Most Veterans would agree that being in the military is a great honor, but it is not without its challenges. And, coming home with disabilities, trying to navigate a stack of complex paperwork can be very daunting.
The VA decides your disabilities based on how they affect your life, but your health is not a math problem that can be solved. You can have conditions that affect other areas of your health.
You may be wondering: how are my various disabilities connected, and how do they affect my claim?
What do my Service-Connected Disabilities tell me?
Reviewing your current disabilities is vital to getting all the benefits you medically and ethically qualify for. If you have service-connected disabilities, they are compensated per the 38 CFR. Your current disability ratings correlate with a monetary benefit, unless the rating is 0%. Regardless of the number, even it is a 0, the fact that there is a service-connection opens the possibility for potential building blocks for secondary disability claims.
You may not even realize that conditions you have slowly developed since your military separation might have a medical connection to your original military disability. Because all of the body’s many systems, including your mind and nervous system, are all connected, it is quite likely that one condition or disability is related to another.
I see zeroes. What do they mean?
While reviewing your rating decision letter, it can be challenging to understand what everything means.
The first thing to remember when reviewing your disability list is that even conditions rated at 0% are still service-connected. They are also eligible for compensation if the condition worsens.
For any increases or secondary conditions relating to your 0% rating, you will not have to show that the condition was caused by service. The VA has already determined that your 0% rated condition is service-connected and simply thinks your current symptoms do not warrant monthly compensation.
The reality is that the VA does not regularly check up on you to see if your conditions are getting worse, so you must ask for an increase to be re-evaluated. Before doing this, review your original decision letter and read what qualifies you for the next highest rating. The VA is required to list this in your decision. Remember that a claim for an increase and a new evaluation could either increase or decrease your rating depending on your level of disability documented by the examiner. So you’ll want to make sure you have a medical strategy.
You may be service-connected for a progressive condition
Many chronic physical disabilities and medical conditions worsen over time. Some conditions can dramatically worsen as you get older. Many physical injuries, even minor ones, can make you unable to be as active as you once were, which can cause you to gain weight. Weight gain almost always impacts other physical ailments. For example, as a chronic joint condition worsens, mild pain could eventually lead to a loss of range of motion, which affects your health even more. As chronic medical conditions progress and become more symptomatic, they impact other issues requiring additional treatment and medication. Even mental health conditions can wax and wane depending on many other aspects of your life, and these can also be related to your service.
I have good and bad days; what should my rating be?
Remember, the VA is required to rate you based on your worst day.
Even if your more severe symptoms do not occur every day, your worse days should factor in your rating. You’ll want to be sure that the doctor is aware of them and noted during your exam. If you regularly see a provider, such as a chiropractor, ask them to document your condition when you are at your worst. Submit that exam with your request for an increase in rating. This could even save you another VA C&P exam. The VA rating committee may determine that your claim is complete and adequate to increase your rating without another exam.
How do my medical conditions affect one another?
Many Veterans are unaware that new medical conditions they have developed over time are connected to their service. These conditions can be eligible for service-connection as a secondary claim. They may not be directly related to your active-duty service period. But, they may be caused or aggravated by disabilities that are already service-connected. The VA can frequently fail to fully consider many of these secondary conditions when not confronted with a claim.
An example could be a knee problem causing an altered stride. This new adjusted walk can lead to lower back or hip pain. To avoid this pain, a Veteran could end up chronically using anti-inflammatories or pain killers, leading to digestive and kidney issues.
Many conditions, including mental health problems, can lead to weight gain. Weight gain can lead to the eventual development of diabetes, hypertension, or sleep apnea. Your doctor may have even mentioned the relationship between your current health problem and your service-connected disability. Remember, a 50% probability of a relationship between your current VA disability and a new health problem is all that is necessary to be eligible for a new secondary claim for benefits.
While it may be evident that all of your body’s systems are related, it can be extremely frustrating when the VA does not acknowledge this. You may have to work a little harder to prove the service-connection. Knowing your options is your best bet for getting the full disability amount that you medically and ethically deserve. Contact VA Claim Pros today and let our team of specialists evaluate your case to see what benefits we can help you uncover.