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VA Disability: List of Common Secondary Conditions

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.

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, a veteran can seek additional disabilitiy benefits on the theory of secondary service connection. 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 additional grant for service connection, and therefore, could also potentially increase a Veteran’s overall disability rating. 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. 

Psychiatric Problems (depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc.)

    • If your disability/ies causes you worry, anxiety, stress, or depression based on the nature of the disability or the amount of pain that you are in, you may be entitled to service connection for your psychiatric condition secondary to your primary disability. Examples of disabilities that may result in or aggravate a psychiatric condition can include musculoskeletal conditions that result in chronic pain, tinnitus, heart disabilities, diabetes, etc.  
    • Medications: 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. 
    • 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. It can also be secondary to a psychiatric disability, or using obesity as an intermediate step.  
    • 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. GERD can also be caused by mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression.  
    • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea may be caused by PTSD, depression, or trauma related disorders. If your service connected disabilities prevent you from working out or if weight-gain is a side effect for a medication you are taking, obesity can also be used as an intermediate step between a service connected disability and sleep apnea.  

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

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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