Veterans commonly develop new medical conditions when undergoing treatment or using medications for service-connected disabilities. Any time a service-connected condition causes a new condition to develop, VA benefits may be available for those conditions. Also, VA benefits may be available if a service-connected condition causes a non-service connected condition to worsen. This principle is called secondary service connection. VA commonly errs when denying claims for secondary service connection, only to grant a claim on appeal.
Many Veterans tend to neglect filing claims for secondary service connection. Veterans commonly believe the myth that service connection is only available for conditions that were caused while serving. If you do not file claims for your secondary conditions, you may be depriving yourself of benefits you earned.
Proving Claims for Secondary Service Connection
To win a claim for secondary service connection, you must first have a service-connected disability. Even if VA has yet to grant an original service connection claim, it is possible to file claims for secondary conditions. The key to success is to clearly articulate your reasons for filing the claim. It is critical to develop competent medical evidence proving your theories of service connection to win your claim. If developed correctly, filing a claim for secondary service connection can be a fairly simple process.
The second element you must prove to have your claim granted is that your service connected disability (or disabilities) causes or aggravates another condition. Veterans arguing that a service-connected disability has caused another condition to develop should submit evidence of the diagnosis for the secondary condition.
In addition, the Veteran will need the opinion of an appropriate medical professional that the secondary condition is likely caused by the original service-connected condition. If the Veteran argues their service connected disability has aggravated a non-service connected disability, they must submit medical evidence showing their secondary condition’s diagnosis. They will also need to submit the opinion of a medical professional that it was likely aggravated by the service connected disability. This opinion can be obtained during a C&P Examination.
Common Cases Where Secondary Service Connection May Be Applicable
The law does not limit VA’s ability to grant secondary service connection for any condition. The only limit is the available evidence in a case. However, there are some common secondary conditions that are applicable to many Veterans.
First, new conditions may develop as a result of medications prescribed for service connected conditions. These conditions may include erectile dysfunction, liver conditions, mental health conditions, or any other condition that has been diagnosed as a result of medicines prescirbed to treat service connected conditions.
Additionally, it is not uncommon for Veterans to be diagnosed with depression as a result of battling the effects of a service connected condition. For example, Veterans diagnosed with cancers associated with Agent Orange may develop depression during cancer treatment. Additionally, younger Veterans diagnosed with chronic conditions that severely limit quality of life may develop depression after prolonged periods where they cannot physical maintain their desired quality of life.
Lastly it is common for Veterans experiencing chronic pain to develop secondary conditions as a result of limping or favoring. For example, a Veteran with right knee or ankle pain may walk with a limp. Because of the limp, the Veteran’s left knee or ankle begins to experience problems. Benefits may be available in this instance.
Common Errors in Secondary Service Connection Claims
Filing claims for secondary service connection can be a very simple process if all of the required evidence is contained in your medical records. However, VA often errs when processing claims for secondary service connection. Additionally, statistics show that VA is increasingly more likely to make an error on your claims with each additional issue you add to your claims.
When Veterans file claims, VA is required to evaluate claims based off all theories raised by the record. A skilled advocate can help you ensure the relevant theories of service connection have been identified and articulated. If VA fails to correctly process claims for secondary service connection, Veterans are encouraged to exercise their appellate rights.
An experienced Veteran’s law attorney can help you if VA denies your secondary service connection claims. Please contact veteran Esquire legal solutions, PLLC, to schedule a consultation with a Veteran’s law attorney. In many instances, the firm can represent Veterans with no upfront costs to the Veteran.