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Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Importance of “Service-Connection” for Military Disability

Service-connection is a really important concept for Military Disability. Both DoD Disability and VA Disability require all medical conditions to be service-connected in order to qualify for disability compensation.

Service-connection means that a condition is related to or directly caused by military service. The exact rules to determine this are different for the Reserves than for Active Duty.

For Active Duty, a condition is considered service-connected if it occurred or was first diagnosed any time while on active duty. It does not have to have occurred while actually performing your job requirements.

For example, Joe served on active duty from 2008 to 2012. In 2009, he was deployed to Iraq and developed hearing loss from exposure to explosions. In 2010, after returning from Iraq, he broke his ankle in a basketball game with some of his civilian friends on the weekend. Since Joe was on active duty, BOTH conditions are considered service-connected, even though one was not a direct result of performing his duties. As long as it occurs or was diagnosed while in the military, it’s service-connected and eligible for benefits.

For Reserves, a condition is considered service-connected only if it occurred while actively participating in military service. This is referred to as Line of Duty (LOD). The Reservist’s commander is the one who determines if a condition occurred while in the Line of Duty. As long as the commander correctly submits a Line of Duty determination form, the condition will be eligible for disability benefits.

So, if Joe was a Reservist instead of active duty, his hearing loss would be eligible for disability, but his broken ankle would not.

Now, the VA will give VA Disability Benefits for conditions that develop after a disabled American veteran leaves the military as long as it can be proven that the condition itself is service-connected, is on the VA Presumptive List, or that it was caused by another condition that is service-connected.

For example, if active-duty-Joe’s ankle condition never fully heals and causes knee pain a few years after he leaves the military, the VA will consider his knee pain as service-connected since it is definitely caused by a service-connected condition. It will be eligible for VA Disability.

Similarly, if Joe starts developing PTSD symptoms years after he leaves the military (a very normal occurrence), the VA will consider it service-connected since he clearly experienced traumatic events while deployed to Iraq (this will have to be proved). So even though it didn’t show up until much later, it is still service-connected.

If, however, Joe develops a skin condition on his ear after he leaves the military, the VA won’t consider it service-connected since there is no medical proof that links skin conditions to hearing loss. Definitely not service-connected.

So, service-connection must be proven for every condition in order for it to be eligible to receive disability compensation. No exceptions.


  1. Hi. I took this drug BUTAZOLIDIN to treat painful left shoulder in the Army, and I'm filing for deadly side effects of the drug, e.g hearing lost, tinnitus, gouty arthritis? Can I do that?

    1. Yes, if the side effects can be definitively linked to your military prescription drug usage, then they do qualify for disability from the VA.

  2. Hello, I have been a Reservist for 32 years. On 11/15/13 I was diagnosed with Cardio Vascular Disease and Sleep Apnea. I did active duty tour in 2005 and 2008 during Iraq Operation Freedom. My Cardiologist has dx stating that due to the physical requirements as a crew chief, military stress and physical demands I was not able to fulfill my duties. I have no family history of either on of these dx and he said that it can be brought on from my history in the military, Please Help.

    1. Definitely submit a VA Disability Claim for these conditions:

      Since, however, these were diagnosed while inactive and so long after your deployment, the VA will most likely not consider them service-connected. The rules of service-connection for Reservists is very strict in that conditions must have occurred in "the line of duty."

      That being said, your doctor's testimony may help sway the VA, but be prepared that it might not. Ultimately, it is worth applying.

    2. Thank You for your advice. I am in the process of submitting my second appeal.

  3. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea by the va. I submitted my claim and they said it wasn't service connected. They even gave me a sleep study. I don't understand

    1. When were you separated from the military? If it was diagnosed more than a year after separation, then the VA will not consider it service-connected. It doesn't matter if they were the ones to diagnose it or not. Conditions must meet the requirements for service-connection in order to qualify for disability benefits.

  4. Travis Miranda
    Question for you,
    I did 8 years in the navy got out and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I don't have a medical paper trail while I was in the navy, and I am trying to link my illness to the anthrax vaccines I took in 2000.Years later I want to know if I even stand a chance of getting any compensation whatsoever with the VA.

    1. Hi Travis -

      The key is physical evidence. No documented evidence means no chance of a successful claim. The VA is legally not allowed to grant claims that have no documented support. So regardless of the reasons why, if you cannot show documentation, your claim will be denied.

    2. but Dr. Johnson hasn't it already proven arthritis signs from anthrax vaccines?

    3. There was a test that showed connection, but only if the disease developed within 90 days of exposure to the vaccine. After that time period, it is no more likely to have been caused by the vaccine than other factors.

      A VA disability case also ruled against the anthrax vaccine as an exacerbation of rheumatoid arthritis:

      Ultimately, there is not enough medical proof that rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the anthrax vaccine for the VA to judge in favor of this claim.