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
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.
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.