Getting VA Secondary Disability Benefits for a Pre-existing Disability?
Generally, VA pays you VA disability benefits for conditions caused by your military service. A straightforward example is a back injury while moving a box of ammunition.
Many veterans also receive benefits for secondary disabilities. Secondary disabilities are not caused directly by military service. Instead, they often develop as a result of a service-connected disability.
A common question I encounter is whether a veteran can receive benefits for a secondary disability when that secondary disability preexisted the veteran’s military service.
Preexisting condition have been discussed a lot with With nationwide discussion of Preexisting disabilities are disabilities which existed before you entered military service. Maybe you already had back problems. Maybe you had a preexisting knee condition.
VA is normally not responsible for these preexisting disabilities because they were not caused by your military service. But, they can come into play when they are aggravated by your military service or when they are aggravated by a disability caused by your service.
How can a pre-existing condition possibly qualify as a secondary disability?
Normally, we think of a secondary disability as something that happens after the first service-connected disability. Take this example:
- A veteran injures his back in the military
- As a result of the injured back, the veteran walks with a limp and develops knee problems
The back injury is a service-connected disability. The knee injury which develops as a result of the back injury is a secondary disability.
Because it normally happens in this order, some people think that a pre-existing disability could not qualify as a secondary disability. After all, the disability was already there so how can it be secondary to a disability that developed afterward?
Normally, the secondary disability develops afterward. But, veterans need to look for all possible disabilities for which they are eligible, especially with secondary disabilities. When you are considering that, it’s very important that you also consider pre-existing disabilities as possibly being service-connected.
How do you prove a pre-existing disability is a secondary disability?
By definition, a pre-existing disability is one that existed prior to military service. If something existed prior to military service, how in the world can you get it service-connected? It makes no sense unless you consider the concept of aggravation. Aggravation basically means that military service made a pre-existing condition worse.
Aggravation can apply when you have a pre-existing condition that is made worse by service directly. However, it can also apply when a service-connected condition “aggravates” a pre-existing condition. If you have a pre-existing disability and then a service-connected disability makes that disability worse, then you’re eligible for service connection on a secondary basis as a result of that aggravation.
- A veteran has a knee injury that preexisted military service that would probably be rated at a 10% level.
- As a result of military service, the veteran develops a disability to the other knee and again
- The service-connected knee condition causes the veteran to bear weight on the pre-existing knee more so that the veteran “aggravates” that pre-existing knee disability to symptoms that would qualify for a 30% rating.
That increase from 10 to 30 is the aggravation. This is one way you can get service connection for a pre-existing disability.
What if VA denies my claim for secondary disability?
Don’t let the VA tell you that you cannot get secondary disability benefits for a pre-existing disability because they are wrong. If they tell you that, you will need to file an appeal.
You will have to prove to VA that there is a connection between your service-connected disability or disabilities and your secondary disability. With a pre-existing disability, you will have to prove “aggravation”. Sometimes, you may be able to take advantage of secondary disability presumptions that VA has put into place for certain service-connected disabilities.
If you need help with that, we’ll be glad to look at your claim for you. The best way to do that is normally through a free consultation.
Just reach out to us and we can schedule a free consultation about your claim. If you would like to learn more about how a free consultation works, just read this short article that explains the process. If you want to set up a consultation, just complete the free consultation form or call us at (770) 214-8885.
Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims. He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.
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