By Karl Kazmierczak, Esq.
38 U.S.C. § 1110 states "veterans are entitled to compensation for disabilities incurred in or aggravated during active military, naval, or air service." There are three requirements to be entitled to veterans compensation benefits.
The veteran must have evidence of a current disability. In almost all cases, this requires a present diagnosis. This diagnosis must be made by doctor or other appropriate medical professional. In other words, the veteran must have a disability that he currently suffers from.
The veteran must also have a disease, injury or incident that occurred during his period of active military service. This is usually shown in the veterans service medical records which the VA is supposed to obtain. It is very important if you are applying for veterans compensation that you request a copy of your C-file and service medical records. In some instances, such as a PTSD claim, a veterans statement of an incident can be accepted as proof of the incident. In this situation, there must be some evidence the veteran engaged in combat such as a metal or badge that signifies combat action.
Lastly, the veteran must have a nexus between the current disability and the in service disease injury or incident. In other words, there must be a link between the present disability and the veterans time during his period of active military service. There are many ways in which the veterans present disability can be connected to his disease, injury or incident in service. The VA is required to consider all the possible ways to disability could be service-connected. Probably the most common is direct service connection. This is when a disease, injury or incident in service directly caused the veteran's present disability. These cases are usually won when you have a letter from a doctor stating that the in service disease, injury or incident was the cause of the veteran's present disability. Because the veteran is given the benefit of the doubt a doctor only needs to be 50% sure that the in service condition caused the present disability. The language the VA accepts is that it is "at least as likely as not" that the veterans present disability is a result of the specified disease injury or incident in service. If the doctor uses the terminology that it is less likely than not he or she is saying they are less than 50% sure there is a connection. And if the doctor uses the terminology that "it is more likely than not" then he or she is saying there is a greater than 50% chance that the in service disease injury or incident caused the veterans present disability. These opinions from doctors are often called Nexus letters. If you are seeking a nexus opinion from your doctor it is extremely important the doctor is aware of the terminology used by the VA. It is also important for these opinion letters that the doctor have access to, review and state that he has reviewed your file and service medical records. If the doctor references the file in service medical records it strengthens the opinion even more. These opinion letters are even
more important when you're trying to prove service connection for a present condition many years after service.
A veteran will have to show aggravation of a condition in service if the condition preexisted his service time. If the veteran can show his condition has worsened as a result of his time in service than the VA has the burden to prove that the worsening of the condition was due to "the natural progression of the disease." One presumption in VA law that helps in these types of cases is the "presumption of soundness." This means the veteran is presumed to be in sound condition when he entered service in less shown otherwise usually by the service entrance exam.
There are also several statutory presumptions of service connection for certain diseases for certain veterans. There are statutory presumptions for exposure to agent orange for veterans who served in Vietnam for certain medical conditions. There is also statutory presumptions for veterans exposed to radiation for certain medical conditions. There is also presumption for Persian Gulf war veterans who suffer from an undiagnosed illness. There is also certain diseases that were common to POWs that are presumptive. There is also statutory presumptions for certain chronic diseases that have manifested within a certain period of time of leaving service. There is also presumption for certain tropical diseases that manifested themselves within a year of leaving service. I will not go into detail into all of these possible presumptive service connections due to the length of this article. But is important to know when you are trying to obtain service connection using one of these presumptions it is not necessary that the condition was formally diagnosed but rather manifested during the presumptive time.
A veteran can also be found service-connected through another service-connected condition which is called secondary service connection. An example of this would be someone who suffers from a service-connected back condition and later develops depression that is found to because by his suffering from his back condition. This would make his depression service-connected secondarily to his service-connected back condition.
Another way of veteran can be found service-connected is if the president medical disability was caused by improper VA medical treatment or vocational rehabilitation. This is referred to as of 1151 claim. It should be noted if the veteran is seeking this type of claim they may also want to consider a Federal Tort Claim if the VA's medical treatment is considered negligent.
The above is a general guide to eligibility for veterans compensation. Many of the details have been left out because an entire book could be written on the different ways one can be found service-connected for veterans compensation. But my hope is that this gives you a general understanding and might help you decide whether you may have a claim for veterans compensation that you are entitled to. For more information on veterans compensation you can go to the VA website and I have additional information at my website http://www.veteransdisabilitylawyersite.com as well. If you have any questions about your current claim or if you qualify for veterans compensation you could also call me at 1-877-527-5529.