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Veterans Law

How to File a VA Claim for Secondary Service Connection

December 14, 2019
man with cane due to secondary service connected condition

Prior to receiving VA disability benefits, veterans must establish service connection.  Generally speaking, service connection is an acknowledgment that your current condition is either caused or aggravated by your time in service.  There are several types of service connection that veterans can pursue, including secondary service connection.

What is a Secondary Service-Connected Condition?

A secondary service-connected condition is one that resulted from a separate condition that is already service-connected.  For example, a veteran is service-connected for a knee condition and later develops arthritis in that knee.  Here, the veteran’s arthritis may warrant secondary service connection if it is the result of their service-connected knee condition.  Secondary service connection can also apply to mental health conditions.  If a veteran suffers from a very debilitating physical condition, it is possible that they will develop depression due to the chronic pain and limitations on activities of daily living.

Common Secondary Service-Connected Conditions

As mentioned above, secondary service-connected conditions can include any condition that is caused or aggravated by an already service-connected condition.  However, some of the most common secondary service-connected conditions among veterans include the following:

Peripheral Neuropathy Secondary to Diabetes Mellitus Type 2

There are multiple medical conditions that a veteran can develop as a result of their service-connected diabetes mellitus type 2.  One of the most common conditions secondary to diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, which impacts a veteran’s peripheral nerves and can cause numbness, weakness, and tingling in the upper and lower extremities (e.g. feet and hands).  Veterans can obtain service connection for their peripheral neuropathy on a secondary basis if they can show that their service-connected diabetes was the cause of it.

Radiculopathy Secondary to Back Disabilities

Radiculopathy is another nerve condition that occurs when a veteran’s nerve is pinched in their spinal column, resulting in weakness, tingling, or numbness in their legs or arms.  Radiculopathy can occur in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine, or lumbar spine depending on the location of the veteran’s back condition.  Radiculopathy is commonly experienced as a result of back conditions such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.  If veterans are service-connected for any of these back conditions and experience radiculopathy as a result, secondary service connection may be warranted.

Hypertension Secondary to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Veterans with PTSD can develop hypertension as secondary to their PTSD.  This can be due to the increased stress and anxiety that they experience.  Again, veterans must show that their hypertension is related to their PTSD in order to establish secondary service connection.

Filing a Claim for Secondary Service Connection

Filing a claim for secondary service connection involves the same process as filing any claim for service connection.  Specifically, veterans will fill out and submit VA Form 21-526 – an original claim for service connection.  Veterans may do so online using the eBenefits portal, in person at their local Regional Office, or with help from a veterans advocate.  Importantly, there is certain evidence that veterans should include with their claims for secondary service connection (see below).

Veterans will need to demonstrate two things to VA to be granted service connection for a secondary condition:

  • A diagnosis for your secondary condition; and
  • Medical evidence showing the link between your service-connected condition and secondary condition.

Types of Evidence to Submit with Secondary Service Connection Claims

In claims for secondary service connection, proving a nexus (i.e. link) is especially important.  A nexus is a medical opinion that, in cases of secondary service connection, links a veteran’s secondary disability to their already service-connected disability.  The nexus between your primary disability and your secondary disability must be clearly established in order to be granted secondary service connection for the disability.  As such, medical opinions from either VA healthcare providers or private doctors are critical pieces of evidence in claims for secondary service connection.  Importantly, any medical records showing a connection between the conditions are also worth submitting to VA.

Lay evidence may also be helpful in regards to secondary service connection claims.  Namely, veterans can submit lay statements outlining how their primary service-connected conditions caused or aggravated their secondary conditions.