There are two types of service-connection
There are three requirements to establish Direct service-connection for residuals of injuries and diseases;
1) In-service documentation of an injury or disease.
2) A current condition with a medical diagnosis.
3) and a medical nexus connecting 1 and 2.
An in-service injury/disease means that for the most part it must be documented in the veteran’s service medical records (SMR’s). One thing to keep in mind is that, generally, the in-service injury/disease must be shown to be “chronic” while in-service. If it is not shown to be a “chronic” condition while in-service, then you’ll more than likely need an Independent Medical Opinion (IMO) to substantiate the claim. If a veteran doesn’t have either a documented “chronic” condition, or an IMO, the VA will more than likely state that the claimed condition is “Acute and Transitory,” meaning that the injury/disease resolved itself and there is no residuals.
A current condition with a medical diagnosis means that the claimed condition has to show current residuals from that in-service-injury, and it must have a current diagnosis from a physician.. A lot of times the diagnosis can and will be obtained from the VA C&P exam. If the VA sees that your condition was “chronic” while in the service, or that you have medical documentation of continuity of treatment since discharge, more often than not they will schedule the veteran for a C&P exam to obtain the needed diagnosis and current disabling affects of the claimed disability.
Something connecting the two means either continuity of treatment of the claimed disability from time of discharge to the present, or, if this is not the case, then an IMO will be needed from a physician. A lot of times an IMO is a critical part of the veterans claim. An IMO can sway the benefit of the doubt in the veteran’s favor if the claim is borderline, or it can flat out prove service-connection when one of the three components of establishing service-connection aren’t met! For example, by borderline I mean let’s say that a veteran was seen for lower back pain once while on active duty over a period of a five year enlistment. And now it is ten years since his discharge and the veteran hasn’t been seen for the lower back until recently, or only had one episode of back pain within those ten years since getting out of the military. The veteran will need an IMO stating something to the affect that his current lower back condition is some how related to the episode while on active duty. If the RVSR (Rating Veteran Service Representative, or “Rating Specialist”) is very liberal in applying the regulation, he/she may award service-connection without the IMO. However, if the RVSR is “by the book,” then he/she may deny service-connection in the absence of a good IMO. An example of where an IMO can establish service-connection with which one or more of the three criteria listed above are absent would be, let’s say that a veteran was seen one time for a knee condition while on active duty and this incident is noted in his SMR’s. Ten years later the veteran is experiencing pain in that same knee but didn’t have any type of treatment since his discharge, he would need a really good IMO to establish that his current disability is somehow related to the in-service episode.
As far as presumptive service-connection is concerned, a veteran needs to be able to show that a condition listed in §3.307, §3.308, and §3.309 has manifested itself within the prescribed time limits after separation from the service. A presumptive condition does not need to be noted in a veteran’s SMR’s, hence presumptive, or it’s presumed that the said disability/disease occurred while in the service. There are some presumptive disabilities that do need to have manifested themselves within the first year after separation and to degree of 10% disabling in order to warrant presumptive service-connection. One common one is Arthritis.
Filing the claim:
Once you have determined that you have met three basic criteria of disability compensation, you should then file the claim with your local Regional Office. There are two types of claims for initial service-connection; an Informal claim and a Formal claim.
An Informal claim is some type of communication to your local regional office in which you state you intend to apply for disability compensation. This communication can be a written letter, or fax, a telephone call or even an email. The best way, however, is something in writing. When a claimant makes an informal claim with VA, they need to clearly identify the disability for which they intend to apply for, give the VA your SSN and dates and branch of service, and make sure you send it via certified mail with return receipt! After you have sent your informal claim to VA, you have up to one year to send the VA your Formal Claim. In this one year period, I would recommend that you get together all of your medical records and so forth that will support your claim. If you send the VA your formal claim within the one year time period of the informal claim and VA grants your claim, the effective date, or the day you start to receive disability compensation, is the date of your informal claim. This could mean a lot of money in retro!
A Formal Claim for disability compensation is the VA Form 21-526. You should fill this out to the best of your ability. You should attach any Service Medical Records, Private Treatment records relevant to your claimed disability(ies), certified copy of your DD 214, copies of marriage certificates divorce decrees and dependent birth certificates. By attaching these documents, you’ll speed up the processing of your claim quite a bit. However, you do not need to attach those documents if you do not have them in your possession. If you do not have any of those medical records, the VA will assist you in obtaining those by asking you to fill out VA Form 21-4142 for each facility were those records are located. One important side note; make sure you sign the VA Form 21-526!!
Important: You do not need to submit an Informal claim. You can file VA form 21-526 without informing VA of your intention to file for disability compensation.
What happens after I file my Formal claim?
What happens after you file your claim:
After you send VA your Formal claim, there are a number of “teams” at your local regional office that process your application.
There are essentially six “teams” at a Regional office that make up the “process.” When a veteran files a claim for benefits with VA, it is received at what is called a ‘Triage Team.’ This is where the incoming mail is sorted and routed to the different sections or other “teams” to be worked. Picture this as a Triage unit at a Hospital. There they decide who goes where according to the injury/condition involved. This is the way it works at VA too. The main function of the Triage Team is to screen all incoming mail. Within the Triage Team there are other sub components; the Mail Control Point, Mail Processing Point, and to a certain extent supervision of the files activity. The mail control point is staffed with VSR (Veteran Service Representatives) who are actually trained in claims processing. This is also where they receive and answer the IRIS inquiries. The mail processing point is where chapter 29/30 claims (a bit later on theses types of claims) are processed/awarded, and to a certain extent dependency issues are resolved.