Secondary Claims and Service Connection
Category: Veterans Disability Law
Serving in the U.S. military is an important decision. Aside from the risks taken every day by servicemen and women on the battlefield, there is also the chance of sustaining long-term injuries or illnesses that are related to time in the service. Therefore, the government offers VA disability compensation to those veterans who return with any condition that developed as a result of their deployment.
Many veterans don’t realize that this program covers more than PTSD and limb amputations. In fact, it covers almost any ailment that persists after one’s time in the military, plus additional ailments that may have been caused as a result of the initial injury. Receiving the maximum compensation for these medical conditions requires knowledge of the system and help to navigate the necessary claims.
VA Secondary Conditions
A secondary condition is a disability that has occurred as a result of another disability. Secondary conditions are often overlooked by veterans on claims but can lead to an expensive and arduous life.
Secondary v. Primary Disability
It’s necessary to make the distinction between secondary and primary disabilities because the context dictates which claim needs to be filed. A primary disability is an injury, illness, or condition that develops as a result of military service. As mentioned, a secondary disability is a condition that develops later because of the primary disability. These secondary conditions can be more expensive than the primary conditions. Although it can be complex to prove that the secondary condition occurred as a result of the first, many veterans pursue a secondary claim for additional compensation.
Common Secondary Conditions
The following are some examples of reasons one might file a secondary claim:
- The development of arthritis caused by a knee injury received on active duty
- The development of heart disease from high blood pressure was attributed to time in the service
- Depression or anxiety developing from wartime PTSD
Having a secondary condition alone does not make one viable for a claim; it must be connected to the primary condition.
VA Secondary Service Connection
When it comes to filing a claim for a disability, an important part of the process is to prove that the injury, illness, or condition is in some way related to serving in the military; this relationship is called service connection. Similarly, secondary service connection is proving that a secondary disability is somehow caused or aggravated by the first service-connected disability.
Whether or not a veteran is eligible for VA disability compensation depends on a few things. First, the applicant must be a veteran or a qualified dependent of a veteran. Qualified dependents are individuals that are under the age of 19 or under 24 and permanently/totally disabled. For veterans to be eligible they:
- Must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training
- Have a disability rating for their service-connected condition
A disability rating is a judgment, in the form of a percentage, given by a doctor on the severity of one’s injury. Typically, the size of a settlement is calculated on a combination of income, injured body parts, and the disability rating.
At least one of the following must also be true of the veteran:
- Got injured or sick while in the military and can link this condition to the lasting disability
- Had a preexisting injury that was made worse by the time spent in the military
- Has a disability that didn’t appear until after service but is related to active duty
To be eligible for a secondary claim the veteran must develop an injury or illness as a direct result of a condition linked to the time of service.
Building a Case
Before submitting a claim it’s helpful to gather any supporting documents that might serve as evidence to prove the relationship between the condition and the time of service. Fully developed claims or claims that are filled out with all the additional information available to be sent along, move much more quickly through the system. This includes VA medical records, private medical records, and supporting statements from those in the veteran’s life about how the disability has affected him/her. Legal guidance makes building a stable and complete case much easier, increasing the overall chance of receiving compensation.
Filing a Secondary Claim
A secondary service-connected claim is a request for compensation specifically to pay for the secondary condition. These claims are important because they help to finance long-term problems that may pester veterans for the remainder of their lives. While certain claims might be lump sums for surgery, or to receive treatment for an injury, secondary terms are typically an income for maintenance.
The process of filing a secondary service-connected claim is similar to filing an initial claim. The veteran should consider gathering as much evidence and documentation as possible about the secondary condition. This includes statements from VA, private care providers, friends, family members, and coworkers. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as of September 2020, it takes around 131.5 days on average to complete a decision on a disability-related claim. Including as much information as possible helps reduce delays on the VA’s end.
It’s also important to note that at some point a diagnosis for the secondary disability will be required. While it’s not required at the time of the claim, it must be supplied eventually. One is also not allowed to submit a pre-emptive claim, assuming that a problem will occur in the future. The individual must be actively experiencing the symptoms and be able to prove it if they wish to receive compensation for their secondary claim.
Secondary Claims v. Other Claims
While the filing process may be similar for other types, secondary claims are not to be confused with different variations of claims. A secondary claim is only to be made if a new condition or injury develops and is linked to the old one. Here are some similar claims that a veteran might accidentally file for, making it more difficult to receive adequate compensation:
- Increased claims – These occur when a primary condition worsens as time passes. There is no new secondary condition, the first service-connected injury or illness simply becomes more of a problem.
- VA claims for special needs associated with service-connected disability – These claims apply to compensation for extra services that become a necessity due to a disability, such as means of transportation when physically disabled.
- 1511 claims – This type of claim pertains to the development of a new condition, but one that arises due to treatment from a VA hospital or healthcare facility.
Filing the correct claim increases the likelihood of receiving compensation.
Tuley Law Office
Tuley Law Office has seasoned attorneys who use a strategic yet aggressive approach to achieving victory for our clients. If you’re looking for lawyers who have experience working with veterans with disabilities, don’t hesitate to contact us as soon as possible. The faster you reach out, the more unnecessary delays we can prevent as a team.
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