Veterans who have been through the VA disability claims process understand the importance of proving service-connection for a disability. However, direct service connection is not always required, particularly in the case of service connection for a secondary disability.
A secondary disability is a disability that resulted from your primary service-connected disability. The nexus between your primary disability and your secondary disability must be clearly established in order to receive secondary service connection for the disability. This is different than a claim for an increased rating because you are claiming an entirely new 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 was exposed to Agent Orange will receive a presumptive service-connection for Diabetes. This would be the primary disability. Diabetes can lead to numerous other health complications, including Diabetic Retinopathy, which can cause blindness in serious cases. The Diabetic Retinopathy would be considered a secondary disability. With medical evidence supporting that the retinopathy is due to the diabetes, the retinopathy could then be service-connected.
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.
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. This can be exacerbated even more if your work requires you to compensate for your injury, leading to a secondary disability.
How to Apply for 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 evidence proving your disability, along with medical evidence showing the relationship between your service-connected disability and secondary disability. If your secondary condition could have many possible causes, you will need a doctor’s opinion or other medical evidence showing that your primary service-connected disability was the actual cause.
For veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), there are some conditions that are presumptively considered as secondary service-connected disabilities. Parkinson’s disease, seizures, certain dementias, depression, and hormone deficiency diseases are presumptively considered to p 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 and the appearance of the secondary disability.
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