Veterans who have been through the VA disability claims process understand the importance of proving service connection for a disability. However, service connection on a direct basis is not the only way to get a disability service connected, particularly in the case of service connection for a disability that is secondary to an already service-connected condition.
A secondary service-connected disability is a disability that resulted from a condition that is already service-connected. In claims for secondary service connection, proving a nexus 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. This is different than a claim for an increased rating because you are claiming an entirely new disability instead of asking for an increase for a service-connected disability.
How Secondary Disabilities Occur
There are several ways that a primary disability can cause a secondary disability. Some diseases lead to other health complications that could become serious enough to be considered a secondary disability.
For example, a veteran who is service connected for diabetes mellitus type 2 could have numerous other health complications due to their diabetes, including diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness in serious cases. The diabetic retinopathy would be considered a secondary disability to the veteran’s service-connected diabetes. With medical evidence supporting that the retinopathy is due to the diabetes, the retinopathy could then be service connected on a secondary basis.
Conditions Due to Treatment
Treatment of a primary service-connected disability could also cause a secondary disability. If side effects from medications or other treatment cause a disability, this could be classified as a secondary disability that could be service connected.
Wear and Tear
Completing everyday tasks or working with a primary disability can also lead to other problems. When you compensate to make up for a knee injury, you may put added stress on other joints, such as your other knee or your hips.
How to Apply for VA Benefits for a Secondary Disability
You can file a claim for service connection for a secondary disability the same way you filed your initial claim for service-connected disability compensation. You will need to demonstrate two things to VA to be granted a secondary service-connected disability:
- a diagnosis for your secondary disability
- Medical evidence showing the relationship between your service-connected disability and secondary disability
If your secondary condition could have many possible causes, you may need a doctor’s opinion or other medical evidence showing that your primary service-connected disability was the actual cause.
Secondary Conditions to TBI
According to 38 C.F.R. §3.310 (d), there are some conditions that are “held to be the proximate result of service-connected traumatic brain injury.” Parkinson’s disease, seizures, certain dementias, depression, and hormone deficiency diseases are presumptively considered to be secondary disabilities to service-connected TBI. Eligibility depends on the severity of the TBI and the time between the initial injury that caused the TBI, as well as the appearance of the secondary disability.