The Ultimate Guide: Secondary Service Connection VA Disability

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The Ultimate Guide: Secondary Service Connection VA Disability

Secondary service-connected disabilities can sometimes increase a disabled veteran’s VA disability rating. That may result in increased monthly benefits, and perhaps bump the veteran up to comprehensive medical benefits. Even if the secondary-connected disability doesn’t change the veterans VA disability rating sufficiently to trigger full medical coverage, it would expand medical coverage to treatment for the secondary condition.

However, secondary service-connected disabilities are often poorly understood. This opportunity may be overlooked because a veteran does not recognize that the secondary condition is connected to the condition they are receiving VA disability benefits for. Or, the veteran may view the secondary condition as simply a symptom of the primary condition and not a separate condition that could increase their disability rating.

Understanding secondary service connection disabilities is key to ensuring that you are receiving all of the veterans benefits you may be entitled to.

What Does Secondary Service Connected Disability Mean? 

In short, a secondary service-connected disability is a disability that stems from a service-connected disability. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common service-related disability.  People suffering from PTSD have been found to have an increased risk of a number of other conditions, including dementia.

A veteran who has a disability rating for PTSD and later develops dementia may be able to demonstrate that the dementia resulted from the PTSD. Even if there is no direct line from the military service to the dementia, the fact that the PTSD was determined service-connected and the dementia is connected to the PTSD may make it a secondary service-connected disability. 

The VA may also determine that there is a secondary service connection if the condition is caused by treatment for a service-connected condition, such as serious side effects of medication that is required to treat a service-connected condition.

Identifying Secondary Service Connected Disabilities

Understanding your own medical condition and how your conditions are related is the first step toward ensuring that you have identified any possible secondary service-connected disabilities. This is generally good practice anyway since you will be able to take better care of your health if you have a solid understanding of your medical conditions and how they relate and impact each other.

Your doctor will often be the best source of this information since your medical care providers should be familiar with all of your medical conditions and will have the medical knowledge necessary to identify possible connections between those illnesses and conditions. However, that isn’t the only way to educate yourself about possible secondary service-connected disabilities. Another is to educate yourself more fully about your conditions. The Veterans Health Library on the VA’s website may be a good starting point. When you search for one or more of your conditions in the library, you’ll find information like this piece on the connection between PTSD and depression.

Sometimes, this process can feel like wandering around in the dark. An experienced veterans benefits advocate can be your best resource when you’re trying to sort out whether your condition may be secondary service-connected and how to establish that. At Veterans Help Group, our seasoned advocates are dedicated to easing the process for disabled veterans and their families and helping present the strongest claim or appeal possible. 

Examples of Secondary Service-Connected Conditions

The list of possible secondary service-connected conditions is nearly endless since there are so many possible service-connected disabilities and many have multiple associated conditions. Some common examples include: 

  • Sleep apnea, which may be secondary to a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, asthma and sinusitis. 
  • Hypertension may be secondary to renal disorders, endocrine disorders, sleep apnea, PTSD, and other conditions.
  • Migraines may be secondary to PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), tinnitus, and other conditions.

Establishing a Secondary Service-Connected Disability

The first step toward establishing a secondary service-connected disability is to have an established service-connected disability. The secondary-connected condition must be caused or aggravated by a condition that has been determined to be service-connected. Beyond that, you will have to establish that:

  • You suffer from the medical condition you are attempting to establish as secondary service-connected,
  • The condition has a disabling impact on you, and
  • Demonstrate that the condition is linked to your established service-connected condition

Even though there is a lot of medical information available supporting connections among common service-connected and secondary service–connected conditions, the VA doesn’t maintain a list of presumptive connections. In nearly all cases, it will be up to the disabled veteran to provide evidence of that connection. 

Currently, there are just two exceptions. Federal regulations provide that: 

  • Certain cardiovascular conditions in a veteran shall be deemed to have been caused by service-connected amputation of  one leg amputated at or above the knee or both amputated at or above the ankle, and
  • Several conditions, including dementia, unprovoked seizures, and Parkinson’s disease are deemed to have resulted from service-connected TBI

Fortunately, the fact that presumptive secondary service-connected conditions are few and far between doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch to prove the link between your service-connected disability and a possible secondary condition. Many connections are known in the medical profession and have been established by research and studies. And, that information has been used to establish secondary service connections by other veterans. 

A seasoned veterans disability benefits advocate may be familiar with the studies that can help establish a link between your service-connected disability and other conditions. And, they’ll have the experience necessary to find updated research on known conditions and research for supplemental information. 

Get Help Establishing a Secondary Service Connection

The process of identifying and proving a secondary service connection can be complicated and daunting, but you shouldn’t let that deter you. Depending on your current VA disability rating and the secondary condition, recognition of a secondary service-connected condition could increase your VA disability rating. That may mean an increase in your monthly benefits or may entitle you to additional non-cash benefits. For example, if the secondary condition increases your VA disability rating to 50% or above, you could qualify for full medical care through the VA rather than just care related to your service-connected conditions. 

To learn more about how Veterans Help Group can help you with the process of establishing a secondary service connection or appealing an unfavorable decision, contact us here or call  (855) 855-8992.


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