To make a claim through the VA to receive benefits, you have to show that your disability is in some way service-connected. This is how the VA knows that your time in the service caused your current condition.
A lot of information is needed when making a claim, let alone a service connection. From medical records to sworn declarations, the amount of information needed can feel overwhelming. However, without it, you will not be able to receive a rating from the VA, or you may receive a rating that is not adequate for your level of disability.
In this article, we will go over all of the necessary elements needed to make a service connection.
Service connection is a way of proving that a Veteran’s current disability was incurred or worsened due to their military service. This article will go over each one in more detail, but to begin, the three main criteria to make a service connection are:
Without these three things, your disability cannot be service connected.
According to the VA, a disability is anything that reduces a person’s ability to earn a living and function for themselves.
The quickest, easiest way to show current disability is by accessing your medical records and including them as evidence for your claim. The VA should assist you in gathering your medical records, and if you receive treatment at the VA, the VA already has them. You just have to tell the VA you received your treatment at the VA. Even if you do not have a current diagnosis for the symptoms you experience, medical records can help prove that you have symptoms that may qualify you for benefits.
The diagnosis and medical records must be current to be eligible for VA compensation. If your illness or injury healed, you may not be eligible for any benefits. For example, if you injured your knee in service and you no longer experience any pain in your knee, you will not receive a compensable rating for your knee.
The second requirement needed to prove service connection is an in-service event, injury, or illness that occurred while you were an active military member. This does not mean that the in-service event had to be caused by combat. It could have been anything that happened during active service that caused your current diagnosis or symptoms.
Consider that the VA does not give compensation to injuries due to a Veteran’s willful misconduct. If the Veteran knows they are doing a prohibited action and still does it, thus injuring or bringing harm upon themselves, they are not liable for compensation.
The VA should have access to your service records and service treatment records. Service treatment records sometimes show any injury or illness that you were treated for while on active duty, while service records will document events, such as a fall during training, that has occurred.
Do not worry if you do not have these records to prove your in service event. If your in service records were destroyed or lost, you can still prove an event occurred in service. Even if you were not treated for your condition in service, you can gather lay evidence. Lay evidence can include your own statements about an in service event.
Better lay evidence is statements from other Veterans or buddies in the military that can help back up your claim and describe the details of any given event that could have caused your current disability. You can also use statements from friends, family, or coworkers to describe the change in your condition before and after active duty.
For certain in-service events, injuries, or illnesses, there are exceptions to the evidence needed for this second element. One of the exceptions is presumptions.
A known common presumption is Agent Orange in Vietnam. If a Veteran shows any of the symptoms linked with Agent Orange and shows that they were in Vietnam when it was used, this is enough evidence to make a claim.
Another condition that is often difficult to prove because of lack of evidence is military sexual trauma. In these cases, your medical records do not need to show that you were assaulted. The VA looks through the medical records and service records to show a change in behavior after the assault occurred to corroborate your account.
Many of these cases go unreported for obvious reasons, and the VA considers this with your claim. In addition to your medical evidence, you can gather lay statements or buddy statements supporting events like these.
The third and final necessary element to make a service connection in your VA claim is a medical nexus. A medical nexus links your current disability with service-related events, injuries, or illnesses.
The best way to prove this and show evidence is through medical records. Try to get a statement from a VA-approved doctor and have them say that a service-related event most likely caused your injury or illness. This can prove powerful evidence when the VA is reviewing your claim. But it is not necessary for your claim to be successful. Nexus letters from outside physicians can be expensive. Try to allow the VA to assist you in obtaining this evidence before you pay for an expert opinion.
The VA has a duty to assist Veterans. Because of this, they will help to schedule a medical examination so that a medical professional can assess the origin and severity of the Veteran’s disability. From the findings in this examination, they may be able to establish a medical nexus. If the Veteran finds that the results are unfavorable and do not further their claim, they can go to another medical professional to get a second opinion or hire an attorney to challenge that opinion in through the VA appeal process.
There are certain things that this medical evidence should contain for it to be compelling evidence to the VA. For one, the examination should be done by a licensed medical professional. An expert in the appropriate field should write the report. They should note that the Veteran’s disability is “at least as likely as not” caused by their military service and provide a rationale for their conclusions.
It is best to include as much reasoning and information as possible since this will only help the claim. If there is a lack of evidence anywhere, the VA may still give the Veteran benefits but not to the level or rating they deserve.
Now that you know all you need to make a service connection, you may wonder where the best place is to start, especially if this is your first time making a claim. Put everything together you can or work with a VSO to get things started. If you get denied, a legal team can take another look.
At Berry Law, our team of attorneys is always ready to assist you. We will help you gather all of the necessary information to help you appeal a denial. We can go through all the information with you and check to make sure everything was submitted. When evidence and information are missing, the process takes longer than normal, and it already takes quite a while. Due to the overwhelming nature of the process, it is always best to have people that will help alleviate some of the burden.
Now you know the three necessary elements that have to be in the claim to make a service connection. Though it is only three elements, the amount of evidence and information within each one takes time to gather. Reach out to others to help get the necessary information to make a service connection and keep a record of anything that will help further your claim.
A service connection is crucial for getting the rating you deserve for your disabilities. With a strong service connection, the VA will more likely give you the appropriate rating for your current situation. If you find that you should have a higher rating, you can always appeal the decision and gather more information to help prove your appeal.
For more information on VA benefits or if you have any questions, visit our website.
Establishing the Service Connection | VA.org
Veterans’ Compensation for Service-Connected Disabilities | Benefits.gov
Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.