We are lucky to live in a time with modern medications to treat, control, and even cure diseases or injuries. But risks come with pharmaceuticals in the form of side effects. Side effects vary from medication to medication and person to person.medication side effects They can be mild like a headache or extreme like a stroke. Some side effects show up immediately and others may not manifest themselves for months or even years.

Medication Side Effects and VA Disability

If you are a veteran who is experiencing adverse symptoms caused by medications taken to address a service-connected injury or illness, you may be eligible for additional VA disability compensation for a secondary service-connected condition. All too often, veterans applying for disability benefits overlook secondary disabilities and miss out on much-needed benefits they are entitled to.

What is a Secondary Service-Connection?

A secondary service-connected condition is when an established medical condition that was either caused or aggravated by an incident or event during a person’s time in the military leads to a new and separate condition.

To be granted secondary-service connected benefits, you must clearly establish a link between your primary service-connected condition and your secondary condition to be granted additional disability benefits. This link is known as the nexus. Your private doctor or VA doctor will need to provide the VA with a nexus letter which is a medical opinion linking your secondary condition to your already service-connected disability. Any medical records that support a connection between those conditions are also worth submitting to the VA. The nexus between your primary condition and secondary condition must be clearly established in order to be granted service-connection on a secondary basis. 

Service-connected disabilities number in the thousands and many of them are treated with both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Here are some of the more common conditions and medications that lead to secondary VA claims for adverse medication side effects:


Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat and cure many service-connected illnesses, but they can lead to side effects like:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney damage
  • Peripheral neuropathy

Anxiety, depression, and related mental issues

Anti-depressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression. Their side effects can include:  

  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Seizures
  • Weight gain or loss

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

If you developed high blood pressure during your time in service, you may have been prescribed blood pressure medication which can cause side effects such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, such as GERD, IBS, and acid reflux
  • Headache
  • Stroke


PTSD is fairly common among military personnel. During combat, veterans may be sent on missions that expose them to extreme, life-threatening events. When veterans experience a traumatic event during their military service, they may exhibit some common stress reactions which can include—among many other reactions—shock, terror, anger, nightmares, inability to sleep, and social withdrawal. The many different medications prescribed to treat PTSD can cause side effects that can be just as incapacitating as PTSD itself. Some of the secondary conditions that can be caused by these meds include:

  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain or loss

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of the primary conditions that can lead to medication side effects, there are many, many more.

How Does the VA Rate Secondary Disabilities?

The VA rates secondary disabilities the same way it rates primary disabilities using the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). The rating for your secondary disability will be determined by the VA based on the medical evidence you provide and, in some cases, by the results of a Compensation and Pension Exam and then combined with the rating for your primary disability using VA math.

You May be Eligible for Additional VA Compensation

If you are suffering from side effects from medications you are currently taking or have taken in the past to treat a primary service-connected disability, you may be eligible for a higher rating and additional VA disability compensation. To schedule a free, no-strings-attached evaluation of your case call our VA disability attorneys at (402) 933-5405 or send us an email.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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