This article explains how veterans can prove a service connected disability for VA benefit claims. We’ll cover specific conditions, examples of service connection, applying, appeals and denials, secondary service connected conditions, and more. If you want to learn more after reading this article, feel free to reach out to Woods & Woods. We offer free legal consultations to any veteran and their family members. We can discuss your service connected disability at no cost. Click here to get help with your VA claim.
Five Ways to Establish a VA Disability Benefits Service Connection
1. Direct Service Connection: Generally, the easiest VA disability claims are for direct service connection. If your service connected disability is clearly linked to your military service, you may be granted direct service connection. For example, suppose a veteran is applying for back pain benefits and twenty years ago he fell off a tank and injured his back. If you can show the current back pain stems from the injury event, your back pain is likely to be considered a service connected disability.
2. Presumed Service Connection: There is an entire section later in this article dedicated to presumptive conditions. This type of service connected disability is for impairments that the VA automatically presumes to be from service. For example, the most common presumption illnesses are Agent Orange related. If a veteran had boots on the ground in Vietnam, they are presumed to have come into contact with Agent Orange. That means any illness that is caused by Agent Orange should automatically be approved when the veteran applies. That doesn’t always happen, but that is what the law says should happen.
3. Pre-Existing Injury Aggravated by Military Service: If you entered the military with a mental or physical condition and it becomes worse, you may now have a service connected disability for VA benefit purposes. For example, if you entered the military with a hip condition and your military service aggravated the hip condition, it is now considered a service connected disability.
4. Secondary Service Connected Connection: When you apply for VA disability benefits, do not forget to include your secondary service connected disabilities. This is one area of VA law we see many veterans not understand and it hurts their VA benefit claims. Secondary service connected disabilities are conditions that are caused by your direct service connected disability. One of the best ways to increase your rating is to service connect as many impairments as possible. Secondary service connected disabilities are often the majority of a veteran’s VA rating.
5. VA Medical Malpractice: If your mental or physical condition is the direct result of VA medical malpractice, you should look into 1151 claims. If you become disabled because of a VA medical professionals negligence, your injuries may be considered a service connected disability.
Proving a Service Connected Disability With Missing Records
Events Missing From Military Records: Lots of veterans have a service connected disability denied because of events missing in their military records. For example, a veteran who is applying for PTSD disability benefits might be denied because there is no record of an IED attack. This veteran can use buddy statements, later explained in this article, to prove an event happened. The VA will consider buddy statements as evidence that an unrecorded event happened. Many Vietnam veterans use buddy statements because of missing records.
Missing Treatment Records: When applying for a service connected disability, many veterans find that the VA is missing medical treatment records. Many veterans have a service connected disability denied because of missing records. Don’t panic! You can submit medical records you kept, medical records from private doctors, or new medical records of your diagnosis. Our VA disability compensation lawyers often have clients with missing records and they go on to win their claims.
Missing Service Records: We have had many veterans contact us after they are denied a service connected disability because the VA claims they have no record of them serving. Believe it or not, this happens more than you would expect. This is particularly a problem for older veterans because of a fire at the St. Louis records center years back. You can submit all the records you have of service, pictures, statements from service members, statements from family members, and more to prove your claim for a service connected disability.
Evidence Vets Can Use to Prove a Service Connected Disability
Doctors Reports: Our veterans disability benefits lawyers use doctors reports on just about every appeal we file. Doctors reports can be used to prove you have a service connected disability. Other times we use specialized doctors to prove that a condition actually came from military service. We regularly use doctors that have specializations as well, such as oncologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, pathologists, and more. Doctors reports can also be used to show secondary service connection for your other impairments. The doctor’s report may detail how a client’s direct service connected disability caused the secondary service connected disabilities.
Lay Statements: Many veterans don’t understand how powerful lay statements can be for their claim. Our VA disability lawyers often use lay statements to show the VA things that don’t exist in the medical records. For example, lay statements from friends and family members can be used to show that a veteran returned from service “different” than when they left. Generally, lay statements are used to show that a mental condition was caused or aggravated by military service. Lay statements generally attempt to show how military service affected the veteran’s mental condition.
Buddy Statements: Many veterans will find that their military records are incomplete when they attempt to service connect a disability. Buddy statements can be used to prove events happened in service that are missing from your records. Many PTSD claims use buddy statements to prove that an enemy ambush or IED attack happened. Buddy statements can be written by people you served with who were at the event too. Sometimes reports of attacks were never made or they were never entered into the service member’s records. Either way, a buddy statement can help you prove your disabilities are service connected if records are missing.
Medical Records: When veterans contact our VA benefits appeals lawyers after a denial, too often it is because the medical documentation the veteran submitted was insufficient. Don’t expect the VA to adequately review your Claims File (C-File) and review all your medical records. You need to spoon feed the VA evidence and provide every relevant document you can to prove your claim. You can also submit medical records from doctors outside the VA. For some reason many veterans are under the impression you can only submit medical records from the VA – that is not true. You can submit any medical evidence that is relevant to proving your service connected disability.
Photographs: We once had a client who was able to prove he was exposed to Agent Orange because of a photograph he took decades ago. All of his service records were missing and there was no proof he served abroad during the Vietnam War. The background of an old photograph was the evidence needed to prove he was in a Southeast Asian country. The background showed that his base was using empty Agent Orange barrels to gather rain for drinking water.
Psychologists Reports: Our veterans benefits lawyers work with psychologists on almost every claim where we are trying to prove a service connected mental disability. We have found that psychological reports really do the trick for service connecting mental disabilities. These reports can help us tell the story of how the veteran’s mental conditions are service connected and to what extent they affect the veteran’s daily life. The psychological reports will link events during military service to current mental conditions.
Vocational Expert Reports: Veterans that are trying to obtain Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits should consider working with a vocational expert. The report from a vocational expert should detail how your service connected disabilities are preventing you from keeping or obtaining meaningful employment. Our lawyers have used vocational experts for decades in disability cases. These powerful reports will show how you are unemployable and how each service connected disability affects your ability to work.
Service Connected Disabilities & Presumptive Conditions
Agent Orange & Herbicides: If you had boots on the ground in Vietnam you are considered to have come into contact with Agent Orange. The VA has an extensive list of exposure sites. Veterans that have illnesses from the Agent Orange presumptive list, who can prove boots on the ground in various locations, should automatically be granted VA disability benefits. Unfortunately, the VA still denies lots of service connected disabilities that are on the presumptive list. What VA law says and what the VA does are two different things. However, if you were denied a condition from the Agent Orange presumptive list within the last twelve months, you can appeal.
Burn Pits: At this point, the VA does not have a presumptive illness list for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans exposed to burn pits. Burn pit exposure claims can be hard to win, but it can be done. Veterans with lung conditions who served at bases with burn pits will need to show a direct connection between the burn pit and their conditions. The VA is dragging its feet on burn pit reform. It is unbelievable how many 30-year-old, non-smoker, physically fit, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans contact our law firm with lung issues. Healthy 30-year-olds generally don’t have lung conditions for no reason. We fully believe that burn pits on Iraq and Afghanistan military bases may have seriously injured thousands of military service members.
Gulf War Veterans With Disabilities: Gulf War veterans often have unexplained illnesses. In years passed, Gulf War Syndrome claims were denied. The VA now has a presumptive list of illnesses for Gulf War veterans. There are many unexplained illnesses that veterans are able to service connect because of the presumptive list.
Radiation Exposure: If you are a veteran that participated in radiation risk activities, you may be able to service connect your conditions through an extensive presumptive illness list. For radiation exposure claims, the VA will service connect: all forms of leukemia (except for chronic lymphocytic leukemia); cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary tract (renal pelvis, ureter, urinary bladder and urethra), brain, bone, lung, colon, and ovary; bronchiolo-alveolar carcinoma; multiple myeloma; lymphomas (other than Hodgkin’s disease), and primary liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated).
Get Help With Your Service Connected Disability Claims From a Lawyer
Do you have more questions about a service connected disability after reading through this article? Reach out to Woods & Woods veterans disability lawyers. Since 1985, Woods & Woods has successfully represented thousands of disabled veterans and their family members. We know how the VA system works and we aggressively advocate for our clients.
If you hire Woods & Woods, you’ll get an experienced VA certified disability attorney. Our law firm is dedicated to winning VA benefits appeals. We have teams of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, vocational experts, case managers, and support staff to fight the VA for you. Woods & Woods is an innovative law firm that has developed complex systems to make fighting the VA easy for clients. Once you hire us, we will get to work proving you have a service connected disability, gathering medical records, scheduling doctors interviews for reports, writing briefs and case plans, and doing the legal research needed to win your claim.
We will never ask a veteran with a service connected disability to pay upfront. We know you may be struggling financially and we don’t want to exacerbate that problem. Our lawyers only charge a fee if you win your appeal. If your appeal is not successful, you pay us nothing. Just to be clear, if you don’t win your claim you don’t pay a penny. If your claim is won, our fee is 20% of back pay and case expenses (things like doctors reports).
Our VA disability compensation lawyers offer free legal consultations to any veteran or family member that needs help. We can discuss your service connected disability and what legal options are available to you at this moment. We can evaluate your claim and examine every service connected disability you have if we think you may have a case. There is never an obligation to hire Woods & Woods just because you discussed your service connected disability with our law firm.