To obtain service connected compensation the first thing a veteran must prove is the existence of a current disability. After that, the veteran must also provide medical, or sometimes lay evidence, that the injury or disease was incurred or was aggravated while the veteran was in service. Finally the veteran must provide evidence linking the incurrence or aggravation of the injury or disease to the current disability. This post will explain the first requirement: proving the existence of a current disability.
A veteran is not entitled to disability compensation merely because she or he was ill or injured during the period of service. Many injuries and diseases are temporary and leave no residual symptoms. The VA requires that a veteran currently have symptoms stemming from the injury or disease in order to receive compensation for a disability incurred during service.
Evidence of Current Disability
Oftentimes a veteran cannot afford to go see a private physician to get a diagnosis of a current disability. Frequently if the veteran supplies the VA with statements about ongoing and repeating symptoms of the current disability, the VA is then required to provide a free VA examination to the veteran (for all claims filed after November 9, 2000). The medical report resulting from that exam may satisfy the requirement of evidence of a current disability.
When submitting a lay statement to the VA, include as much detail as possible. Describe each symptom specifically. Mention when it first occurred, times when it has worsened, up to the present day. Explain how frequently the symptoms occur and with what severity, and for any symptoms that is not continuous describe the circumstances when it recurs, and for how long, etc.
If there is a medical article linking the symptoms to a particular diagnosis, by all means include this article in the submission. The more detail that is provided by the veteran the more likely the VA is to assist a veteran with a free VA exam.
For veterans who can afford to see a private doctor, it also helps to include the medical report. Encourage the physician to specifically discuss the veteran's medical records (not just that they were referenced) and to describe how the medical diagnosis was reached.
The additional details provided by the veteran and/or a private physician can bolster other evidentiary requirements.
Type of Evidence Required
The VA requires competent medical evidence to prove a current disability. This means evidence provided by a medical professional. There are almost no cases where a veteran's statement alone - without any medical evidence - will be accepted by the VA as proof of a current disability.
When Doctors Disagree
If a veteran submits a medical report from a private physician and it conflicts with a medical report from a VA doctor, the adjudicator at the regional VA office or the Board of Veterans' Appeals will review both reports and consider which contains stronger evidence and is more credible.
Disability Must Be Current
The VA requires evidence that at some point between the time the claim is orginally filed or while the claim is pending the veteran had a current disability. Proof of a disability prior to filing will not suffice.
Defects versus Disease
The VA does not provide compensation for certain conditions such as "congenital or developmental defects". A veteran can be compensated for a hereditary disease that first occurs, or is aggravated, during service, but not for a defect no matter when the symptoms first occur. A condition that can improve and worsen may be a disease, whereas a defect may not change at all. Therefore it is helpful to show a change in the condition to show that the condition is a disease.
A veteran must be able to prove the existence of a current disability by submitting medical evidence to the VA. If the veteran cannot afford to obtain a medical opinion, a detailed description of symptoms can be submitted to the VA to trigger the provision of a free VA medical exam. Once a veteran has evidence of a current disability, the next burdens of proof are that the injury or illness that caused the disability first occurred, or was aggravated, during service and caused the current disability.