Top 10 Secondary VA Claims

Secondary VA claims are disability claims for conditions related to or resulting from a primary service-connected disability. 

Suppose you have a service-connected disability for a knee injury. The knee causes a limp, which then leads to back pain. The knee injury is the primary service-connected disability, and the back pain is the secondary condition. This means you  can file a secondary claim to get more VA benefits for a new disability. 

Claiming a secondary disability will help you increase your VA disability benefits, but this process has some very specific rules.

So, let’s discuss the top 10 secondary VA claims you should know about. Some of them are extremely common, others are considered particularly easy to win. 

#1 – Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a medical condition where a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. According to the National Center for PTSD, Sleep Apnea is 4 times more common among Veterans than civilians. However, the chances that you get diagnosed with sleep apnea during your active military service are pretty low, simply because military clinics usually don’t conduct sleep studies.

As a result, Sleep Apnea is not considered a primary condition caused directly by military service. However, filing for Sleep Apnea as a secondary claim is pretty common. Here is a list of service-related conditions to which Sleep Apnea may be secondary:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The stress and anxiety associated with PTSD can lead to sleep disturbances, potentially contributing to or worsening Sleep Apnea.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI can affect the brain’s control over respiration during sleep, which may increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Orthopedic Disabilities

Pain and discomfort from service-connected orthopedic conditions (e.g. back pain, paralysis of the sciatic nerve, and limited arm and ankle movement) can lead to changes in sleep positions and may increase the risk of Sleep Apnea.

Respiratory Conditions

Sinusitis, Rhinitis, Deviated Septum, or Asthma are common service-connected respiratory conditions. They can affect airflow and oxygen levels during sleep, which may contribute to Sleep Apnea.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD can lead to acid reflux during sleep, which may increase the probability of sleep apnea.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Hypertension is eligible for presumptive service connection based on exposure to Agent Orange. Hypertension and Sleep Apnea can be interrelated, and in some cases, one condition can exacerbate the other.

Medications

Some medications used to treat service-connected conditions, such as pain medications, muscle relaxants, or psychiatric medications, can cause or worsen Sleep Apnea as a side effect.

#2 – Vertigo

Vertigo, a sensation of dizziness or spinning, can also be claimed as a secondary condition related to various service-connected disabilities or factors connected to your military service.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI can affect the inner ear and the brain’s ability to maintain balance, leading to Vertigo.

Head Injuries

Head injuries other than TBI, such as concussions, can sometimes lead to vestibular issues and Vertigo.

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions such as Migraines, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), etc. that result from military service can impact the vestibular system and lead to Vertigo.

Ear Conditions

Service-connected ear conditions, such as hearing loss or tinnitus, can often lead to Vertigo.

Orthopedic Disabilities

Pain and mobility issues related to service-connected orthopedic conditions can impact balance and lead to Vertigo.

Medications

Certain medications prescribed for service-connected conditions may have side effects that include dizziness and Vertigo.

#3 – Migraines

A Migraine is a type of headache disorder characterized by recurrent, intense, and often debilitating headaches. Migraines are typically more severe than tension headaches and are usually accompanied by other symptoms that can significantly impact your daily life.

These severe headaches are often granted secondary service connection to the following conditions:

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by persistent ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in the ears when no external sound source is present. According to the American Migraine Foundation, 27% of Tinnitus sufferers also suffer from Migraines.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI can lead to a range of neurological symptoms, including Migraines, due to changes in brain function.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The stress and anxiety associated with PTSD can often trigger or worsen Migraines.

Head Injuries

Head injuries, such as concussions, sustained during military service can lead to neurological symptoms, including Migraines.

Asthma

According to research from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, people who suffer from Asthma are at least 3 times more likely to develop Migraines. The correlation between service-connected Asthma and Migraines is very strong

#4 – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. This condition can be caused or aggravated by such factors as mental health issues, side effects from medications, and more.

Here is a list of common service-related disabilities that can cause the development of IBS:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The chronic stress and anxiety associated with PTSD can exacerbate or contribute to the development of IBS.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Service-connected gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or other digestive disorders, can sometimes trigger or worsen IBS symptoms.

Medications Side Effects

Some medications used to treat service-connected conditions may have side effects that include gastrointestinal issues and IBS-like symptoms.

Infections

Gastrointestinal infections or foodborne illnesses experienced during military service may lead to the development of IBS as a secondary condition.

#5 – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disorder characterized by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation, and difficulty swallowing.

Unfortunately, many service-related conditions as well as their treatment can lead to the development of GERD. Veterans often file a secondary claim for GERD in the following cases:

Respiratory Conditions

Service-connected respiratory conditions can affect the diaphragm and respiratory function, which may lead to an increased risk of GERD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Chronic stress and anxiety related to PTSD can lead to changes in eating habits and lifestyle that may increase the risk of GERD.

Medications

Some medications used to treat service-connected mental conditions, especially antidepressants, antipsychotics, and sedatives may have side effects that include acid reflux and the development of GERD.

#6 – Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy is a condition where the nerve roots in the spinal cord are compressed or irritated, causing pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along the nerve pathway. It is often claimed as a secondary condition related to service-connected musculoskeletal conditions and factors like:

Orthopaedic Disabilities

Service-connected orthopedic conditions, such as herniated discs, spinal injuries, or degenerative joint diseases, can compress or irritate nerve roots, leading to Radiculopathy.

Traumatic Injuries

Injuries sustained during military service, such as falls, accidents, or combat-related injuries, can lead to spinal issues and Radiculopathy.

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive and physically demanding activities during military service can contribute to wear and tear on the spine, potentially resulting in Radiculopathy.

Environmental Exposures

Exposure to certain environmental factors or toxins during military service can contribute to spinal issues and Radiculopathy.

#7 – Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy is another disorder often claimed as a secondary condition related to various service-connected disabilities. 

Peripheral Neuropathy is a condition that involves damage to the peripheral nerves, which can result in symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities. 

Some of the service-related disabilities with Peripheral Neuropathy as a secondary claim are:

Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of Peripheral Neuropathy. If you have service-connected Diabetes, you may claim peripheral neuropathy as a secondary condition.

Exposure to Toxins

Exposure to environmental toxins, such as Agent Orange in the case of Vietnam Veterans, can lead to Peripheral Neuropathy.

Orthopedic Disabilities or Injuries

Nerve compression or damage related to service-connected orthopedic conditions or injuries often cause Peripheral Neuropathy.

Neurological Conditions

Some neurological conditions related to military service, such as TBI or Paralysis may impact nerve function and lead to Peripheral Neuropathy.

#8 – Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is a painful condition that involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot.

Many Veterans get diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis and successfully claim it as a secondary disability several years after they leave the military service since this condition is caused by many common service-related disabilities like:

Orthopedic Disabilities or Injuries

Service-related orthopedic conditions or injuries that affect the way you walk or stand, or those that cause changes in gait and weight distribution, may lead to the development or exacerbation of Plantar Fasciitis.

Foot Conditions

Pre-existing foot conditions, such as flat feet (pes planus), can affect the biomechanics of the feet and lead to Plantar Fasciitis.

#9 – Bruxism   

Bruxism is a medical condition characterized by the involuntary grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth, typically during sleep. It can also occur while a person is awake.

Bruxism is considered particularly common among Veterans with diagnosed Gulf War Illness (GWI) and PTSD. The VA rating for this condition varies between 10% and 50%, and it often becomes a secondary VA claim in case of:

PTSD, GWI, and Other Mental Health Conditions

Stress and anxiety are significant contributors to bruxism. Veterans who suffer from PTSD and other mental conditions often grind or clench their teeth as a response to emotional or psychological stressors. This may happen both during the day and while asleep. Bruxism can be a subconscious coping mechanism. It may provide a sense of relief or release for Veterans experiencing stress or anxiety.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

TMJ disorders can lead to Bruxism as a response to pain and discomfort.

#10 – Erectile Dysfunction

One more disorder that is often claimed as a secondary condition related to various service-connected disabilities is Erectile Dysfunction. 

ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Some of the service-related conditions to which ED may be secondary include:

Urological Conditions

Urological issues, such as bladder or prostate problems, may easily be linked to ED, making it a common secondary VA claim.

Endocrine Disorders

Service-connected endocrine disorders, such as diabetes or hormone imbalances, can lead to ED due to their impact on blood vessels and nerves.

Psychological Conditions

Psychological factors, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, are common causes of ED. The emotional and mental strain associated with military service, including combat situations, can contribute to psychological conditions that, in turn, lead to ED.

Neurological Conditions

Certain neurological conditions, such as spinal cord injuries or disorders, can affect nerve signals and blood flow to the genital area, resulting in ED.

Medications

Some medications used to treat service-connected conditions may have ED as a side effect. For example, certain antidepressants and antipsychotic medications can affect sexual function.

Filing a VA Claim for Secondary Service Connection

To be able to file a VA claim for any secondary connection, you need to provide 3 types of evidence:

  • Medical diagnosis in the VA or private records
  • Evidence of a service-related primary disability or injury rated at 10 percent or higher
  • Medical nexus evidence establishing a connection between the service-connected disability and the secondary condition

After collecting all the essential evidence, you can file a claim for a secondary service connection, using VA Form 21-526EZ, “Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits” and follow the standard procedure.

Collecting solid and reliable evidence is vital when you file a secondary VA claim, as in the event of success, it can increase your disability rate up to 100%. Here at VCU, we have developed a vast network of reliable independent medical professionals who can give you the necessary examinations and statements and built a team of professionals ready to guide you through the procedure and help you claim the maximum in the VA disability benefits you have deserved in years of honorable service.

Schedule your free 30-minute call with a Veterans Specialist today and together we will help you take your case into your own hands and win it.

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