The 3 Elements of a Service-Connected Disability Claim

The Knowledge NinjaFor a veteran to establish a service-connected disability, a viable claim must include these three elements:

Current Diagnosis

• Chronic physical or mental disability
This can refer to physical conditions, such as a back injury, or a disease or illness (such as diabetes or cancer), or mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Documented Event In Service

• Eligible periods of service
Although an eligible period of service varies from benefit to benefit, it would be active duty service for a specified length of time during a specific period of time, e.g. 90 days total service with at least one day within a period of war.

• A verifiable stressor
A stressor can be a single incident or event (vehicle rollover, explosion, exposure) that caused an injury, illness, or health condition that is documented and can be substantiated.  The stressor can also be a period of time during an active duty deployment, such as Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

A Link Between the Two

The VA must find a ‘nexus’, or connection between the current diagnosis and an in-service event.  Several things help establish that connection:

• Continuity of treatment
Medical documentation detailing treatment of the injury, disease, or illness since discharge.

A disease subject to presumptive service connection (38 CFR 3.309)
Certain diseases or conditions have been granted automatic service connection following service in a period of war on or after Jan. 1, 1947. You can find a list of presumptive diseases here under the “Service Connection” heading.

Credible medical opinion
This is a letter from a specialist — not a general practioner — that adds to a veteran’s medical documentation that states the veteran’s condition was more likely than not caused or aggravated by active duty service.