Service-Connected Compensation Described
For disability compensation resulting from personal injury suffered or disease contracted in line of duty, or for aggravation of a preexisting injury suffered or disease contracted in line of duty, in the active military, naval, or air service, during a period of war, the United States will pay to any veteran thus disabled and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable from the period of service in which said injury or disease was incurred, or preexisting injury or disease was aggravated, compensation as provided in this subchapter, but no compensation shall be paid if the disability is a result of the veteran's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

There are a number of ways veterans can get Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability compensation: 1.) Presumptive, 2.) Secondary, 3.) Aggravation and 4.) Direct.  Let’s take a look at the distinction between the four types of service-connected disabilities as defined by the VA.


Presumptive: Service-connection is given for disabilities that were not diagnosed on active duty, but are “presumed” to have begun in service. For certain select disabilities, if they manifest to a compensable degree (warrants at least a 10 percent rating) within one year of leaving active duty, a veteran can still get service-connection for them. The one-year presumptive conditions include hypertension, arthritis and diabetes, among several others, all listed in Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 38, 3.309. There are also a few disabilities with longer presumptive periods, such as multiple sclerosis, which is seven years.


There are also presumptive disabilities that will be granted if a veteran gets them anytime in his life, such as those exposed to herbicides in Vietnam (and in some cases, Thailand, Laos or Korea), as well as for radiation-exposed veterans, tropical diseases, diseases specific to former POWs and Gulf War illnesses, with various criteria needing to be met in order to be granted service-connection. Any veteran of any service period who gets amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, will also be granted service-connected disability for this condition.


Secondary: When a veteran’s service-connected disability causes a separate disability at any time in his lifetime, he/she can claim the new condition as secondary to the service-connected disability. For example, if a veteran is service-connected for lumbar spine degenerative disc disease and then develops radiculopathy (pain, numbness and/or tingling in one or both lower extremities from the lumbar disks pressing on a nerve), he/she can claim this new disability by stating it is secondary to the service-connected lumbar spine and providing medical evidence that he has been diagnosed/treated for the new, chronic condition.


Aggravation: If a veteran enters service with a documented, chronic disability such as flat feet or hearing loss, he/she can still get service-connected for the disability, but only if the condition was “aggravated” while in military service, meaning it got measurably worse during active duty, unless the worsening is a “natural” progression of the condition.


Direct: Service-connection is granted on a direct basis for a disease or disability that was first diagnosed as a chronic condition on active duty that the veteran will continue to have throughout his/her lifetime. The condition must be chronic and not “acute or transitory,” such as a one-time sprained ankle that heals with no residual problems. Generally, there must be evidence in military service medical records of a diagnosis. Notes of only pain or other symptoms are not the same as an official diagnosis supported by such things as medical evaluations, scans or X-rays, as determined by a medical professional. It’s never too late to file a claim for direct service-connection, as long as the service medical records show the diagnosis and the veteran provides current medical evidence that he/she still has, or is being treated for, the same condition.


For the purpose of the VA, disability compensation is granted only for conditions that arise during active duty. If someone serves only in the National Guard or Reserves and never has a period of being called to active duty, the only disabilities he/she can claim would be injuries that occurred during weekend drills or annual training. To claim such an injury, one must provide a Line of Duty report of the injury, along with a diagnosis of the chronic disability, and medical records from military medical professionals.

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