All too often, veterans applying for disability benefits overlook secondary disabilities and miss out on much-needed benefits they are entitled to. You’re eligible for secondary disability benefits if your illness or injury has caused another different or separate condition. For example, a secondary disability might be depression caused by the loss of a leg in combat. Or suppose a Vietnam veteran is eligible for VA disability benefits because they have diabetes from Agent Orange exposure. Any medical condition that is caused by diabetes is now considered a secondary service-connected impairment.

There are two separate categories of secondary disabilities--secondary service connection and secondary service connection by aggravation.

Secondary service connection means that a service-connected illness or injury directly caused another illness or injury. For example, diabetes is all-too common among vets. A veteran may 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 and a list of other conditions. These conditions are all eligible for benefits starting when the disease first occurs.

To win benefits for a secondary disease or injury, there must be evidence that a service-connected disability directly caused a secondary illness or injury. You’ll need medical evidence and a doctor’s opinion that prove this. 

Secondary service aggravation is a little different. It is not a condition that is directly caused by a service-connected illness or injury, but was aggravated by it and has now become a medical problem on its own.  Let me give you an example. 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.

Proving secondary service-connected disabilities can be tricky and unfortunately, the VA often denies secondary service-connected disabilities. 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—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 disability can be complicated and sometimes frustrating, it’s important to hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help with your claim. 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