Conditions Caused By Exposure
As a part of their military duties, service members are often exposed to chemicals, radiation, or other substances that can negatively affect health over time. If a condition develops after a service member leaves the military that is known to be caused by a substance they were exposed to while in the military, then that condition is service-connected.
The service member must prove that they were indeed exposed to the substance. If exposure occurs, service members should obtain documents detailing exactly what they were exposed to, how much, and for how long.
If youre unable to obtain documentation detailing your exposure, your condition will only be considered service-connected if it is on the VA Presumptive List.
Common Examples Of Secondary Service Connection
A common example of secondary service connection involves VA determining a veterans peripheral neuropathy is secondary to their service-connected diabetes. It is important to note that diabetes has a whole host of secondary conditions that tend to evolve or manifest as a result of the condition. As such, veterans who are service-connected for diabetes should be mindful of the ways they might qualify for secondary service connection.
Another common example includes radiculopathies of the lower extremities as secondary to back conditions. Importantly, veterans can receive secondary service connection for mental health conditions as well. If a veterans service-connected back condition is so painful that it prevents the veteran from engaging in most activities, depression might develop as a result. Here, the veteran could potentially argue that their depression was caused by their service-connected back condition.
How Do You Get Disability Benefits
The first step in the process of applying for VA disability benefits is to find a Veterans Service Officer who can guide you. You can do this and file for your claim at eBenefits.va.gov. In order to be approved, you will need to bring:
- Your DD-214
- Your private medical records
You will also need to provide a buddy statement, which is a statement from someone you served with or another individual who can testify about how your injury is connected to your military service and how it has affected your life.
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What A 0% Rating Means
A 0% rating is also referred to as a non-compensable VA rating. It means, the VA recognizes you have a service-connected disability, but your current condition isnt severe enough to qualify for monthly cash benefits.
Even though it doesnt include monetary compensation, a 0% rating comes with several benefits, including:
- Access to free medical treatment for your condition at the VA, if income requirements are met
- Access to free prescription drugs necessary for your condition, if income requirements are met
- A higher priority for healthcare eligibility
- Reimbursement for travel costs related to seeking care from a VA medical facility or a VA authorized care provider
- The right to apply for life insurance through the Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance Program
- A 10-point veterans preference while applying for federal employment
- Use of both online and in-person commissaries, exchanges, and morale, welfare, and recreation retail facilities
A Veterans Guide To Service
Veterans living with any kind of disability are very likely to have either sustained or aggravated that disability during their time in service. All veterans with illnesses and/or injuries should file a service-connected disability claim with the VA to receive the care and compensation theyre due.
The first hurdle for many veterans is to even think of themselves as disabled or to feel deserving. Many veterans avoid pursuing a disability claim because they think others are worse off than me, or my disability is minor. Or theyve brought home a stoic, suffer silently attitude from military culture. Sometimes veterans feel ashamed to reveal any weakness or dont want to be seen as damaged.
The truth is, there is no weakness in acknowledging an injury or illness. And if you sustained or worsened any type of injury during your service, you are entitled to care. Disability compensation allows you to receive that care, and its legitimately owed to you. Its important that you receive the care you were promised.
After you realize that you justly deserve compensation for any condition related to military service, there are some concepts its important for veterans to understand. Acknowledging your disability is the first step, but once youre ready to pursue a claim, its essential to establish service connection: the link between your disability and your service.
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How Are Secondary Conditions Rated
The way VA rates a secondary condition depends on how it is related to the primary service-connected condition. If it is direct and straightforward, meaning condition A caused condition B, then VA is going to rate condition B under the appropriate diagnostic code. The rating percentage will then be factored into your combined disability rating accordingly. However, if you are granted secondary service connection based on aggravation, it gets a little more complicated. At that point, VA will try to establish what is called the baseline level of severity before the secondary condition was aggravated beyond its natural progression. From there, VA will see how severe the secondary condition is now that it has been aggravated by the primary service-connected condition. In the final step, VA will take the difference between those two ratings and assign a disability evaluation based on that. Ultimately, the rating will sometimes be a little bit lower if it is based on aggravation versus the more direct route described above.
How Va Rates Aggravation Claims
Again, VA will try to determine what the rating would have been prior to any aggravation due to a service-connected condition or due to service. After the condition has been service connected, VA will assign a rating based on what the current severity is. From there, VA will take the difference between those two and determine the severity that is due either to another service-connected condition, or due to service.
Importantly, veterans should try to provide medical evidence or an expert opinion to establish both the baseline level and current level of severity of their condition.
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Presumptive Disability Benefits For Certain Groups Of Veterans
What is “Presumptive” Service Connection?
VA presumes that specific disabilities diagnosed in certain veterans were caused by their military service. VA does this because of the unique circumstances of their military service. If one of these conditions is diagnosed in a veteran in one of these groups, VA presumes that the circumstances of his/her service caused the condition, and disability compensation can be awarded.
What Conditions are “Presumed” to be Caused by Military Service?
Veterans in the groups identified below: Entitlement to disability compensation may be presumed under the circumstances described and for the conditions listed.
Veterans within one year of release from active duty: Veterans diagnosed with chronic diseases are encouraged to apply for disability compensation.
Veterans with continuous service of 90 days or more: Veterans diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis /Lou Gehrig’s disease at any time after discharge or release from qualifying active service is sufficient to establish service connection for the disease, if the veteran had active, continuous service of 90 days or more.
Types Of Evidence To Support Secondary Service Connection Va Claims
There are specific types of evidence that a veteran may need to prove entitlement to secondary service connection.
- Nexus OpinionA Nexus opinion can link the secondary condition to the condition which has already been service-connected, or the primary service-connected condition. This can be provided by a medical professional.
- Studies that Link the Two ConditionsStudies that link the veterans two conditions can be submitted as evidence to the veterans claim. An example of this might be if medication a veteran is taking for a service-connected mental health condition causes a gastrointestinal disability and there is a study that supports this connection.
- Lay EvidenceLay evidence is a statement written by someone who knows the veteran, such as a spouse, friend, or family member. In these statements, the layperson may speak to who the secondary condition is related to the primary one. Importantly, the veteran themselves may provide lay evidence.
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Hearing Damage Hearing Loss
Tinnitus and bilateral hearing loss are two of the most common ear-associated disabilities. You will find that 10% maximum ratings are possible for tinnitus, and the same is true for hearing loss. Being diagnosed by a doctor is not enough to make the claim in this area. The VA will evaluate your hearing loss and/or tinnitus independently of other diagnoses, but will take those into account when determining your claim.
Some veterans may be rated at 0% for hearing lossdont be surprised if this happens to you depending on the nature of your claim, circumstances, etc. But do submit your hearing issues to the VA in your claim, regardless.
Medical Evidence And Supporting Documentation Are Critical
To maximize your chances of winning your VA claims, medical evidence and supporting documentation should be an important part of your VA claim strategy.
If youre still on active duty, get your butt to the doctor, and have your injuries or conditions documented in your military medical records. Do this now and dont wait until youve left the military.
If you are out of the service, and already a veteran, work with your private doctor to diagnose your condition, and document the severity of your symptoms in either VA or private medical records.
Its important for you to write strong personal statements to support each disability youre claiming before the VA.
It can also be helpful to have a friend, relative, coworker, or veteran you served with write a VA Buddy Letter as a first-hand witness to the event or injury that caused your disability.
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Presumption For Multiple Sclerosis And Als
Importantly, if a veteran develops multiple sclerosis within seven years of discharge, VA will determine that it is presumptively related to service and there is no need to provide any additional nexus evidence.
For military veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis , VA will grant presumptive service connection if the disease manifests at any time after discharge from military service.
Va Disability Ratings Are Not Always Permanent
Many disability ratings are temporary. The VA retains the right to reexamine your disability rating at any time. If they wish to reexamine you, you will receive a Notice of Reexamination letter in the mail which will include a scheduled appointment date.
Make sure you attend this appointment or reschedule, as the VA can reduce or terminate your benefits rating if you fail to attend this scheduled appointment. After the VA reexamines your condition, they will make a recommendation to increase, decrease, or leave your benefit at its current rating.
There are times when your ratings may be protected, based on the type of disability, how long you have held the rating, your age or other factors.
Heres more information on VA disability reexaminations and benefits reductions.
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What Is A Presumption
A presumption is a way for VA to grant service-connection for specific disabilities once some basic facts have been established. For example, if a veteran set foot in Vietnam, for a specific amount of time, anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 or was in or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, then the veteran would NOT have to prove a specific incident where they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in order to be granted service connection for a related medical condition because VA presumes that the veteran was exposed just because they served in that location. A presumption gets rid of the veterans requirement to establish facts that they would otherwise be required to prove in order to prevail on their claim.
In other words, the veteran does not have to prove service-connection as long as they meet the requirements of the presumption .
For a good article on the history of presumptive VA claims, see A Brief History of Presumptive Disability Decisions for Veterans. Institute of Medicine. 2008. Improving the Presumptive Disability Decision-Making Process for Veterans. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11908.
What Is The Difference Between Service Connected And Non
These terms define disability types in the VA system. Service connected means that the veteran is disabled due to injury or illness that was incurred in or aggravated by military service. Non-service connected means that the veteran is disabled due to injury or illness not related to military service.
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Allowance For Aid And Attendance Or Housebound Veterans
A Veteran who is determined by VA to be in need of the regular aid and attendance of another person, or a Veteran who is permanently housebound, may be entitled to additional disability compensation or pension payments. A Veteran evaluated at 30 percent or more disabled is entitled to receive an additional payment for a spouse who is in need of the aid and attendance of another person..
Special Home Adaption Grant
VA may approve a benefit amount up to a maximum of $13,511 for the cost of necessary adaptations to a Servicemembers or Veterans residence or to help him/her acquire a residence already adapted with special features for his/her disability, to purchase and adapt a home, or for adaptations to a family members home in which they will reside.
To be eligible for this grant, Servicemembers and Veterans must be entitled to compensation for permanent and total service-connected disability due to one of the following:
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Whats Va Disability Rate
VA disability pay is actually a tax-free financial advantage provided for military veterans on monthly foundation due for their service-related disability. The purpose would be to compensate them for your decreased lifestyle quality as well as civilian employability.
The compensation might be assigned for post-service disabilities as well when they are deemed to be secondary or connected to during the service and connected to the service situations which may arise afterwards in everyday life.
The List Of Service Connected Disabilities is ready and modified by the Department of Veterans Affairs based on Cost-of-Living-Adjustments . You may use tables of compensation rewards rate, which also offered in this write-up to compute your monthly payment in accordance in your private circumstances.
What Is A Service Related Disability
Understanding what is a VA service connection and how to prove a VA service connection are integral parts of the process of applying for service connected disability compensation. The VA looks explicitly for medical and personnel evidence that demonstrates that your current disability and symptoms are a result of your time in the service.
Fortunately, veterans have a few ways to show the connection between their service and their condition. Still, its necessary to know which connection type is relevant to your case to help you complete your application. If you need assistance with filling out your application or filing an appeal after a denial, you can enlist a VSO or a VA disability attorney for guidance.
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Lets Start With The Basics Of Service
Normally, to prove a claim for service connected compensation, a veteran must give the Department of Veterans Affairs medical evidence or, in certain circumstances, lay evidence of each of the following:
Many cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims explain this, but see Davidson v. Shinseki, 581 F.3d 1313 , and Hickson v. West, 12 Vet. App. 247, 253 , for good explanations of service-connection.
Just remember, you usually cannot win a case for service-connected compensation unless you can prove: 1) a current disability, 2) an in-service event or aggravation of disease or injury, AND 3) a nexus between the current disability and the in-service disease or injury.
A Medical Nexus Linking The Current Disability To The In
A medical nexus is a link between a veterans current disability and an in-service event, injury, or illness. Oftentimes VA will schedule a veteran for a Compensation & Pension examination in order for a VA examiner to determine if that link exists. Veterans can also ask their private physicians to provide a medical nexus for their claim to satisfy this requirement. A positive medical nexus will indicate that it is at least as likely as not that the veterans condition was caused or aggravated by their time in service.
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Is The Disability Rating Assigned To My Service
The Department of Veterans Affairs rating system is based on how severe your disability is and how it impacts your earning capacity. When assigning disability ratings, the VA raters review a schedule of over 800 diagnostic codes, each relating to a specific medical condition or set of conditions. Each diagnostic code contains different criteria which correspond to disability percentage ratings. For example, a veteran with symptom A may receive a 10% rating, while a veteran with symptoms A, B, and C may receive a 50% rating.
Service Connection Caused By Va Medical Care
The fifth way that service connection can be established is through a service connection based on VA medical care. This type of service connection exists where there has been an injury or aggravation to an injury caused by VA hospitalization, VA medical surgery or treatment, a VA exam, or VA vocational rehabilitation. With this type of service connection, the veteran can receive compensation benefits through a section 1151 claim or may pursue an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
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