSD can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure. Persistent anxiety increases the heart rate and narrows blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure.
Depression due to Chronic Pain: Veterans who suffer from chronic pain, perhaps from a service-connected injury, may develop depression. Chronic pain can limit a veteran’s activities, affect their quality of life, and lead to feelings of hopelessness or despair.
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy due to Diabetes Mellitus: If a veteran is service-connected for diabetes mellitus, they might develop neuropathy (nerve damage). This is a condition where high blood sugar injures nerve fibers, causing numbness, pain, and weakness, especially in the hands and feet.
Erectile Dysfunction due to Medications or Mental Health Conditions: Some medications prescribed for primary conditions like PTSD, depression, or hypertension can have side effects leading to erectile dysfunction. Additionally, mental health conditions on their own can contribute to this issue.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) due to PTSD: A veteran service-connected for PTSD might develop GERD. GERD is a chronic condition where stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. The VA rates GERD based on the severity of the symptoms.
Has the VA Denied Your Claim for Secondary Service Connection?
If you believe that your medical issue was caused by a service-connected condition but the VA refuses to recognize that link, please call us to discuss your case. Our VA accredited attorney is ready to help.