Establishing Service Connection
For the VA to approve your claim, they’re looking for these three things:
Evidence of a current disability.
Evidence of something that happened in-service.
Evidence connecting the first two.
Simply put, the VA needs to know that you’re currently disabled and that the something that happened while you were a service member is connected to your current disability. Here’s an example:
You have trouble getting around because your knee hurts; that’s the current disability. When you were in the service, you hurt your knee during training and you went on Sick Call to get it treated. There will be a record of treatment that should now be a part of your C-File. This is the in-service incident. The next part is up to a doctor to provide evidence that the past injury is, at least in part, causing your current disability.
A key point to remember is that it’s not enough to have a bad knee. Nor is it enough to have had an injury during your time in the service. The medical evidence connecting the two is crucial.
Of course, if your disability claim was initially rejected by the VA, it may not have been such an obvious case. In other words, in the eyes of whoever reviewed your application, one of the necessary elements was lacking. When you file your Notice of Disagreement (NOD), the VA is required to respond with a Statement of the Case (SOC). The SOC should outline the reasons that the VA came to the decision that they did–referring to specific claims and the evidence that they evaluated to reach their conclusions. So, that means it should be a guide to which of the three elements of service connection needs to bolstered in your appeal.
This highlights why it’s so important to have your Claim File (C-File): It contains the evidence that the VA used to evaluate your claim. Having the C-File allows for verification that records of in-service injuries are actually there. Or, that medical reports regarding your current disability are being included. Or, that a current medical opinion is actually connecting the two.
Consequently, it’s advisable to seek qualified legal help. It’s easy to believe that your situation is as obvious as the example above. After all, you lived it and you’re still living it. But, a trained and experienced professional can look at what you’re telling the VA, find the parts that need to be shored up, and put you on the path for a favorable ruling.
The best way to approach your appeal will depend upon the “what’s” in the VA’s SOC. For example, if there’s not enough evidence of an in-service injury, you may need to get “buddy letters” from your fellow service members to confirm what you experienced. Sometimes you may need a private doctor to perform a medical examination and write a report to provide evidence of service connection. Such a report will frequently contradict the findings from the Compensation & Pension Exam, done by a doctor that the VA themselves selected.
We at The Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are familiar with appealing VA Disability claims and can guide you to the specific elements you need to prove Service Connection. Contact us for a free consultation.