This page explains how secondary service-connected disabilities work. The information below is organized by disability and then explains what disabilities may be connected to it. If you have questions after reading the information below, you can always call us for a free VA disability claim evaluation.
About Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
When applying for VA disability benefits, many veterans forget to include their secondary service-connected disabilities. Most mental and physical conditions cause other mental and physical conditions.
Suppose a Vietnam veteran is eligible for VA disability benefits because they have diabetes from Agent Orange exposure. Any medical condition that is caused by diabetes is now considered a secondary service-connected impairment.
Unfortunately, the VA often denies secondary service-connected disabilities. Very often, the VA is flat out wrong. Too many times our lawyers see that the error is simply due to someone at the VA not fully understanding how the law works – we are sure this surprises you.
How to Prove Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
There must be medical evidence that links both your first and secondary service-connected impairments to each other. You can’t claim secondary service-connection to just any disability you want. There must be sound medical research that shows a link to be eligible for veterans disability benefits.
Tell the VA that you consider a particular medical condition secondary to your service-connected impairments. Don’t just assume the VA is going to automatically understand what disabilities you are trying to use for secondary service-connection. Remember, you are trying to build a case, use evidence and tell your story.
Learn More: Figure out your monthly disability payment with our VA Disability Rating Calculator
Evidence Needed for Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
1. Evidence of service-connection for first disability: To get your secondary service-connected disabilities awarded, you are going to have to first prove your initial service-connected disability. You should submit any evidence of medical treatment, diagnosis, vocational reports, psychological exams, etc., and any other relevant evidence.
2. Evidence of nexus between first and secondary service-connected disabilities: On the same VA disability application, you are also going to try to prove your secondary service-connected disabilities. For example, our veterans disability benefits lawyers often consult with medical experts to prove the connection between the disabilities. They will work with the veteran and produce reports connecting the first and secondary service-connected impairments. These reports are often called Nexus Letters.
VA attorney Zack Evans discusses why your nexus letter is important to secondary service-connected conditions:
Agent Orange and Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
Diabetes: Agent Orange is responsible for giving untold numbers of troops diabetes. What many veterans don’t realize is all the conditions caused by their diabetes may also be considered service-connected. For example, if you were in Vietnam and have diabetes that caused neuropathy, the latter is one of your secondary service-connected disabilities.
Heart Disease: Agent Orange is believed to cause heart disease. If you were a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange and has heart disease, you could be eligible. You may also be eligible for any condition caused by heart disease. Some veterans may be able to secondary service-connect their peripheral artery disease, heart attack, and stoke to their service-connected heart disease.
Some veterans with serious mental conditions may have heart disease as a secondary service-connected impairment. Stress, depression, and anxiety can lead to heart disease and related conditions. Many mental conditions can lead to extreme strain on the heart and cardiovascular system.
Hypertension: Hypertension is generally service-connected through Agent Orange diabetes claims. Hypertension can be caused by diabetes. You can also service-connect impairments related to hypertension like aneurysms, damage to the heart, strokes, and kidney problems.
Prostate Cancer: The Agent Orange presumptive illness list includes prostate cancer. Veterans that are diagnosed with prostate cancer experience many secondary service-connected impairments. Erectile dysfunction, incontinence, infertility, weakening bones, and more are linked to prostate cancer. They are, therefore, secondary service-connected impairments that veterans should consider.
See all the Agent Orange presumptives here.
Mental Disorders and Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
Anxiety: Many veterans experience anxiety as one of their secondary service-connected disabilities. Anxiety is often secondary to PTSD, physical pain, and much more. Some types of anxiety can be linked to your physical conditions. Many people experience extreme anxiety while they are dealing with serious medical issues that may be service-connected.
Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is one of the most common secondary service-connected disabilities to Military Sexual Trauma. Many victims of MST experience bipolar disorder after an assault. Many veterans with PTSD also experience bipolar disorder. This disease is linked to many service-connected disabilities.
Depression: Veterans with painful service-connected impairments often experience depression. Pain, injuries, and mental conditions can cause their victims to become depressed. Many veterans do link their depression to their service-connected injuries.
Military Sexual Trauma: MST can cause veterans a wide-array of mental and physical problems. MST can be responsible for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. If the trauma from your horrible experience causes a problem, it may be considered service-connected. The stress and pain from MST can also lead to heart problems and other physical conditions that may be considered for your secondary service-connected disabilities.
PTSD: Veterans with PTSD may experience many other medical conditions that are directly related to their PTSD. Common secondary service-connected disabilities linked to PTSD are sleep problems, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many more.
Schizophrenia: Veterans with schizophrenia often find their other mental and physical conditions are considered to be secondary service-connected disabilities. Schizophrenia can be related to sleeping problems, depression, anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even drug and alcohol problems.
Physical Conditions and Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
Back Pain: Suppose you had hip problems in the military because you were a paratrooper. You have walked a little off for years because of your injury and now your back hurts. Your back pain could be considered as a secondary service-connected disability.
Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea can be caused by long-term exposure to chemicals and toxins that veterans have been exposed to through their military service. Some of the most common secondary service-connected disabilities from sleep apnea are high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, asthma, and even acid reflux disease.
Spinal Problems: Many veterans obtain spinal problems from their time in the service from accidents. Pain, depression, headaches, neck pain, problems walking, hip problems, and more are considered secondary service-connected disabilities from spinal problems.
Traumatic Brain Injury: Veterans with service-connected traumatic brain injuries will find that a long list of side effects are eligible for secondary service-connected impairments. Anger, amnesia, headaches, balance disorder, fatigue, speech problems, nausea, tinnitus, and more are considered secondary service-connected disabilities for VA disability benefits purposes.
Toxic Exposure and Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
Camp Lejeune: Contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has sickened untold numbers of veterans. Adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease are all presumed to come from toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Any conditions caused by those illnesses may also be eligible for VA disability benefits because they are considered secondary service-connected disabilities.
Gulf War Syndrome: Many unexplained illnesses are linked to Gulf War Syndrome. Veterans who served in the first Gulf War are eligible. Don’t forget about secondary service-connected impairments. For example, fibromyalgia is a Gulf War illness. Veterans with fibromyalgia may experience severe pain that can lead to mental problems. Many Gulf War vets with fibromyalgia may experience depression, anxiety, and potentially even bipolar disorder.
Military Base Toxic Exposure: Lots of military bases were horribly polluted. Veterans have reported many different illnesses from the contamination at military bases. These claims work just like another VA disability benefits claim. If your illness from military base pollution is considered service-connected, your impairments from that condition may also be rated along with your other service-connected disabilities.