Can I Get Service-Connected for My Heart Condition as a Secondary Disability to My Psychological Condition?

A Veteran with a service-connected disability can file a claim for benefits related to that disability. To collect for a secondary disability, a Veteran first needs to secure benefits for the primary disability.

To determine if a disability is service-connected, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will look at whether you incurred the disability in the line of active military duty. Pre-existing conditions may be covered if active duty service aggravated that condition.

Secondary claims occur after an initial disability claim. Their purpose is to get more benefits for new disabilities developed to a service-connected disability the Veteran already has. If you are looking to connect your heart condition as a secondary disability to a psychological condition, the VA must first establish that the psychological condition is service-connected and then determine that it created or exacerbated the heart condition.

Service-Connected Psychological Conditions

Various psychological conditions can be service-connected. Generally, to establish those conditions, a service member must show he or she was part of a threatening or traumatic situation that led to the mental health condition, which can be pre-existing or new. For pre-existing conditions, the service member must demonstrate that some of their experiences in active duty worsened the condition.

Some psychological conditions are more likely to be service-connected than others. The top three mental health conditions common among Veterans are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and chronic adjustment disorder.

PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder

To understand PTSD, it can be helpful to think of the person continuously stuck in the trauma. They may relive the events, avoid anything that reminds them of trauma, experience anxiety, have trouble sleeping, and engage in avoidance behaviors. PTSD can be a stand-alone diagnosis but frequently co-occurs with other mental health conditions.

Major depressive disorder is a debilitating form of clinical depression. People with this form of depression may experience reduced productivity, a high risk of self-harm or suicide, feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, and an overall decline in quality of life. It is a severe mental health condition that is much more than a person feeling occasional sadness or situational depression.

While people think of psychological conditions as mental health, they have a considerable role in whole-body health. Psychological conditions can lead to behaviors that increase the risk of obesity or being underweight, lead to chronic anxiety, and put stress on all body systems, including the heart. These secondary disabilities may be service-connected.

Heart Conditions as Secondary Disabilities

The medical community supports the idea that mental health conditions can lead to physical conditions, including heart disease. While the VA recognizes that physical illnesses can lead to mental health conditions, they are much more likely to award secondary disability status to a physical condition caused by a mental health condition instead of the other way around.

Mental health conditions do not just impact mental wellness. They lead to hormonal and other changes throughout the body, including high blood pressure. These responses prepare the body for battle or to handle injuries, potentially leading to long-term damage to the body, particularly the heart. However, since they also increase the risk of other conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, which are also risk factors for heart disease, proving that heart disease is service-connected can be challenging.

Ask an Attorney About Connecting a Service-Connected Heart Condition as a Secondary Disability a Psychological Condition

Veterans’ disability claims are fact-specific. While a VA-accredited attorney cannot guarantee whether the VA will accept a claim, they can access your likelihood of having the claim approved. If your medical care providers link the heart condition to your psychological condition, you may have a claim.

If the VA declines the connection, you still have options through appeals. Schedule a free consultation with an attorney to learn how we can help you secure the benefits you need.

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