Receiving service connection for a disability can often be a long and difficult process. There are many different hurdles that must be cleared to prove that your current disability is related to your time in service. But what happens if you were injured in service, then that injury caused other damage long after you left? What happens if your inability to walk correctly due to a knee injury in service caused a disability in your other knee? Are you still going to receive disability compensation for your subsequent knee injury even though it was post-service? If you can prove secondary service connection, you will indeed be entitled to receive additional compensation for the later injury. Secondary service connection occurs when a service-connected injury or condition causes a new disability or aggravates a non-service-connected condition. The example below helps provide an insight into when a Veteran can apply for disability compensation for secondary service connection.
To illustrate how the process works, let’s use an example. Let’s say you completed two tours in Iraq as an 11B MOS. You then suffered an injury in the line of duty when several IEDs exploded next to your convoy. At the end of your contract, you left the with an honorable discharge, but your time in service led to a lower back injury and knees that are always painful. You also witnessed several people killed by an IED and experience anxiety whenever you drive by piles of trash.
After service, you realize your conditions are disabling and you apply for disability benefits. The conditions you apply for disability compensation for are:
Then you have to wait while the VA takes their time making a decision, which, on average, takes 433 days. Finally, the anticipated day arrives, and the VA’s decision is:
This adds up to a 40% disability rating using VA math, but your conditions have such an impact on your ability to work that you feel that this is under representative of the extent of your injuries. The next step in the process is to appeal your rating decision if you are unhappy with the outcome, which you should be based on the example given. This is the first step in the process where hiring an attorney can help. For the sake of this example, let’s say you hire Berry Law.
First, we appeal the denial for sleep apnea and send the VA scientific journal articles from Yale and Johns Hopkins and include information from the CDC as part of the appeal. It turns out the medical community has discovered that sleep apnea and PTSD have a significant co-morbidity, which cannot be refuted. The claim of sleep apnea is filed as sleep apnea, secondary to PTSD. There are studies that show out of 4,000,000 Veterans with or without PTSD, sleep apnea was found to co-exist 5 times more likely in the group that has PTSD vs. the group without PTSD. Sleep apnea is now a secondary claim. When the sleep apnea claim is granted, it is treated like the claim is equal in all respects to your primary claims.
Another example could be high blood pressure. Let’s say you start to feel unwell. You go to the doctor and your blood pressure comes back at 165/100. Your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure and puts you on medication. Once you let our team know about your new condition, we then file a new claim for high blood pressure secondary to PTSD. We submit to the VA articles from peer reviewed medical journals that explain the connection between having PTSD and high blood pressure to augment our claim and increase the chances that the disability is granted.
There are situations in which a claim for secondary service connection will not be granted. Using the example above, let’s say you also have severe neck pain from your shoulder injury. Should you file a claim for a neck condition secondary to your shoulder injury? If you do, you will not be granted service connection. In order to file your neck condition secondary to your shoulder injury, the shoulder condition must first be service-connected. You cannot win on a secondary condition if the primary condition is not service-connected.
Getting secondary service connection for disabilities that occurred in service can sometimes be difficult. However, our team of dedicated VA appeals attorneys are committed to helping Veterans fight for the disability compensation they are entitled to, and we have successfully assisted thousands of Veterans applying for secondary service connection. If you or somebody you know has been denied by the VA, received a poor rating decision, or would like to appeal a decision, please contact the experienced VA benefits attorneys at Berry Law today.
Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.