An important component of veteran care is to understand the significance of service-connected disability. A service-connected disability is any illness or injury that occurred or was aggravated during active duty or active-duty service training. The condition does not have to be connected with combat, result from military duties, be related to the conditions of service, or have occurred during military “work” time.
Veterans can claim service connection for such conditions through the VA, and if approved, be awarded federal disability compensation, healthcare, employment, and in some cases additional state supports.
Over a quarter of veterans aged 21 to 64 years old reported a VA service-connected disability in 2017 (the most recent data available). Not only has the percentage of veterans with service-connected disabilities more than doubled over the past few decades, but a large portion of the increase has also been in veterans with disability ratings of 50 percent or higher.
SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITIES ARE NOT ONLY LINKED TO COMBAT
Some conditions can be linked to activities or tasks performed during the course of military duties, including training, engaging in combat, serving on humanitarian and rescue missions, and suffering penetrating wounds or musculoskeletal injuries. However, other health conditions such as cancer, bipolar disorder, or a sports injury that occurs at any time during active duty may be classified as service connected.
SOME CONDITIONS ARE PRESUMED TO BE CONNECTED TO MILITARY SERVICE
In addition, there are many conditions which are presumptively service connected, where no proof beyond exposure to risks and diagnosis of condition is needed to establish connection.
It is also very important to understand secondary service connection, which recognizes conditions that occur after service but are related to an in-service illness or injury. For example, heart disease can be a compensable secondary service-connected condition related to PTSD.
HOW DOES THE VA RATE THE LEVEL OF DISABILITY?
The VA uses a scale of 0 to 100 percent, in increments of 10 percent, to rate a veteran’s level of disability. In addition, veterans can have multiple disability ratings, adding up to one overall degree of disability. (See our chapter on access to VA Benefits and care for more information.)
Among the most common physical health needs, tinnitus, hearing loss, and musculoskeletal injuries are the most common ailments seen among veterans in the VA and most commonly service connected. What follows are other common health outcomes determined by the VA to be connected to military service that you might see among your veteran patients or clients.