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Demystifying the VA: Understanding VA Secondary Conditions

Navigating VA disability claims can be complicated for veterans. While many know they can file claims for conditions that started in service, fewer realize they may also get benefits for secondary conditions. This guide will explain what VA secondary conditions are, how to prove connection to service-connected disabilities, and provide tips for filing successful claims.


VA Secondary Conditions Demystifying the VA

What is a VA Secondary Condition?

A VA secondary condition refers to a disability caused or aggravated by an already service-connected condition. For example, if a veteran has chronic knee pain that leads to back problems over time, the back issues could potentially be claimed as secondary to the knee disability.


According to recent VA statistics, over 730,000 veterans receive compensation for secondary conditions. This demonstrates these claims are common and frequently approved.




Evidence Needed for Secondary Claims

To win a VA secondary condition claim, veterans must provide medical evidence showing connection between disabilities. Tips for evidence include:


  • Doctor's Opinions - Statements from physicians linking the conditions are extremely helpful. These carry significant weight in decisions.

  • Treatment Records - Medical files that show diagnosis of the primary condition first, followed by secondary issues may help demonstrate causation.

  • Lay Statements - The veteran and others who observe effects of the primary disability on secondary conditions can write letters describing the relationship. Read more about Lay Statements from the VA.


While veterans do not need definitive proof, they should provide as much supporting evidence as possible. It also helps to research rules for secondary claims thoroughly when filing.


Most Common Secondary Conditions

Many conditions can qualify as secondary to already service-connected disabilities. Below are some of the most prevalent.


Mental Health Conditions

Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD can manifest as secondary conditions. For example:

  • Chronic pain leading to depression

  • Tinnitus causing anxiety and sleep disruption

Citing the mental health impacts of the primary disability through statements and records is key for these claims.


Musculoskeletal Issues

Abnormal gait, overcompensation, and chronic pain from service-connected disabilities frequently cause secondary musculoskeletal problems:

  • Back pain due to altered movement from knee or ankle disabilities

  • Arthritis developing in joints near injured sites

Showing the progression from the initial injury site to subsequent locations strengthens cases.


Gastrointestinal Problems

Digestive issues often arise secondary to mental health conditions, pain disorders and medications taken for service-connected disabilities:

  • PTSD and anxiety leading to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers

  • Knee injuries and arthritis causing weight gain, which results in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • NSAID pain relievers prescribed for shoulder tendonitis producing gastritis

In these cases, highlighting the biological response or clear medication effects is beneficial.



Tips for Successful Secondary Claims

Filing smart from the start increases chances of VA secondary conditions being approved:

  1. Get Experienced Guidance - Seek advice from a local VSO, local organization like VFW or DAV, or contact us for a knowledgeable team-approach.

  2. Manage Your Symptoms - If you have an existing condition worsened by a service-connected disability, thoroughly document any new or exasperated symptoms.

  3. Connect the Dots - Clearly demonstrate how the initial disability relates to and impacts the secondary condition through medical records, statements, and documentation.

Meeting the technical standards for secondary service connection claims can be difficult but possible with the right approach. Just remember - you may be entitled to increased benefits, so it is worth pursuing!



The Takeaway

Secondary conditions arising from initial service-connected disabilities are more common than many veterans realize. Understanding the rules around secondary claims is key, as is providing persuasive medical evidence linking the issues. Getting experienced assistance to file smart from the beginning will set veterans up for success. With strong cases, thousands get approved for higher ratings based on secondary conditions each year.



 

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This information is made available for educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for legal or medical advice. United Veteran Benefits Agency makes no guarantee of the outcome on VA rating decisions.


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