Military Disability Made Easy

The Importance of “Service-Connection” for Military Disability

Service-connection is a really important concept for Military Disability. Both DoD Disability and VA Disability require all medical conditions to be service-connected in order to qualify for disability compensation.
Service-connection means that a condition is related to or directly caused by military service. The exact rules to determine this are different for the Reserves than for Active Duty.
For Active Duty, a condition is considered service-connected if it occurred or was first diagnosed any time while on active duty. It does not have to have occurred while actually performing your job requirements.
For example, Joe served on active duty from 2008 to 2012. In 2009, he was deployed to Iraq and developed hearing loss from exposure to explosions. In 2010, after returning from Iraq, he broke his ankle in a basketball game with some of his civilian friends on the weekend. Since Joe was on active duty, BOTH conditions are considered service-connected, even though one was not a direct result of performing his duties. As long as it occurs or was diagnosed while in the military, it’s service-connected and eligible for benefits.
For Reserves, a condition is considered service-connected only if it occurred while actively participating in military service. This is referred to as Line of Duty (LOD). The Reservist’s commander is the one who determines if a condition occurred while in the Line of Duty. As long as the commander correctly submits a Line of Duty determination form, the condition will be eligible for disability benefits.
So, if Joe was a Reservist instead of active duty, his hearing loss would be eligible for disability, but his broken ankle would not.
Now, the VA will give VA Disability Benefits for conditions that develop after a disabled American veteran leaves the military as long as it can be proven that the condition itself is service-connected, is on the VA Presumptive List, or that it was caused by another condition that is service-connected.
For example, if active-duty-Joe’s ankle condition never fully heals and causes knee pain a few years after he leaves the military, the VA will consider his knee pain as service-connected since it is definitely caused by a service-connected condition. It will be eligible for VA Disability.
Similarly, if Joe starts developing PTSD symptoms years after he leaves the military (a very normal occurrence), the VA will consider it service-connected since he clearly experienced traumatic events while deployed to Iraq (this will have to be proved). So even though it didn’t show up until much later, it is still service-connected.
If, however, Joe develops a skin condition on his ear after he leaves the military, the VA won’t consider it service-connected since there is no medical proof that links skin conditions to hearing loss. Definitely not service-connected.
So, service-connection must be proven for every condition in order for it to be eligible to receive disability compensation. No exceptions.


  • Hi. I took this drug BUTAZOLIDIN to treat painful left shoulder in the Army, and I'm filing for deadly side effects of the drug, e.g hearing lost, tinnitus, gouty arthritis? Can I do that?

  • Hello, I have been a Reservist for 32 years. On 11/15/13 I was diagnosed with Cardio Vascular Disease and Sleep Apnea. I did active duty tour in 2005 and 2008 during Iraq Operation Freedom. My Cardiologist has dx stating that due to the physical requirements as a crew chief, military stress and physical demands I was not able to fulfill my duties. I have no family history of either on of these dx and he said that it can be brought on from my history in the military, Please Help.

  • Definitely submit a VA Disability Claim for these conditions:

    Since, however, these were diagnosed while inactive and so long after your deployment, the VA will most likely not consider them service-connected. The rules of service-connection for Reservists is very strict in that conditions must have occurred in "the line of duty."

    That being said, your doctor's testimony may help sway the VA, but be prepared that it might not. Ultimately, it is worth applying.

  • I was diagnosed with sleep apnea by the va. I submitted my claim and they said it wasn't service connected. They even gave me a sleep study. I don't understand

  • Travis Miranda
    Question for you,
    I did 8 years in the navy got out and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I don't have a medical paper trail while I was in the navy, and I am trying to link my illness to the anthrax vaccines I took in 2000.Years later I want to know if I even stand a chance of getting any compensation whatsoever with the VA.

  • Hi Travis –

    The key is physical evidence. No documented evidence means no chance of a successful claim. The VA is legally not allowed to grant claims that have no documented support. So regardless of the reasons why, if you cannot show documentation, your claim will be denied.

  • There was a test that showed connection, but only if the disease developed within 90 days of exposure to the vaccine. After that time period, it is no more likely to have been caused by the vaccine than other factors.

    A VA disability case also ruled against the anthrax vaccine as an exacerbation of rheumatoid arthritis:

    Ultimately, there is not enough medical proof that rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the anthrax vaccine for the VA to judge in favor of this claim.

  • I am a National Guardsman. If I have a DOD disability and get medically retired, do I still have to wait until the age of 60 to draw my benefits? Also, if I am medically retired am I considered a gray area retiree?

    Thanks for this site, it is truly the best information to help vets understand how to navigate the shark infested waters of the VA…

  • I have a question for you. Can you use symptoms of scaring on the lungs as symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. If you were seen by a civilian DR on active duty but later after your discharge date you were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis?

  • Hi Travis –

    Pulmonary fibrosis is a symptoms of RA, but it's rare for that to be diagnosed without joint symptoms too. If your doctor can write a NEXUS letter, however, saying that the fibrosis diagnosed while active duty is "more likely than not" the result of your RA, that could be enough evidence to get your RA service-connected.

  • Dr
    I haven't been diagnosed yet with Pulmonary Fibrosis yet its all currently in the work ups. I have my scar on my lungs that was taken on a dive physical when I was on terminal leave from the Navy that I have submitted to the VA. My question to you is that if my civilian DR writes a letter to the VA that he strongly believes their is a link between my rheumatoid arthritis and the scar on my lungs from my dive physical will that be enough or do you think more proof would be needed?

  • Dr.
    One more question please? If I am properly diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, then does that mean rheumatoid arthritis would fall under my primary disability and Pulmonary Fibrosis under secondary?

  • Yes, pulmonary fibrosis is secondary to rheumatoid arthritis.

    A scar on your lung alone is not necessarily connected to RA. It could be caused by pneumonia or something else. Pulmonary fibrosis is known to be directly caused by RA, so without the official diagnosis, the VA may not consider your evidence sufficient to link the scar to your RA. A doctor's note could, of course, help, but an official diagnosis along with the doctor's note would be the best scenario.

  • I got tinnitus from shooting a 45 on the firing range at Navy Ellyson Field in 1967 (no hearing protection was provided). I was waiting for flight training, and we were being certified as nuclear weapon couriers in the interim. I noted it to the doc at my flight physical, and he said there was nothing to be done for it. After that, I had 9 years flying P-3 Orion turboprops with lots of noise and little or no ear protection. I'm now 73 and my hearing has worsened considerably. Do I qualify for anything? Thanks.

  • Check your MOS on the Noise Exposure Listing. I'm pretty sure it (or the modern equivalent) will be there. If so, and it has you listed at moderate or probable, then your hearing loss and tinnitus will automatically qualify. Just submit a claim and evidence of your MOS and you should be good to go.

  • I got a C&P exam that revealed tinnitus and lost of hearing on one ear. The VA denied my claim indicating is not connected. I have submitted evidence showing that working as a heavy duty equipment mechanic We were exposed to high noise constantly from power tools and engine noise. VA still claimed it couldn't be from the service.

  • Is your MOS on the Noise Exposure Listing as moderate to high?

    If so, they are supposed to grant connection and you can appeal.

    If your MOS isn't, then you have to prove that you were exposed to noise during your military career that you could not have been exposed to otherwise.

    This can be where it gets tricky. If you were a Reservists, then it is unlikely that they will grant service-connection since you could have been exposed to high noise levels off duty as well. If you were active duty, then you still have to show that you were regularly and for a prolonged period exposed to high levels of noise known to cause hearing loss. If there is just as much likelihood that your hearing loss could have been caused by other factors, then it'll be difficult to win your claim.

  • I was medically disqualified from my primary duties and forced to change my rate from Submarine NavET. I finished my career as a Corpsman Biomed Tech. Essentially halting my advancement at my 12 year mark as the second job never allowed me time for experience in the Corpsman field. The VA stated that there was no service connected disability related to it.

  • Were the conditions that medically disqualified you caused by your military service? If so, and you have medical records to prove the initial incident/diagnosis, then you do qualify for VA compensation for those conditions. If the conditions do not meet any of the requirements for service-connection, then the VA was correct to deny your claim. Check out our service-connection page to compare your conditions and see if they qualify.

  • Thank you for the reply. Catching pneumonia three times while in training in CT and on two northern deployments (while wearing appropriate attire), thus inducing the exercised induced asthma. Improper after-care is what attributed to the need for medical disqualification. I'm in the process of getting an attorney to fight this.

  • I was service connected by the VA for the wrong eye in 1990. I have to say the corpsman report(he called it a left eye injury although it was a head injury near my left eye) was poorly written BUT I had a medical exam by a ophthalmologist at the Naval Hospital.
    It clearly states I have a lesion in my right eye. I filed a claim in March 2019 to get this corrected. VA said that there was no medical report indicating that my right eye was injured. Apparently they didn't read the ophthalmologist report. There are only 2 pages for this injury. How hard can it be to read two pages? Would this be a cue? Thanks

  • As long as the medical records are from the same time period (at the time of the original injury) and you have subsequent records of your right eye being treated for the condition over the years, you have a strong chance of claiming a CUE.

  • My friend is a navy air carrier vet he went in at 17 and came out 4 yrs later. He has severe knee problems and is treated by the VA. Can he use this problem for service-connection. He went in just as the Korean war was ending. He also has severe foot problems.

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