Want a higher VA disability rating? Many veterans service-connected disabilities cause them additional physical problems. Those veterans should often receive a higher disability rating from VA.
Unfortunately, many veterans overlook the ways that some of their conditions are service-connected. You need to know the basics of this way to service-connect a disability so you won’t be one of those veterans who is not receiving the full benefits you deserve.
Many veterans do not apply for benefits for secondary conditions because they do not realize they are eligible. They only think in terms of direct service-connection, which is when there is a nexus between a current disability and an in-service event, injury, or disease. In other words, A causes B.
A secondary condition, also known as a secondary disability, is a disability that is the result of another service-connected condition. In this scenario, A causes B. Then, B causes C, so C is service-connected.
If you develop a medical condition because of a service-connected condition, then the medical condition that you develop is probably service-connected as well. But, you have to file for it.
What are some of the ways a secondary condition can develop?
There are several common ways that secondary conditions develop. I have listed a few of them below:
As a result of medical treatment for a service-connected condition
The treatment that is necessary for a medical condition can often cause another medical condition to develop. One example is pain medication which could cause liver problems, kidney problems and stomach problems.
Another example is surgery. Even if done carefully, surgery has risks and could cause other medical conditions to develop.
Other times, the progression of the disease leads to other complications that can become disabling as well. A frequent example we see is Vietnam veterans who develop diabetes as a result of Agent Orange exposure. As a result of their diabetes, they then develop peripheral neuropathy in their feet and legs.
Whether it is the result of medical treatment or a known complication of the underlying service-connected disability, it is important to remember you must file for benefits for the secondary condition if you want to receive VA disability compensation.
As a result of everyday life
Certain injuries and disabilities put additional stress on other parts of the body. A serious injury to your right arm might cause you to overuse your left arm. An ankle or knee injury may cause you to walk in such a way that you put stress on other parts of your body. If a service-connected condition puts stress on another part of your body that causes another condition to develop, then that other condition should be a secondary condition
VA has some regulations that provide presumptions for the development of certain secondary conditions. One example is traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Veterans with a service-connected traumatic brain injury that develop certain medical conditions (unprovoked seizures, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, depression, and certain hormone deficiencies) may receive a presumption that these medical conditions are secondary to the traumatic brain injury.
Whether the presumption will apply depends on how severe the TBI was and the time between the TBI and the development of the secondary condition. The benefit of the presumption is that the veteran does not have to demonstrate nexus between the service-connected condition and the secondary condition.
Aggravation of a preexisting condition can also count as a Secondary Disability
So far in this post, I have talked in terms of the underlying service connected condition causing the secondary disability. However, you can still service-connect a secondary condition you already had. You can do this if your your service-connected conditions aggravated or worsened that condition.
For example, a veteran with non-service-connected low back problems may also have a service-connected knee problem. If that knee problem causes a limp that makes the back condition worse than it otherwise would have been, VA should service-connect the low back aggravation on a secondary basis.
Filing Is Easy, But Winning May Be Harder
VA Form 21-526b is a one page application for secondary service-connection. While this should be simple to complete, the VA may not determine your condition to be service-connected on the initial application. Many times, claims examiners are only looking for direct-service connection. If that happens and you don’t have an event, injury, or disease in service that led to this disability, VA may deny your claim.
What VA examiners should do instead is look for a medical nexus between your other service-connected disabilities and the one for which you are now seeking benefits. It may not always be obvious.
In fact, it may requires some specific opinions from medical professionals to succeed. This is where a veterans disability attorney can help.