VA Disability: List of Common Secondary Conditions

What Is a Secondary Condition, According to the VA?

If a Veteran is suffering from a physical or psychological disability, this condition can have a massive negative impact on their life. Disabilities can interfere with a Veteran’s ability to work, maintain a healthy social life and relationships, and go through life normally. Because disabilities, both physical and mental, have such a significant effect, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) seeks to provide disabled veterans with tax-free benefits. These benefits can make a massive difference, helping a disabled Veterans remain financially stable and allowing them to take care of their loved ones and themselves.

The VA grants disability benefits to Veterans suffering from service-related disabilities – physical and mental problems that are directly linked to an event or injury that happened during a Veteran’s time in the military. However, the VA also acknowledges that a Veteran’s disability can give way to other issues, which may not be directly service-related. The VA refers to these problems as secondary conditions. 

A secondary condition, according to the VA, is any physical or psychological problem that is worsened by a service-related disability. A secondary condition could have been something a veteran suffered from before they entered the military that was worsened by a service-related injury. It could also be a condition that developed as a result of a service-related injury – in some circumstances, a Veteran’s disability makes them more susceptible to other problems that stem directly from their service-related injury or experience.

 

Why Secondary Conditions Matter

A secondary condition can influence the disability rating that a Veteran receives from the VA. If a Veteran is suffering from mental or physical problems stemming from a service-related disability, these problems can lead to an increase in the disability rating that the Veteran receives from the VA. Although secondary conditions may not directly result from service-related events or injuries, if the VA can establish a connection between these problems and a service-related disability, secondary conditions can make a Veteran eligible to receive more benefits each month.

If you are suffering from a secondary condition in addition to your service-related disability, your disability rating from the VA could likely be higher than it currently is. If the VA has only assessed your initial disability and not factored in any secondary conditions, you may have received a lower rating than your condition warrants. Because secondary conditions can make life much more difficult for Veterans and were caused by military service, the VA recognizes secondary conditions as grounds for raising a disabled Veteran’s disability rating.

In addition, secondary conditions matter in VA disability claims because they are often overlooked. Secondary conditions are often harder for the VA to assess, diagnose, and measure than disabilities that are directly connected to a Veteran’s military service. If you suffer from a secondary condition and think that the VA may be giving you less compensation than you deserve, request a review of the VA’s decision regarding your claim.

 

Common Secondary Conditions 

Below are some of the most common secondary conditions recognized by the VA. If you suffer from any of these conditions, make sure you are getting the support you deserve from the VA.

Psychological Problems

  • Depression: A mental health problem that is common among Veterans is depression. This is often viewed as a secondary condition because it may result from a disability that has a clearer connection to a veteran’s military service. For example, depression could be caused by PTSD or anxiety. If a veteran has a physical disability, they may struggle with depression due to the dramatic changes that their condition has created.
  • Anxiety is another common secondary condition that many Veterans struggle with. Intense combat experiences and the overall stress of military service can leave veterans with residual anxiety years after leaving the military. It can be difficult for the VA to establish a direct connection between a Veteran’s anxiety and their military service in some cases, but the condition can still often be recognized as secondary to another disability.
  • Adjustment Disorder: For many veterans, reentry into civilian life is not a smooth transition. The changes that come from the military transition can be extremely hard for veterans, especially disabled veterans, to get used to. Trouble adjusting after leaving the military is often characterized by a set of symptoms referred to as adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder often manifests as anxiety, depression, frustration, numbness, and apathy during the transition from the military into civilian life.
  • Many veterans take medications to deal with service-related psychological disabilities. Often, the side effects of these medications can negatively impact a veteran’s life. Although the pros typically outweigh the cons when it comes to a veteran’s psychiatric meds, these side effects can still be extremely troubling and make it difficult for a veteran to function in work and everyday life. The VA may recognize side effects from psychiatric medications as a secondary condition that can qualify a veteran for a higher disability rating.

Physical Problems

  • Headaches: Severe headaches, even migraines, can be a common side effect of many physical and psychological disabilities for veterans. A veteran’s military service may not directly cause these headaches, but they are often a secondary condition brought on by a service-related disability. Severe headaches can stem from psychological issues like PTSD or physical problems like back injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and more.
  • Diseases: Many veterans develop degenerative diseases as a result of exposure to toxic substances during their time in the military. The toxic herbicide Agent Orange, used in massive quantities in the Vietnam War, has been directly linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease, multiple forms of cancer, and other major health issues. For many veterans, exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals is presumed by the VA based on when and where they served in the military. If you file a disability claim based on exposure to Agent Orange or other toxic substances, any diseases that you suffer from can be ruled to be secondary conditions.
  • Foot problems due to back injuries: If a veteran is suffering from a service-related back injury, there is significant potential for this disability to end up causing foot problems in the form of overcompensation. For many veterans, service-related back injuries can end up causing issues with posture and mobility, which can qualify a veteran to have their rating raised by the VA.
  • Erectile Dysfunction (ED): ED is a very common side effect to psychotropic medications (medications used to treat mental health problems). Medications for these conditions tend to decrease sex drive which, in turn, leads to ED. It is also prevalent among Veterans who take opioids or pain medications for lower back pain.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): GERD is another common condition caused by medication. Veterans who are taking pain medication for back conditions, knee conditions, or joint pain may develop GERD as a result. If the Veteran’s GERD was caused by a medication they were taking for another service connected condition, they can get a secondary service connection for GERD.

What if the VA Denies My Claim or Won’t Change My Rating?

If you are suffering from a secondary condition in addition to a service-related disability, you deserve to have your disability rating raised by the VA. However, the VA does not always make a decision that accurately reflects a Veteran’s condition. If the VA has ruled inaccurately regarding your disability claim, you can dispute their decision with a decision review or an appeal.

In a decision review, the VA may request that you provide additional medical evidence or other information to verify that you are suffering from a diagnosable secondary condition. Sometimes, the VA will also allow you to request for your claim to be passed on to a senior VA official for reevaluation. A decision review can have a positive outcome for your claim, but sometimes it will still not be enough to get you the rating you deserve. If you still don’t have the benefits you need, you should enlist the support of a professional.

You have the right to appeal any VA decision with the help of an attorney. In a VA appeal, an attorney will present your case to the VA on your behalf. The process can end with the VA changing their decision and granting you a higher disability rating based on your secondary condition. If you need your rating raised by the VA, don’t settle for less than you deserve! One of Berry Law’s skilled attorneys can help you get a better outcome from the VA by supporting you in the appeals process. Call today for a free case evaluation.

 

Sources:

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/665643

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1996-00417-008

https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/74/2/163.short