The VA defines a veteran as a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and includes full-time service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. Active service also includes merchant marines during WWII, and cadets at a military academy. Many veterans are unaware of service connected disability benefits, and that they can get service connection for a disability that was present prior to their service, but aggravated while in service. In layman’s terms, a service connected disability is a physical or mental injury or illness a veteran incurred or aggravated during active military service. One common mental illness is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a medical condition that can develop after experiencing a terrifying and traumatic event. Many Vietnam War veterans suffer from this condition, as well as ill effects from exposure to Agent Orange during their service. It is interesting to note that the name Agent Orange came from the orange striped barrels the toxic herbicide was shipped in. Veterans exposed to this have increased rates of cancer, digestive problems, leukemia, nerve and respiratory disorders. These are just two (Agent Orange exposure and PTSD) of the many service connected disabilities for which a veteran can be compensated for.
A service connected disability is not necessarily related to combat, which is an assumption many veterans make. There is also special combat rule that states a veteran in possession of particular awards and decorations, such as the Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, or Silver Star, can rely on buddy and lay statements, and can be offered as evidence that a disability was incurred in combat, even though there is no evidence in service records. These statements must be consistent with the circumstances of the veteran’s service, and must deal with what happened during combat. This rule exists because it is impossible to keep accurate records in combat situations.
To receive service connected disability benefits, a veteran must prove that he or she actually is a veteran, and was discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable. A dishonorable discharge will always disqualify a veteran from receiving VA benefits, except in rare occasions. He or she should always submit a DD 214, which is a copy of their discharge document. The DD 214 provides information on the veteran’s dates of service.