Most veterans know that they may seek VA disability compensation benefits for a service connected disability. But what you may not be aware of is that in addition to the service connected disability benefits you may also be entitled to benefits for what is called a “secondary service connected disability.”
For secondary conditions caused by a service connected condition, the second condition is considered part of the original condition. For non-service connected conditions that are aggravated by the service connected condition, the veteran is entitled to benefits for the aggravated portion of the injury. In other words, the veteran is entitled for compensation for the aggravation above and beyond the original non-service connected condition.
A secondary service connected disability occurs when a service connected injury or disability causes or aggravates another condition. Again, this would include the aggravation of non-service connected conditions. It would also include conditions caused by or aggravated by service connected conditions that arise long after military service. In fact, it is irrelevant how long after service the secondary condition arises if it is caused or aggravated by the service connected injury.
There are countless ways this might occur. One example would be a service connected disability of diabetes which later contributes to heart disease. Another example would be a knee injury that then causes injuries to your hips or back. Yet another would be depression resulting from chronic pain. In these cases, the heart disease, back/ hip injuries and depression would be a secondary service connected disability.
As mentioned, the possible secondary injuries are far too numerous to list. It t is important to consider all possible secondary disabilities when applying for benefits so that you receive all the compensation to which you are entitled.
Just as you must prove a service connected disability, you will also have to prove the connection between your service connected disability and your secondary condition. For secondary service connection, there must be medical evidence showing the secondary connection. In addition, it is almost always necessary to have an expert medical opinion supporting the secondary connection.
The burden of proof is “as likely as not.” This means that the medical expert can state that it is as likely as not that the condition was caused or aggravated by the service connected injury. Obviously, it would be much more helpful if the medical expert could state this more strongly giving an opinion that it is highly or very probable, or better yet, that there is no doubt, that the two are connected.
There are numerous challenges and complexities to these claims. Careful documentation of your condition is imperative. It is highly advisable to seek the guidance of a Veteran Service Representative in the preparation of your claim.
In the event that your claim is wrongfully denied by the VA, you should seek the services of a VA accredited attorney. If you and your medical providers are confident that your conditions are related to service connected conditions, you should not give up on your claim. After all, valid claims are routinely denied on the first pass through the VA.