In order to receive compensation from the VA, the veteran’s disability must be service-connected. Service-connected means the disability either developed or was aggravated during active duty. Establishing service connection is an important step on the road to receiving disability benefits and compensation. There are five ways to establish service connection:
- Direct Service Connection
- Service Connection through Aggravation
- Presumptive Service Connection
- Secondary Service Connection
- Service Connection for Injuries Caused by VA Health Care
Direct Service Connection
Direct service connection is generally the most common way to prove service connection. Direct Service connection is established by proving through military or service medical records that the veteran currently suffers from a disability that began during active service. Direct service connection can be established by using evidence to show that the veteran suffers from a chronic condition or that the evidence shows that the veteran had symptoms during service which developed into the current disability. Three things are needed to provide a strong case for direct service connection:
- The veteran has a current disability at the time of the filing of the claim,
- the veteran links the disability to an incident in service that could have caused the disability, and
- there is a connection (nexus) between the current disability and the incident in service.
Service Connection through Aggravation
Service connection through aggravation arises when a disability that the veteran had before service is aggravated, or made worse, during service. Upon entrance into the military, the veteran undergoes an entrance examination. Unless otherwise noted in the examination, the veteran is assumed to be in good health and sound condition for active duty which is called a presumption of soundness. The VA must prove that the condition began prior to the start of service. Evidence of the condition getting worse in service is best supported by a medical opinion from a doctor to show that the condition became worse due to service and not due to the natural progression of the disease.
Presumptive Service Connection
The VA lists certain diseases as assumed to be service connected if the disease appeared within a certain period of time after service known as the presumptive period. Presumptive periods can range from one year to any time after service depending on the disease or service experience. A veteran can claim service connection for these listed diseases as long as there is evidence that the disease appeared during the presumptive period. Special types of presumptive service connection claims include herbicide exposure through Agent Orange, atomic veterans exposed to ionizing radiation, and Persian Gulf War Veterans.
Secondary Service Connection
For secondary service connection, any disability that is caused by an already service-connected disability can itself become service connected. The secondary disability does not have to appear until years after the original service connected disability as long as the veteran has a statement from a doctor which supports the notion that an already service-connected disability caused a secondary disability. This type of service connection can also be used if a service-connected disability makes a non-service-connected disability worse. Secondary service connection is also used for paired organs and extremities where one organ is service connected and the other is not service connected, the non-service-connected disability will be treated as if it were service connected.
Service Connection Based on VA Medical Care
The last way to establish service connection is through an injury or aggravation of an injury caused by the VA whether it is through VA hospitalization, VA medical or surgical treatment, VA examinations or VA vocational rehabilitation. Section 1151 claims require an increase in a prior disability, a new disability, or a mental condition caused by VA medical treatment. Eligible survivors of the veteran can received certain VA benefits if the veteran died due to VA negligence. The veteran or survivors of the veteran may also be able to file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.