Q: I have hearing loss and headaches from an injury sustained while on active duty stateside. Am I eligible for disability compensation?
A: All claims for VA benefits must meet criteria set forth in VA law.
First, VA establishes veteran status of the claimant. Active duty, length and character of service — not location of duty station — are the issues. Once veteran status is established, three elements are required for a condition to be service connected and thus qualify for benefits.
For typical service connected compensation claims, these three elements are as follows:
Accident, injury, illness, disease or event in service. There must be verifiable proof that an event occurred, and/or a condition began in or was aggravated (made worse) by your military service. VA uses your service medical records and/or statements from someone who knew of the condition(s) while you were in service or shortly after exit, your military occupational specialty, and other facts of your service.
Current condition. You must have a current diagnosis of the condition, or the condition is so obvious no diagnosis is needed.
Link. There must be medical evidence, such as a medical opinion connecting the current condition to the verified condition or event in service. The connection can also be provided by VA law, as in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Agent Orange, prisoner of war, Gulf War claims and others.
Here is an example: While in service, you went to sick call for an injury to your lower back. A medical record of that injury may be in your service medical records. VA will make every effort to obtain those records, and you will need to give VA dates and location of your treatment. You also need a current diagnosis from a medical professional stating that you have, for example, arthritis or degenerative disc disease (DDD) in your lower back. VA medical records are accepted as evidence when they relate to the claimed condition.
The next thing VA needs is a link. A link is often established by a medical opinion. The medical opinion must be based on review of your service medical records and post-service history. The provider is basically stating that after reviewing the evidence, it is his/her professional opinion that the injury to your lower back, while in service, has contributed to the current diagnosis of arthritis or DDD today, and why he/she believes it is so.
The same process applies to hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing or noise in the ears). You will probably need an audiologist or a similar expert to review your case and provide an opinion. In many cases, VA will provide this type of exam. Duty station, stateside or otherwise, is usually not a factor.
Do you have a question about the claims process or veterans benefits? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.