Establishing Service Connection In a Michigan VA Disability Case

Veteran learning from colleague how to establish service connection with disability.

Before you can receive veterans’ disability compensation for your injury or condition, the VA must be satisfied that it is sufficiently connected to your service. Service connection is never a given, and there are cases in which legitimate disability claims have been denied. You need an experienced veterans’ disability attorney to make sure you receive the benefits you deserve, and to appeal any adverse VA decision.

Disability Law Group works closely with veterans to ensure that their files are complete, comprehensive, and put forth the best case for the most benefits possible. Before you apply, talk to us about how we can help. We specialize in veterans disability appeals for both service connected disability and non-service connected pension benefits. With the many process changes since the VA implemented the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) in February of 2019, the appeal avenues, and proofs required, have dramatically changed. An experienced attorney with a demonstrated track record of success and compassion can help you navigate the application and appeal stages to maximize your service-connected disability benefits. 

What Does “Service-Connected” Mean?

You may qualify for monthly VA disability payments if you got sick or injured during your military service. You can also receive benefits if you had a pre-existing injury or condition that was made worse by your time in service. “Service-connected” therefore means your condition or injury falls into one of these categories. When the VA assesses your disability application, it will need to establish service connection before you will receive any benefits, or a grant of service-connection for your claimed condition(s).

How Does The VA Establish Service Connection?

There are five methods for establishing service connection for an injury, disease, or illness:

Direct Service Connection. As the name implies, this means the veteran is suffering from a disability or other condition that started during the veteran’s service. There are three elements the veteran has to establish:

  • The veteran has a current, diagnosed disability
  • An event, illness, or injury took place during service which is linked to the disability
  • There is a medical nexus, or connection, between the current disability and the in-service incident

You want to make the linkage between your service and your disability as clear as possible. Military or service medical records will need to be used to help substantiate your claim.

Presumed Service Connection. The VA presumes that certain diseases or conditions are service-connected. A classic example is exposure to Agent Orange, which is linked to several conditions. The VA’s list also includes time periods in which veterans are presumed to have developed the disease or disability. Instead of having to prove that your medical condition is connected to your military service, the law presumes it is. Even still, some additional requirements and proofs may be necessary before a grant of service connection can be made.

The veteran will need to show that the disease appeared during the presumptive period. These are some of the diseases that are included in the VA’s list:

  • Chronic illnesses
  • Certain cancers
  • Tropical diseases
  • Certain conditions for prisoners of war
  • Herbicides (e.g. Agent Orange)
  • Radiation exposure
  • Gulf War Syndrome

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so check with your veterans’ disability benefits attorney to learn more, and see whether your condition could qualify for disability benefits whether presumptive or not. 

Injuries Or Conditions Aggravated By Service. These are for conditions that existed before the veteran entered service, but which became worse due to something that occurred during service. Again, it’s important to show, with medical evidence, that your condition became worse because of service and not as a natural progression of the pre-existing disease. The pre-existing condition usually has to be noted in your original medical examination records.

Secondary Service Connection. This connection exists where one service-connected disability causes a secondary one. Put another way, a disability that was caused by a service-connected disability can, itself, be considered service-connected. The secondary service-connected disability may appear years after the original service-connected condition. As long as the veteran has medical evidence that the first condition caused the second, it can be covered. The veteran only has to prove that the secondary condition would not have occurred but for the original one.

The veteran may also qualify if a service-connected disability makes a non-service-connected disability worse. If you believe your condition is linked to an original disability, ask a veterans’ benefits lawyer about the best strategy for your case to prove service-connected disability based on the facts of your unique case. 

Service Connection Caused By VA Care. Some veterans are injured or develop a disease because of their treatment or hospitalization in a VA facility. They can also get hurt during:

  • VA surgical treatment
  • VA physical therapy
  • VA examinations
  • VA vocational rehabilitation

If your VA treatment aggravated a prior disability or illness, or caused you to develop a new one, it may be deemed service-connected.

What Documentation Will You Need?

Working with a veterans’ disability benefits attorney, you may need to provide the following documentation to support your case for service-connected disability benefits:

  • Your DD214 or other separation documents.
  • Your service treatment records.
  • Any medical evidence related to your illness or injury.
  • Nexus letters and medical opinions from physicians or medical providers.
  • Disability Benefits Questionnaires or evidence of the appropriate percentage to be assigned.

However, it is important to know that you do not have to prove to the VA that your condition is unquestionably service-connected. Rather, you need to show that there is at least a 50% chance that your disability or condition is linked to an injury or other event that took place during service. Put another way, you have to show that your disability is at least as likely as not due to the in-service incident or period. 

How Can Disability Law Group Help Me?

Applying for disability benefits in Michigan is no simple task. Our firm understands veterans disability law and the VA’s rules and regulations that will govern your case. We also know the sort of evidence that will be necessary to support your claim and will carefully design the best strategy for you to help you obtain the disability benefits that you deserve. We will help you through the application process and make sure all of the required paperwork is in order.

If your application has been denied, we can also help you appeal an adverse ruling. The VA doesn’t always make the right decision, and the appeals process is to help veterans correct an erroneous determination. Our goal is to establish the service connection in your case, achieve the highest disability rating possible, and get you the maximum compensation available under law.

Don’t take on the VA alone and risk jeopardizing your claim for benefits. Give us a call at Disability Law Group today to schedule your consultation and find out how we can serve you.