How Do I Establish a Service Connection for My Disability?
To receive veterans benefits for a physical or mental impairment, you must establish service connection for your health condition. At the law firm of Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD, our lawyers will fight to help you get the VA benefits you deserve.
Service-Connected Disability Compensation
VA provides compensation to veterans who have a disability or disease that is related to their period of military service. A disability or disease related to a veteran’s period of military service is otherwise known as service connection or a service-connected disability. There are several bases, according to VA law, for veterans to establish entitlement to a service-connected disability. For example, VA law will entitle a veteran to an award of service connection if they can establish the following:
- an in-service disability, injury, or incident;
- a current disability; and,
- a medical link between the current disability and the in-service event, injury or illness.
The law does not require a veteran to demonstrate that they were diagnosed with a disability or disease while in the military, but rather that any current disability or disease arose due to their military service, including the performance of a military occupational specialty.
Ways to Get Service Connected
There are six ways to get a condition service connected.
- 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 diagnosis of a disabling condition, 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), VA can grant service connection when there is evidence showing chronicity or continuity of symptomatology from, and throughout the time period after, service.
- Presumptive Service Connection. Congress and VA have 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 establish service connection. If they fall under 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, VA will presume that their exposure caused certain diseases and conditions. There are specific requirements 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, VA released a regulation acknowledging certain diseases to be presumptive for veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while serving at Camp Lejeune.
- 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.
- 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 their flat feet. This veteran could be entitled to service connection based on aggravation if they 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, they could get service connection for their back based on aggravation.
- 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 their left eye, they may be eligible for compensation for their non-service-connected right eye as well.
- 1151 Service Connection. “1151 claims” refers to claims under 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, 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.
What If I Am Already Service Connected?
If you are already receiving VA benefits and the symptoms associated with your service-connected disability have worsened since your last rating, you can file a VA claim for an increased rating. If your disability is preventing you from working, you can also apply for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
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