There are many conditions that veterans will try to claim for VA disability purposes that the VA does not actually consider a medical condition. For example, veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange will try and claim Agent Orange as a medical condition. As we all know, Agent Orange itself cannot be claimed as a medical condition. The medical condition due to the veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange can be claimed. This also applies to obesity. For purposes of VA benefits, obesity itself is not a disease.
What the VA Says about service-connected disabilities
For VA benefits purposes, a disability is defined as a disease or injury that results in a veteran’s loss of earning capacity. Once the VA grants service connection for a disability, they will assign a disability rating based on the symptoms and the severity of the veteran’s service-connected condition. In order for a veteran’s condition to be considered a disability, the VA must determine that the condition, in this case, obesity, is a chronic qualifying disability for VA compensation purposes.
Since obesity is not a disease defined by the VA, service connection cannot be granted either on a direct or secondary basis; however, the VA has ruled that obesity can qualify as an “intermediate step” or a bridge between a service-connected condition and another disease that warrants service connection. An example of this could be a veteran who has back issues or even migraine headaches that are incapacitating that could hinder the veteran’s ability to exercise, which over time can lead to obesity.
To obtain service connection for a disability, a veteran must show that there was an event in service that caused their current condition. To the VA, an event is a distinct instance that caused the condition that the veteran is claiming for service connection. Because the VA states that obesity is a condition that happens over time, and results from multiple factors like environmental, physical and dietary habits, obesity cannot be linked to a distinct instance or event.
Obesity as a bridge for service-connection
We will use the example of the veteran who has a service-connected back condition. Because of the veteran’s service-connected back condition, he is unable to do any strenuous physical activity and is not able to exercise because of his back condition. The veteran ends up being not as active as he once was because of his pain. This inactivity has now resulted in weight gain which in turn resulted in hypertension.
The veteran’s obesity was the result of his service-connected back condition which then led to obesity over time and then caused the veteran to develop hypertension. In this example, obesity can be used as the bridge to try and obtain service connection for hypertension.
Obesity can lead to other issues such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Physical and orthopedic conditions are not the only type of disabilities that can cause obesity. Another example comes from service-connected mental health conditions. For some veterans who are taking medication to help treat their mental health condition, weight gain can sometimes be a side effect of their prescribed medication. Weight gain can also be a symptom of the veteran’s mental health condition.
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