Filing Claims for Secondary Conditions
Secondary disabilities may not be the first thing that comes to mind while filing your VA compensation claim, but they can be integral. A secondary disability is when a service-connected disability has caused or aggravates a new or pre-existing condition, illness, or injury. See our previous blog for a more detailed look at the definition of Secondary Service Connection.
Building Your Claim
Many conditions have a large effect on your health in many different ways. Many conditions can have unexpected symptoms. The most difficult part of proving your claim is connecting your condition to an event or injury in service. Filing for secondary disabilities may help you over this hurdle. While medical documentation and exams are necessary, they can provide a way to service connect otherwise seemingly impossible disabilities. For example, PTSD is a disability that continues to change and effect you in new ways as time goes on. PTSD is not a static disability. This disability can cause many other issues in your life. For example, PTSD can aggravate sleep apnea. While there has been no event or injury in service that directly caused the development of sleep apnea, when you are service-connected for PTSD, with the correct evidence, you may be awarded disability for your new condition of sleep apnea aggravated by PTSD. Perhaps the VA has not rated you correctly for the PTSD, but by claiming the additional secondary disability claim of sleep apnea you may increase your overall combined rating. As you go through the lengthy appeal process, this may be especially beneficial.
Proving the Connection
A Nexus Letter is usually required to grant a secondary disability just like it is for primary conditions. Though the nexus letter will not need to prove the condition is from service itself, it will need to prove the condition is caused or aggravated by the already service-connected disability. These letters are most often needed from medical professionals to show the connection between the primary and secondary diagnosis. You may still need this nexus letter even if the VA has conceded to the condition being caused/aggravated by your service-connected disability. The VA has before recognized that sleep apnea can be aggravated by PTSD, but a letter may still be required by a professional making the connection.
When to File
If you have knowledge that a disability may be from your service-connected disability, keep the following in mind for when you want to file for a secondary disability:
- You are showing symptoms of a disability
- Your doctor has mentioned you are more likely to develop a disability
- Others around you have noticed symptoms (snoring while sleeping, for example)
Before you file for a secondary disability, you do not have to be diagnosed with this condition. You will need to be able to show a formal diagnosis and medical treatment for this condition later in the claim for support. For example, if you are having symptoms of sleep apnea or your doctor orders a sleep study, you may consider filing this claim. If you feel you have a condition, seek treatment for this condition as soon as possible. Having these records and statements from your physician(s) will be a great leg up in creating the nexus letter mentioned earlier. Having this evidence prior to filing will give you the best chance of having your claim resolved as smoothly as possible.
Be sure to let your attorney or representative know if you receive any new diagnosis from your doctor. There may be benefits you are not aware that your representative can assist you with.