How does a Veteran get service-connected for VA disability compensation? It’s a pretty common question, and we teach all of our new employees that a Veteran has to have a disability that was either diagnosed in service or made worse by their time in service. However, all of our employees will also tell you that it’s not always true. The first thing that comes to mind is a mental disability like PTSD. More often than not, a mental disability like PTSD does not have to be diagnosed in service. Instead, you have to have a stressor from your time in service that would cause PTSD to manifest later in life. This rule is also true for presumptive conditions. If a Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange in service, he or she would not likely show symptoms until after they were discharged. For instance, if a Veteran served in Vietnam and was later diagnosed with Diabetes, they would be excluded from the rule. So, what about physical conditions that are not a part of the presumptive list, do they always have to be diagnosed in service? The answer to that question is yes, no and maybe.
What a surprise, the VA disability process is confusing. For the most part, yes, a physical condition needs to be diagnosed in service. There are some exceptions to the rule, though. This is where hiring an attorney really comes in handy. Sometimes we have to prove that a physical injury as a result of time in service even if a Veteran did not receive a diagnosis. The best example of this I can provide involves Veterans who jump out of planes. Vets who went to Airborne School, became Rangers, have a Parachutist badge and so on.
Now, I can’t speak from experience because I can barely jump out of the bed of a pickup truck, but I’ve done some research. I actually found a website that explained the physics of parachuting…but I studied communications, and I am pretty sure even Janitor Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting would struggle with those equations. If you would like to see how the math works, click here. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that falling from the sky and landing on the hard ground can mess up your joints. Actually, I am Snapchat friends with a gentleman who is currently going through Ranger School. He is in great shape and works out multiple times a day. He’s the type of fella who lives every day like it’s leg day. When he first started the jumps, he would complain about how sore his body was after each jump. Since I’ve been in an attorney’s office for so long my first thought was; save those Snaps! Yes, they could be used as evidence later. Simply, this is a young man, who is in great shape, but is experiencing pain because he’s jumping out of a plane and landing on the ground with incredible force. This fella has only done it a few times; just imagine how bad it is for a Vet who has 40-50 jumps. In this case, you may not have a diagnosis of a knee problem in service, but if one developed shortly after, it wouldn’t take a lot to connect the dots.
What about someone who didn’t jump, but a had a physical MOS. I have a buddy who was an airplane mechanic for 20 years in the Air Force, but he never jumped out of a plane. First of all, being a mechanic on a jet is not the same as being a car mechanics. But, it’s safe to say that both are very physical. 20 years of turning wrenches alone would be enough to cause arthritis and joint pain, but think about all of the lifting an individual has to go through as a mechanic. Take that, and then multiply it by 20 years, and it’s easy to see how someone might have a back issue though they were never formally diagnosed.
I want to be clear, though. It still helps to get treatment in service, and it still really helps to get diagnosed. Let’s say you only served two years in the military, but worked 30 years as a coal miner. In that situation, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to prove that an injury is a result of your time in service as opposed to your civilian job if you didn’t get diagnosed or treated in service. It’s also very important to get treatment after you are discharged. A gap treatment can hurt your claim severely.
As a firm, we know that the people who join the military are pretty tough, and don’t often get treatment in service. They fight hurt if you will. That is why we try to find alternatives to get Veterans service-connected. One way we do this is through secondary opinions. A doctor or medical professional can look at your medical records, and do additional testing to determine if your injuries are related to your time in service. This is commonly referred to as a nexus letter.
Overall, while treating in service really helps, it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t. Just remember to get treatment now, and don’t put off pursuing a claim too long.
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