What is the Presumption of Soundness?

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  • The VA must assume health at service start unless proven otherwise.
  • Clear evidence is required to dispute a veteran’s soundness at entry.
  • Veterans should provide additional evidence if it supports their case, especially regarding aggravation.

The Presumption of Soundness is a critical concept for veterans applying for benefits.

It revolves around the idea that the Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot reject a claim by simply assuming a veteran’s disability existed before their service.

This principle is outlined in 38 U.S.C 1111, highlighting that a veteran is considered to have been in sound health upon entering service, barring any noted issues or unless undeniable evidence proves otherwise.

Key Points

  • The VA must assume veterans were healthy when they joined, except for noted conditions.
  • The VA needs clear proof to argue a condition existed before joining and wasn’t worsened by service.
  • Veterans don’t need to provide evidence the condition started during service unless helping their case.

When Does This Apply?

Whenever a veteran’s entrance exam doesn’t mention a pre-existing condition, the law assumes they were healthy at the start of their service.

The Presumption of Soundness then requires any contrary evidence to be clear and unmistakable.

If entrance exams are missing or incomplete, this presumption still stands.

The Importance of Evidence

For the VA to argue a condition existed before service, it must present undeniable evidence.

This includes:

  • A thorough review of the veteran’s history.
  • Consideration of medical opinions and principles.
  • Specific diseases with known incubation periods, like tropical diseases, have set rules. For instance, if symptoms appear sooner than the incubation period after service begins, it’s assumed the disease was pre-existing.

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Proving Aggravation

Even if the VA proves a disability existed before service, they must also show it wasn’t worsened by service.

This requires demonstrating:

  • No increase in disability due to service.
  • Any increase is from the disease’s natural progression.

Veterans aren’t required to prove their condition worsened during service, but submitting evidence can help.

An independent medical opinion indicating military stress worsened the condition can be particularly persuasive.

The McKinney v. McDonald Decision

A relatively recent ruling, McKinney v. McDonald, clarified that a “pre-existing condition” refers to a disability that would qualify for VA benefits.

If a defect noted at entrance doesn’t qualify for benefits, the veteran retains the presumption of soundness.

Beyond the Presumption

Remember, proving the Presumption of Soundness is just one part of your disability claim.

After overcoming this hurdle, veterans must demonstrate:

  • They currently have a disability.
  • There’s a direct connection between their service and the current condition.

Please remember that the Presumption of Soundness is only part of the equation in your claim for disability.

After the VA has failed to rebut the presumption, the veteran must still prove the other elements of service connection.

In other words, the veteran must still show that he or she has a current disability, and that there is a nexus between his current condition and the in service injury or disease.

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