Steps to Establish a Connection between Your Military Service and Your Disability

Filing a claim with the Veterans Affairs (VA) for disability compensation for an illness or disability that resulted from your military service? In an ideal world, Houston area Veterans would be able to receive benefits from the VA simply and painlessly; unfortunately, VA disability benefits are quite complicated, the process can take a fair amount of time, and there is a lot of preparation involved.

Five Ways to Establish a Service Connection for Disability, Disease, or Illness

The VA has fairly stringent regulations regarding the establishment of a service connection for disabilities, diseases, and illnesses. To be clear, however, it’s important to note that “service connection” means that the disability was either developed or aggravated during active duty. In general, there are five ways that you can establish a service connection for your VA disability benefits claim. These methods include:

Direct Service Connection — A direct service connection occurs when there is clear evidence that the incident occurred while the veteran was in service. For instance, a Veteran is paralyzed from a back-breaking fall that occurred while he/she was in military parachute training. The Veteran’s disability is clearly connected to his/her military service. Sometimes, if your symptoms manifested before you were discharged, you may not need a medical opinion to establish a link between your service and your disability.

Presumed Service Connection — There are some disabilities, illnesses, and diseases that are “presumed” to be service connected, and the VA has compiled a long list of conditions that are presumed to be service connected during a certain date range. For instance, Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and who now have Parkinson’s Disease, are presumed to have a service connection. Some other presumptive conditions include chronic illnesses, tropical illnesses, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, and Hansen’s disease, among others. Certain forms of cancer are also presumed to be service-connected in cases where the Veteran was subjected to radiation.

Pre-Existing Injury Aggravated by Military Service — For this service connection, the Veteran had a pre-existing injury that was made worse (aggravated) due to an event that occurred during his/her military service. The condition must have been reported in the Veteran’s entrance medical exam records, and there needs to be evidence that the condition worsened during his/her service connection.

Secondary Service Connection — When one service-connected disability is the cause of another disability, you may have a secondary service connection. The secondary disability doesn’t have to be service-connected, but you do need to show that it wouldn’t have occurred without the service-connected disability. For example, the famous case regards a WWII Veteran who had tuberculosis and was treated with a medicine known for causing hearing loss. The hearing loss occurred because of the service-connected tuberculosis, and so the hearing loss may be considered as a secondary service connection.

Service Connection due to Injury Caused by Treatment in the VA Health Care System — If your disability arose out of VA hospitalization, treatment, rehab, or therapy, then that disability is considered to be service connected.

Establishing a Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest after your service, and this condition isn’t so black-and-white when it comes to a singular event that occurred during service. For these reasons, the VA has special rules for disability benefit claims involving PTSD. To establish a service connection for PTSD, you’ll need to:

Provide a statement regarding the traumatic event(s) that occurred during service

Have a diagnosis of PTSD

Get an opinion from a VA psychologist or psychiatrist that the stressor (traumatic event) was sufficient to cause PTSD