Steps to Establishing a Service-Connected Condition

Getting disability benefits from the military can be challenging, so it helps to know the process. The Veterans Administration (VA) can pay monthly benefits to eligible veterans who have a disability from a service-related condition. The condition must be an injury or illness that happened while serving in the military or an existing illness or injury that became worse because of military service. 

The VA can pay benefits for physical conditions or for mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that occurred before, during, or after a person’s time in the military. A VA disability attorney can advocate for you and help you navigate through the military regulations.

Here are the steps to establishing a service-related condition:

Military Service Requirement

Your condition must have developed before, during, or after your military service. The first step is to provide evidence that you fall into at least one of these categories:

  • You served on active duty with the military, or
  • You were on active duty for training, or
  • You served on inactive duty training.

Even if you meet the military service requirement, you could lose eligibility for VA disability compensation if you did not receive an honorable discharge. Individuals with dishonorable, bad conduct, or “other than honorable” discharges might not get their disability benefits applications approved. In this situation, you might consider pursuing a discharge upgrade to restore your eligibility for disability benefits.

Disability Rating 

The VA requires a disability rating to calculate the amount of your benefits. The military assigns you a disability rating based on the severity of your disability. The VA uses information from your VA claim exam, evidence that you submit, and data the VA obtains from other sources to determine your disability rating.

Unlike Social Security disability programs, like SSDI and SSI, the VA does not require you to be 100 percent disabled to get VA disability benefits. If you do not qualify for SSDI or SSI and you have a service-related condition, you might qualify for VA disability benefits.

Connecting Your Physical or Mental Health Condition to Your Military Service

After you establish that you served in the military and you have a disability rating, you have to show the VA that your condition was related to serving in the military. In these situations, the VA can make a presumption of disability:

  • You developed a long-lasting (chronic) illness within one year after getting your discharge from the military, or
  • You had contact with certain toxic chemicals (like Agent Orange) or other hazardous materials (like asbestos) during your military service and developed an illness from that substance, or
  • You were a prisoner of war (POW) and developed an illness as a result.

You would file an in-service disability claim for a service-connected illness or injury that happened during your military service. If you had a pre-existing illness or an injury when you joined the military, and that condition got worse because of your military service, you could submit a pre-service disability claim. Conditions that appear after your military service concludes can be post-service disability claims. 

Types of Military Service Connections

How you prove the nexus between your military service and your disability will depend on which of these five categories match your fact pattern:

  • Direct service connection. If you got an injury or illness during your military service, the VA will evaluate your service medical records and service records that show when and how you got sick or hurt, and any other relevant records that show that the condition is chronic or continuing.
  • Service connection through aggravation. This type of connection applies to situations in which military service worsened the pre-existing condition. Your medical examination when entering service should note your pre-existing injuries or illnesses. You will have to show that your military service made your condition worsen faster than it would have otherwise.
  • Presumptive service connection. There is no requirement that you prove that military service caused your condition in certain situations like Agent Orange exposure or prisoner of war scenarios. 
  • Secondary service connection. A direct service connection can, over time, cause other problems. Your doctor will need to say that the direct service illness or injury caused the secondary condition.
  • Injury caused by VA healthcare connection. If the carelessness of a VA healthcare worker or facility caused an injury, illness, or death, the veteran or surviving spouse or another qualifying dependent has to prove that the negligence caused the adverse outcome. 

A VA disability attorney can handle your VA disability claim and help you pursue the benefits you deserve. Get in touch with our office today.