In order to receive Veterans’ Administration (VA) compensation benefits for an injury or disability, you must prove that your condition is service connected. In other words, your injury must have been either a direct result of your time in the service or significantly exacerbated by your time in the service.
Do You Qualify?
In order for you to be eligible for disability compensation from the VA, you must meet three qualifications. Specifically:
- You must have served in the United States military.
- Your injury must have been caused or aggravated by your time in the service.
- Your separation or discharge from the service must have been under conditions other than dishonorable.
It’s important to know just how your injury is connected to your service.
Four Ways Your Injury or Illness May be Connected to Your Service
The specific type of connection will largely determine the type of documentation you will need to present to the VA. The four types of service connection include direct service connection, aggravated service connection, presumptive service connection, and secondary service connection.
Direct Service Connection
A direct service connection injury (DSC) is an injury that was directly caused by an incident that occurred while you were on active duty. An injury with DSC could include a gunshot wound obtained in the field, burn injuries resulting from an automobile accident, or hearing problems caused by an explosion, for example. To establish a DSC with the VA, you will need:
- Documentation of the event that caused the injury
- A definitive diagnosis of the disability
- Medical evidence linking the disability to the injuring event
A DSC can be one of the easier connections to prove, especially if the injuring event is documented in your records and you were initially diagnosed and treated while you were still in the service. It gets more complicated if you weren’t diagnosed until after leaving the service or if there isn’t a record of the injuring event. In the first case, you will need to work closely with your treating physician to establish the connection. In the second, you also may need to gather testimony from associates who witnessed the incident.
Aggravated Service Connection
An aggravated service connection injury, or ASC, occurs when military service worsens a documented pre-existing condition. For example, reinjuring a part of the leg where there had already been surgery to correct a prior injury is an example of an ASC. Even when the previous procedure is deemed to have the most successful outcome possible, an injury involving this same part of the body is seen as an ASC.
To establish an ASC with the VA, you will need:
- Documentation of the pre-existing condition in your entrance medical exam or thorough medical evidence of the condition’s pre-enlistment diagnosis and treatment
- Documentation of an event or events that aggravated the injury
- Medical evidence linking the worsening of symptoms to the injuring event
ASC may be the most difficult connection to understand and establish. That’s because the VA automatically assumes any worsening of symptoms associated with a pre-existing condition to be a “natural progression” of the condition. The burden of proof is on you, the veteran.
Presumptive Service Connection
The law requires that some medical conditions be assumed to be the result of military service if the individual has served for at least 90 days. Typically, an injury with a presumptive service connection, or PSC, is the result of exposure to toxins, carcinogens, and infectious diseases; however, some chronic health issues and brain injuries can also qualify. A POW confined for more than 30 days with certain health conditions is also eligible for PSC. To establish a PSC with the VA, you will need:
- To have served in the military for at least 90 days
- To prove that you have been diagnosed with a qualifying disability
- To demonstrate that you have the disability to a pre-established standard of severity
- To apply for disability benefits within the window of time established by the military for the condition
Even if you can establish a direct service connection, an aggravated service connection, or a presumptive service connection, there is one more type of service connected disability you should know about.
Secondary Service Connection
A secondary service connection injury, or SSC, can happen in two situations:
- When a disability already established as service-connected creates an additional complication with your health; for example, depression resulting from severe and ongoing physical pain may be an SSC.
- A pre-existing condition is complicated by an injury sustained in the service; for example, hypertension developing into coronary artery disease significantly faster than it would have under normal circumstances.
In both these scenarios, you may be eligible for additional compensation for the related condition. To establish an SSC with the VA, you will need:
- Medical proof of the secondary diagnosis
- The statement or testimony of a medical professional collaborating that the condition was caused or aggravated by an established service-connected disability
If you are a veteran with any of these types of service-connected disabilities, it is important to protect your right to receive fair benefits. Please start a live chat with us now to learn more about your rights and potential recovery.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.