Oftentimes mental and physical conditions can be the cause other mental and physical conditions. Under VA disability rules a service-connected illness or injury which is caused by or aggravated by another illness or injury can qualify for a higher level of disability benefits. If you are a disabled veteran you can file a secondary claim for a new disability that’s linked to a service-connected disability you already have. This is known as secondary service connection.  

Let’s look at a common example of a secondary connection. Diabetes is a serious medical condition often occurring among veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange. A veteran who is eligible for disability benefits due to diabetes may also be eligible for compensation for a number of conditions that are judged as secondary to Type 2 diabetes such as diabetic neuropathy, coronary artery disease, hypertension or other conditions. These conditions are all eligible for benefits starting when the disease first occurs.

Or let’s say you suffered a knee injury while on active duty. These types of injuries are among the most common suffered by military personnel. Then we fast forward several years and you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. While arthritis is genetic, your knee injury may have aggravated your arthritic condition. Your arthritis is a secondary connection.

Orthopedic issues can cause many kinds of secondary medical issues. A leg or ankle injury may cause you to walk in such a way that you put stress on other parts of your body like a hip joint. If a service-connected condition like this stresses your body which leads to another debilitating condition, then that other impairment could be considered a secondary condition.

Proving secondary service-connected disabilities can be tricky and unfortunately, the VA often denies these claims. To win your case for secondary benefits first you must prove that your initial disability was service-connected, that is, directly caused by your military service. To establish this proof you will want to submit evidence of your diagnosis, medical tests, treatments, and any other relevant evidence. Then you will need to provide evidence of nexus—that is, a connection—between your primary and secondary disabilities. Here it is critical that you have testimony or reports from medical experts to back up your claim.

Because filing for VA disability can be complicated and sometimes frustrating, you may want to have an experienced VA disability attorney on your side. There’s no easy formula for addressing veterans’ claims, especially for secondary disabilities. At Cuddigan Law, we examine each case individually, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied. Call us for a free evaluation of your situation.

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