What is a Secondary Claim for VA Disability Compensation?

Filing a secondary claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a common way for veterans to get additional disability benefits. A secondary claim allows a veteran to receive compensation for a new disability that is caused by an already service-connected condition.

What is a Secondary Service Connection?

A secondary service connection refers to a disability that is caused or aggravated by an injury or illness that the VA has already determined to be service-connected.

For example, if a veteran injures their knee during service and later develops arthritis in that knee, they can file a secondary claim to get service-connected disability for the arthritis, since it was caused by the original knee injury.

The key factors for secondary service connection are:

  • There must be a service-connected disability that is already rated by the VA
  • There must be an additional disability that was caused or aggravated by the service-connected disability
  • There must be a medical link (called a “nexus”) between the two disabilities

Without the service-connected disability, the secondary disability would likely not have occurred.

When to File a Secondary Claim

A veteran can file a secondary claim at any point after they have been granted service connection for the initial disability. There is no time limit to file.

That said, it is best to file the secondary claim as soon as the new disability manifests and gets diagnosed. This allows the effective date for payments to go back to when the secondary condition first appeared.

If a long time passes between diagnosis of the secondary condition and filing the claim, the veteran may lose out on months or years of retroactive payments.

How to File a Secondary Claim

Filing a secondary claim follows the same process as filing for service connection on any other disability:

  1. Complete VA Form 21-526EZ – This is the application form for disability compensation. Be sure to indicate that it is a “secondary condition” in Section I, #3.

  2. Provide medical evidence – This includes medical records, lab reports, imaging studies, hospitalization records, etc. showing the diagnosis and treatment for the secondary disability. A physician’s statement explaining how the new disability is related to the already service-connected condition is very helpful.

  3. Submit lay evidence – The veteran and others who know them can provide lay statements describing how the secondary condition impacts functioning and day-to-day life. This helps establish the severity of the disability.

  4. Get a C&P exam – The VA will schedule a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam by one of their doctors to evaluate the claimed secondary disability, if needed. The examiner provides a medical opinion on whether the secondary condition was caused or aggravated by the service-connected disability.

  5. Receive a decision – The VA reviews all evidence and makes a decision. If approved, the veteran receives disability payments based on the rating assigned to the secondary disability.

Examples of Secondary Conditions

Some common secondary claims include:

  • Arthritis that develops in a joint injured during service
  • Heart disease secondary to service-connected hypertension
  • Depression secondary to service-connected chronic pain or PTSD
  • Diabetes caused by medication taken for a service-connected condition
  • Weight gain and obesity due to inability to exercise from a service-connected disability
  • Loss of use of a limb from a service-connected amputation or paralysis

Nearly any disability can potentially be claimed as secondary service connection if there is a logical link between it and the original service-connected disability. Speak to a qualified Veterans Service Officer for guidance.

How Secondary Claims are Rated

If approved, the VA will assign a disability rating and monthly payment amount for the secondary condition based on the rating schedule guidelines. This is done the same way as for any other service-connected disability.

The key factors are:

  • Diagnosis – What is the specific secondary medical condition? Different conditions have different criteria and ratings.

  • Severity – How severe are the symptoms? More severe disabilities get higher ratings.

  • Treatment – What kinds of treatment are required? Disabilities requiring intensive treatment warrant higher ratings.

  • Functional impact – How much does the secondary condition impair normal activities and employment? Higher impairment equates to higher ratings.

The combined rating of all service-connected disabilities determines the total monthly payment.

Special Considerations

  • A secondary claim can be filed at the same time as the initial claim for the primary service-connected disability. The VA will decide both claims together.

  • Secondary claims are possible even if the primary service-connected disability is only rated at 0%. As long as there is a service-connected condition, secondary disabilities can be claimed.

  • Presumptive service connection may apply to some secondary conditions like heart disease or diabetes. This makes approval easier for claims related to certain disabilities.

  • Aggravation of a non-service connected disability by a service-connected condition can also be claimed for secondary service connection, if there is medical evidence that the primary disability made the secondary disability permanently worse.

  • Hiring an accredited Veterans Service Officer or VA-recognized agent to file a secondary claim is highly recommended, as they know how to gather evidence and prove the link between disabilities.

Reasons a Secondary Claim May Be Denied

The main reasons a secondary service connection claim might be denied include:

  • No existing service-connected disability to link the secondary claim to

  • No medical nexus – the evidence does not show a link between the primary and secondary disabilities

  • The secondary disability is determined to be age-related, hereditary, or due to natural progression rather than caused by the service-connected condition

  • The claimed secondary disability does not actually represent a diagnosed medical condition

  • The secondary disability manifested years after service with no relationship to the service-connected disability shown

  • A non-service connected disability was only temporarily aggravated, not permanently worsened, by a service-connected disability

Can a Secondary Claim Be Appealed?

Yes, veterans have the right to appeal any VA claim decision, including secondary claims. The appeal process includes:

  • Filing a Notice of Disagreement within 1 year of the decision
  • Getting a Statement of the Case from the VA
  • Filing a VA Form 9 to complete the appeal
  • Providing evidence to support the appeal
  • Having a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge

During this process, be sure to obtain medical opinions, treatment records, and lay statements that help prove the secondary condition is related to the original service-connected disability. Appealing with new favorable evidence is key.

With persistence and good evidence, many initially denied secondary claims are eventually approved upon appeal.


Filing secondary claims is an essential tool for disabled veterans to gain rightful disability benefits for medical complications related to their service injuries and illnesses.

By understanding what evidence is needed and how to link the secondary disability to a service-connected condition, veterans can submit successful claims. Those denied have appeal options.

Overall, secondary service connection allows veterans with service-related health declines to access vital compensation they deserve. Thoroughly researching the process helps veterans submit eligible claims.

Actual SECONDARY Claim List For VA Disability


What are examples of secondary conditions?

In the clinical and research literature, frequently mentioned secondary conditions include arthritis, pain, pressure ulcers, fatigue, depression, contractures, and urinary tract infections. The risk of developing a particular secondary condition, however, depends in part on a person’s primary condition.

What is needed for a secondary VA claim?

Evidence of the diagnosis of your secondary condition, and. Medical nexus evidence linking your primary condition to the secondary condition. This evidence must provide an opinion that your secondary condition is due to or aggravated by the primary condition.

How do I make a secondary claim?

How to File a VA Secondary Claim. Filing a secondary VA claim for service connection involves the same process as filing any other initial claim. Veterans should fill out and submit VA Form 21-526EZ – VA’s application for disability compensation and related compensation benefits.

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