What is service connection?
To prove service connection is the process of showing that a disability or condition was caused by or due to active duty military service. In order to receive VA disability compensation, veterans must prove their disability is linked to their time in service. Below, we will cover the requirements for service connection along with the different avenues veterans can pursue.
How to Get Service Connected
The VA requires three elements in order to prove service connection for a disability. The first is an injury, event, or illness in service. This could be a motor vehicle accident, a psychological stressor, or the contraction of a disease or illness. The second requirement is a diagnosis of a current disability by a medical or clinical professional. The VA will not grant service connection for a condition that is not formally diagnosed. The final requirement is what the VA calls a “nexus” or a link between the in-service event and your current diagnosis.
Providing a nexus can be complicated and the VA will often use a lack of a nexus to deny claims for service connection. Veterans can ask their physician or a medical professional to provide a nexus for their claim, but this opinion must be based on the veteran’s service personnel and treatment records in order for the VA to weigh it as valuable evidence.
Ways to Get Service Connected
There are six ways to get a condition service connected.
1. Direct Service Connection. This is a very common method of pursuing service connection. Direct service connection requires the three elements described above: 1. an injury, event, or illness in service, 2. a current medical diagnosis, and 3. a link between the in-service event and the current diagnosis.
An alternative method for establishing direct service connection that can substitute for the second and third elements does not require a nexus opinion. Under the VA code of regulations 38 C.F.R. 3.303 (b), the VA can grant service connection when there is evidence showing chronicity or continuity of symptomatology from, and throughout the time period after, service.
2. Presumptive Service Connection. Congress and the VA had determined that certain conditions are to be presumed service-connected if veterans fall under certain criteria. Presumptive service connection means that veterans do not have to provide a nexus to prove service connection. If they fall under the VA’s criteria, their condition will be presumed to have been caused by service. Below are the different criteria for presumptive service connection.
Chronic Diseases. This regulation allows for diseases that manifest to a certain degree within a period of time after separation from service to be presumed service-connected. For instance, if a veteran develops diabetes mellitus type 2 within a year of separation from service then they can be granted service connection without having to provide a nexus. There are several exceptions to the one year presumption described above. For example, VA presumes Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to be service-connected if it is developed any time after service. Additionally, Multiple Sclerosis has a seven year presumptive period, and tuberculosis and leprosy have a three year presumptive period.
Diseases Specific to Radiation-Exposed Veterans. For veterans exposed to radiation in service, the VA will presume that their exposure caused certain diseases and conditions. There are specific requirements the VA looks at to verify that a veteran was exposed to radiation, so be sure to check if you are eligible.
Diseases Associated with Herbicide Agents. This presumption applies to veterans who were exposed to herbicides during their time in service, such as those stationed in Vietnam or on certain Air Force bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Check here to see where else Agent Orange was used.
Persian Gulf War Veterans. Veterans of the Persian Gulf War are able to get presumptive service connection for undiagnosed illnesses and medically unexplained chronic multisymptoms illnesses such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and gastrointestinal signs or symptoms.
Camp Lejeune. On March 14, 2017, the VA released a regulation allowing certain diseases to be presumptive for veterans who served at Camp Lejeune based on exposure to contaminated drinking water.
3. Secondary Service Connection. Veterans can be service-connected for a condition that resulted from another service-connected condition. This is considered service connection on a secondary basis. Examples of this can include depression secondary to orthopedic conditions or peripheral neuropathy secondary to diabetes mellitus type 2.
4. Aggravation. Service connection by aggravation can be used for conditions that were worsened by military service. For example, a veteran may have had flat feet prior to entering service, but wearing military boots and prolonged standing worsened his or her flat feet. This veteran could be entitled to service connection based on aggravation if he or she can prove that their condition was worsened beyond its natural progression by military service. Additionally, if a veteran has a service-connected knee condition that aggravates a non-service-connected back condition, he or she could get service connection for their back based on aggravation.
5. Paired Organs. This type of service connection applies to the combination of service-connected and non-service-connected disabilities as if both were service-connected. For example, if a veteran has service-connected visual impairment in his or her left eye, he or she may be eligible for compensation for their non-service-connected right eye as well.
6. 1151 Service Connection. “1151 claims” refers to claims under VA regulation 38 U.S.C. 1151 and applies to disabilities or death that result from “hospital care, medical or surgical treatment, or examination” by a VA medical professional or facility, or due to participation in a program of vocational rehabilitation.
What Could Prevent Service Connection?
Besides not having one of the three requirements for service connection, the VA will not service-connect a disease or injury that resulted from willful misconduct. Willful misconduct means an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action, such as abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Additionally, only veterans who received a discharge other than dishonorable (honorable, under honorable conditions, etc.) are eligible for VA disability compensation.
If you are unsure whether you are eligible for VA disability compensation, click here to learn more about eligibility.