To win VA service connected benefits, you must first understand the elements of the claim that you must prove. There are five elements to a service connected compensation claim that a veteran must prove: incident in service, current diagnosis, nexus, rating and effective date.
The first element of a service connected compensation claim is to show that there was an incident in service that relates to a current disability. You have to show that something happened in service resulting in the veteran’s current disability. It is important to note that the in service event has to happen coincident with service but does not have to happen as a result of doing something pertaining to the veteran’s job in service. As the Federal Circuit court has stated for the purposes of service connected compensation claims a veteran’s day never ends. It does not matter if the veteran was on base or off base when the incident happened.
For example, let’s compare two veterans with a knee disability. The first one hurt his knee when he jumped out of a helicopter on a combat mission. He blew out his knee when he landed. The second veteran was stationed in Germany where he took leave one weekend to ski in the Alps. While skiing he blew his knee out. For the purposes of service connected compensation, both of these incidents happened during service. As a consequence, both incidents would qualify as an injury in service for service connected compensation purposes.
Let’s go over some other examples of an in-service incident for service connected compensation. If a veteran is diagnosed with a disease in service this would count. Even if a veteran was not diagnosed with a disease but he was treated for symptoms if these symptoms were later diagnosed as a disability then they would suffice for an in-service incident. Certain types of training are known to lead to specific problems, even when these problems do not show up in service. For example, airborne soldiers are likely to develop orthopedic problems after service from the numerous hard landings. Another type of incident that is common is exposure to chemicals. The most well known example of this is Agent Orange. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange have developed numerous diseases years—decades even—after service.
As far as evidence to provide the VA of an in-service incident for service connected compensation, the veteran typically needs to submit evidence that supports his story of what happened in service. There are various different things a veteran can submit. If a veteran is still in touch with other soldiers that he served with then they can write statements, commonly called buddy statements, to support the veteran’s claim. The veteran can also use his own service medical records or service records showing that something did happen in service. Other examples of evidence would be newspaper articles, after action reports or anything else that would support the veteran’s story of what took place in service.
Once you have established an incident in service the next element in your service connected compensation claim is to show that you have a current disability. This element is relatively straight forward. The key is that you suffer from a diagnosed disability. If you have back pain but no back disability then you do not have a current disability. Let’s go back to the knee examples in the in-service incident section. If a veteran blew his knee out in service but then afterward it completely healed the veteran would not be entitled to service connected compensation because even though the veteran had a diagnosed disability in service there is no current disability or residuals of the knee problem.
Another area where I see a problem with a current disability in service connected compensation cases arise is in exposure cases. I review a lot of claims where veterans were exposed to Agent Orange or Asbestos. I see cases where the veteran is claiming exposure to Asbestos or Agent Orange but not alleging a current disability. Even if a veteran was exposed to a chemical if there was no resulting disability then the veteran is not entitled to service connected compensation. Remember you must suffer from a current disability to be entitled to service connected compensation from the VA. Once you have a current disability and an in-service incident then you have to show an nexus—or a link— between the two.