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VA Service Connected Disability: What Does a Veteran Have to Prove?

Service connected disability is a benefit available to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces through Department of Veterans Affairs. It is a benefit designed to compensate veterans who experienced some incident during their service which led to a an injury or illness.  It is a valuable benefit, because it results in both monetary payments and an increase in VA health care priority, as well as a possible benefit for an eligible spouse after the veteran dies.  Veterans can prove entitlement to service connected compensation by showing they have certain conditions which are presumed connected to service, or by meeting criteria to show that a condition is directly or secondarily service connected.

Presumed Service Connected Conditions:

There are certain medical conditions which are presumed by the VA to have arisen due to military service.  The most common of these conditions are:

  • ALS – “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”
  • Conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure, including:
    • Type II Diabetes;
    • Prostate Cancer and other specifically identified cancers;
    • Parkinson’s Disease; and
    • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Certain chronic diseases that manifested to a certain degree within a certain period of time (see 38 USC 1112(a)
  • Diseases resulting from radiation exposure for veterans who served at certain locations (see 39 USC 1112(c));
  • Tropical diseases in certain cases (see 38 USC 1112(a)(2));
  • Persian Gulf veterans with undiagnosed chronic conditions (see 38 USC 1117; 38 CFR 3.317); and
  • PTSD in certain circumstances (see 38 CFR 3.304(f)) (NOTE: stressors are presumed for combat awards).

Additionally, former POWs have special presumptions for diseases that manifest to a certain degree.  There are other presumptions, and this list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Direct Service Connection – Three Criteria:

Establishing service connection generally requires medical or, in certain circumstances, lay evidence of:

  1. a current disability;
  2. an in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury; and
  3. a nexus (connection) between the claimed in-service disease or injury and the present disability.

See Davidson v. Shinseki, 581 F.3d 1313 (Fed.Cir.2009); Hickson v. West, 12 Vet.App. 247, 253 (1999); Caluza v. Brown, 7 Vet.App. 498, 506 (1995), aff’d per curiam, 78 F.3d 604 (Fed.Cir.1996) (table).

A veteran needs to offer proof of all three elements.  Perhaps the most common proof that veterans miss is the medical evidence of a link or nexus between the in-service event and the current disability.  A medical professional is needed to give an opinion that what occurred in service was the cause of the current condition.

Secondary Service Connection:

Secondary service connection may be awarded when a disability “is proximately due to or the result of a service-connected disease or injury.” 38 C.F.R. § 3.310(a) (2014).  That means that a condition that is direct service connected resulted in another condition. “Additional disability resulting from the aggravation of a non-service-connected condition by a service-connected condition is also compensable under 38 C.F.R. § 3.310(a).” Allen v. Brown, 7 Vet.App. 439, 448 (1995) (en banc).

If your VA service connected compensation claim was denied, call (866) 282-5260 to talk about your options with one of our VA disability attorneys.


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