Recent studies have shown that nearly a third of military Veterans are classified as obese. While the underlying reasons for the high rates of unhealthy weight among Veterans might be diverse and complicated, a few factors have stood out. For instance, the rate of obesity was particularly high among those with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though the VA will not grant service connection for obesity, there may be ways for affected Veterans to obtain service connection for conditions associated with obesity.
Obesity can serve as an intermediate step to link a condition to service. In other words, if a service-connected condition causes obesity, any condition subsequently caused or aggravated by the excess weight would be service-connected. The subsequent condition would be filed as secondary to the primary condition (the one causing obesity). The Veteran would then need to clarify the basis for the secondary service connection in a statement, indicating how primary condition caused their obesity.
For example, say a Veteran is service connected for post-traumatic stress disorder and gains a lot of weight, then develops diabetes. There are a number of ways for post-traumatic stress disorder to cause weight gain, including the medication taken for treatment. If post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms make it difficulty to find the motivation to exercise or cause stress-eating, then it might be something the Veteran could submit a statement about.
However, if a medication causes the weight gain, the Veteran would probably not be considered “competent” under the regulation to comment on the connection. She would instead need to get her doctor to provide a note linking her weight gain to the medication. Alternatively, she could submit a statement that she noticed gaining a lot of weight since starting the medication and also a list of common side effects (assuming weight gain is one of those side effects).
Obesity-related claims are rarely filed, probably because obesity is not service-connectable. Most Veterans do not realize how many conditions can cause or worsen obesity. For instance, musculoskeletal conditions like knee or back problems can cause pain with exercise, making it difficult to keep weight off. Similarly, respiratory conditions like asthma can decrease the ability to exercise. In turn, obesity has been linked to a myriad of diseases and conditions ranging from sleep apnea to eczema.
Even if a Veteran’s condition began in service or can be linked directly to a service-connected condition, if it can also be linked through obesity you should make the secondary argument. There can be multiple avenues for service connection. For instance, going back to the post-traumatic stress disorder example, there have been many studies showing that it can be causally linked to sleep apnea. In other words, sleep apnea appears to be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. However, sleep apnea can also be caused by obesity, which in turn can be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. By making both arguments, the Veteran would increase their chance of being granted service connection for sleep apnea.
Though obesity can be a difficult subject for many people to talk about, it can provide an important link between service-connected conditions and those caused by weight gain. Making the argument for secondary service connection is one of the many ways a Veteran can help ensure the best possible outcome when applying for VA benefits.
Obesity is a common condition for Veterans. If your obesity is related to a service-connected condition and causing other disabilities, you are entitled to disability compensation. If you applied for disability benefits related to obesity and were denied, Berry Law can help.
Berry Law helps Veterans appeal unfavorable VA decisions to get the full disability compensation they deserve. With attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, Berry Law is well equipped to get you the disability compensation you deserve. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation.
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