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What Constitutes a Service-Connected Death

What Constitutes a Service-Connected Death?


If the VA attributes the death to a disability acquired or aggravated, in line of duty or service in the military then the VA may deem the expiration as a service-connected death. Surviving family members, mostly surviving spouses, of deceased disabled veterans could be eligible for a monetary benefit known as Dependency & Indemnity Compensation, more commonly known as DIC benefits. Two main requirements must be met. First, the applicant must have a qualifying relationship with the deceased veteran. Second, the veteran’s cause of death must be related to a service-connected disability. This article will flesh out the second requirement.


The applicable federal regulation states “the service-connected disability will be considered as the principal (primary) cause of death when such disability, singly or jointly with some other condition, was the immediate or underlying cause of death or was etiologically related thereto.”


That definition contains a lot of information which surviving family members of deceased veterans should not be tasked with interpreting. The only thing these survivors know is that they were financially dependent on the Veteran’s disability benefits, and suddenly, those benefits are gone. Life moves on after a tragedy, and a VA disability attorney helps ensure these families have the resources they need to live their lives.


So, what does this mean? The VA breaks it down into two distinct requirements. One, the veteran must have had a service-connected disability at the time of his or her death. And, two, that service-connected disability must have caused or contributed to his or her death in some way. Let’s look at these requirements in turn.


Service-Connected Disability and Service-Connected Death


The VA now recognizes a few disabilities, such as a fall during a training accident or a combat wound from the Global War on Terror, as clearly service-connected. Historically, disability benefits were only available for obvious conditions.


Over time, eligibility expanded to include occupational diseases, such as toxic exposure illnesses and repetitive stress injuries. These matters are more controversial. For example, the VA has consistently denied that toxic smoke from burn pits caused cancer and other illnesses. Medical science has now proven otherwise. Veterans who were denied compensation for those conditions can now become service-connected more easily. Additionally, chronic problems like bad knees and bad backs usually involve pre-existing conditions, which can complicate claims for compensation.


Even if some challenges exist, a VA disability attorney can help navigate compensation claims. Currently, VA disability benefits are already available for burn pit victims. There’s just no presumptive service-related connection, as is the case in Agent Orange exposure illnesses. So, these cases are rather difficult to prove.


Pre-existing Conditions and a Service-Connected Death


As for pre-existing conditions, an applicant must prove that the service-related condition primarily caused the disability. Frequently, a VA disability attorney partners with an independent doctor to secure the necessary evidence.


The VA does not have to view the connection as directly service-related. Assume that while he was in the Army, Thomas hurt his back, and the condition is partially disabling. He filed a claim for service-connection for his back condition and was successful. As a result of his back condition, he gained weight, contracted diabetes, and eventually died from diabetes complications. Because the VA recognized his back condition as service-connected, his survivors could still be eligible for DIC benefits. If the survivors can prove a link between the back condition and the immediate cause of death – diabetes complications.


Another issue arises when the VA does not record the veteran’s condition that caused his or her death as service-connected before the death occurred. Survivors may still prove a Service connection after death, however, the process will be more involved and likely prolonged.


Cause of Death and a Service-Connected Death


To continue with the example above, even though Thomas’s back condition did not directly cause his death, the VA will still grant DIC claims when there is a link, even indirect, between the service-connected condition and the immediate cause of death.


The service-connected condition must be etiologically related to the cause of death, meaning it must have contributed substantially. Another way of thinking of this is, if not for the service-connected condition, the death would not have occurred in this manner. This element of a DIC claim is sometimes straightforward and sometimes complex.


Of course, there are always contributing and complicating factors to consider. The applicable regulation requires the service-connected condition to have contributed substantially or materially. If Thomas had another, non-service-connected injury that contributed to his diabetes or directly to his death, the claim would be more complex, and expert opinions would likely be necessary to shed light on whether compensation is proper.


Reach Out to Diligent Attorneys


An attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box to your right. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.


This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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