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May 23, 2022

6 Things Every Veteran Needs to Know About VA Disability for Medication Side Effects

Last updated on March 7, 2024

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Thousands of veterans like you take medication to help improve their service-connected disabilities. Many of these medications cause other disabilities through side effects.

In this article, our goal is to help you learn how to get additional benefits and extra compensation for your medication side effects by increasing your VA rating.

Read on to learn the six things you need to know about VA disability for medication side effects in order to win your VA claim.



Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call with an experienced Team Member. Learn what you’ve been missing so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you’ve earned for your service.

1. The VA rates side effects from medication as secondary service-connected disabilities

If you already have a VA rating for a service-connected condition, you may be taking medication to help treat that condition.

It’s important to be aware of the potential side effects. These side effects can have a significant impact on your quality of life. You could be eligible for an increased rating if your medications adversely impact your life.

In general, the VA treats your medication side effects as a secondary condition.

What is a secondary service-connected condition?

A secondary condition is a disability that’s caused or aggravated by a service-connected disability.

For example, suppose you have PTSD, and your doctor prescribes medication to help you manage your symptoms. In that case, the VA will consider side effects from that medication as a secondary service-connected condition.

You’ll be granted VA disability for medication side effects under a separate rating in addition to any rating you have for your primary service-connected condition.

You could receive more compensation and benefit eligibility for your disabilities if you have a secondary VA rating for your medication side effects.

Which side effects qualify?

A side effect is any unwanted symptoms caused by your medication. Side effects vary from person to person. They can be mild (such as headaches) or severe (such as a stroke).

The VA won’t rate your condition as caused by the medication unless you’re taking the medication to address a service-connected disability. This means your primary disability was caused or aggravated by military service.

The VA will consider any symptoms caused by your medication as potential side effects. Side effects can appear at any time when taking a medication. Some side effects take longer to show up, potentially after months or years of taking a drug.

Note: Although it’s common to re-file to increase your rating for medication side effects, the VA could rate you for your primary service-connected condition AND a secondary service connection for conditions associated with medication side effects all at once.

2. Common primary disabilities with medications that cause side effects

There are thousands of different service-connected disabilities. Many of these are treated with medication. Below we cover some of the more common conditions we see that have the potential to lead to secondary VA claims through adverse medication side effects.

However, don’t lose hope if your primary service-connected disability (already VA-rated) isn’t listed below. Many different conditions not listed here can lead to additional disabilities caused by medication.

Side Effects of Medication for PTSD

Many different medications for PTSD can cause disruptive side effects.  VA disability for medication side effects is common for veterans who take antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotics. These medications can cause side effects, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Dizziness
  • Rash
  • Sexual dysfunction

These secondary conditions can be just as debilitating as PTSD symptoms and make it difficult to work or even take care of yourself.

Medication Side Effects from Antibiotics

Antibiotics taken to address service-connected disabilities can also cause serious side effects.  These side effects can include:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Kidney damage
  • Hearing loss

Side Effects from Hypertension Medication

If you develop high blood pressure during or due to your service, you may be prescribed blood pressure medication. These side effects can include:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Stroke

Medication Side Effects from Anti-Depressants

Anti-depressants are some of the most commonly prescribed medications. They address conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as mentioned above. These side effects can include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Sexual dysfunction

While these are only a few primary conditions that could lead to medication side effects, there are many more. If you’re experiencing disabling side effects from your medication, you may be entitled to a higher VA rating. Below we cover the common secondary disabilities that develop as a result of treating primary service-connected disabilities.


3. Secondary disabilities rated for medication side effects

Medications cause many different secondary conditions. Some of the most common secondary conditions caused by medication side effects include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Cognitive decline
  • Changes to balance and coordination
  • Dizziness or blurred vision
  • Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Kidney damage and failure
  • Liver damage
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Pancreatitis
  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Skin conditions
  • Substance abuse disorder (pill addiction)
  • Tremors
  • Weight gain or loss

Secondary Service Connection for Gastrointestinal Disorders

Gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, GERD, and acid reflux are common conditions that are granted VA disability for medication side effects under secondary service connection due to taking a variety of different medications. Common causes include anti-depressants, antipsychotics, and blood pressure medication.

Secondary Service Connection for Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD)

More than 20% of veterans with PTSD also deal with substance abuse. If you were prescribed pain medication or sleeping pill medication to help ease the symptoms of a service-connected disability, you may have become addicted to your medication.  This can lead to a whole host of problems, including:

  • Loss of job or inability to work
  • Financial instability
  • Relationship problems
  • Health complications

It’s critical to seek treatment for substance abuse and know you aren’t alone.

These are only a few secondary conditions that medication side effects can cause. Read below to learn how to file for additional VA benefits if you’re dealing with any medication side effects.

4. How to file for VA disability for medication side effects

To be successful in getting a secondary rating for VA disability medication side effects, you need four things:

  1. A VA rating for the primary service-connected condition (that you’re taking medication for)
  2. A medical diagnosis of your secondary condition
  3. A medical nexus, or connection, linking your side effects to the treatment of your primary condition through medication (The nexus should show that your side effects are, at least as likely as not, from taking your medication)

In a typical VA claim, you must prove that your condition is due to your service. However, if your primary condition is already service-connected, this service connection may pass onto your secondary condition.

The biggest issue is typically proving that your side effects result from your medication and not some other cause. A medical nexus is vital to help convince the VA of this fact.

Tip for Winning Your Claim and Increasing your Rating: Documentation

Documentation of your worsening symptoms will help you prove that it is at least as likely as not that your side effects are the result of taking your medication.

You can help demonstrate this to the VA by showing that the symptoms of your secondary condition began after you started taking the medication and that they got worse when you increased the dosage.

To file for a secondary claim, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21-526EZ. You can learn more in our post on how to file a secondary claim.

5. You have a higher chance of winning your claim if your side effects are not symptoms of your primary condition

When the VA is reviewing your VA claim for medication side effects, it’s critical to differentiate between the symptoms of your condition and the side effects of the medication you’re taking to address the condition.

The VA will not grant a separate VA rating for medication side effects if your primary condition is the reason for the side effect.

Let’s look at PTSD as an example.

If you’re taking medication for PTSD, the VA will consider the side effects a secondary condition if they aren’t symptoms of your PTSD.

For example, insomnia is a common symptom of PTSD. So, if you’re taking medication for your PTSD and it’s causing you to have difficulty sleeping, you’ll have trouble getting the VA to give you a secondary rating for insomnia.


6. How the VA assigns ratings for medication side effects

The VA will rate your side effects as a secondary service-connected condition according to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, just like for your primary condition.

What is the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities?

The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities lists different injuries, illnesses, and conditions that the VA uses to rate the severity of a disability.

When the VA grants a secondary rating under VA disability for medication side effects, they’ll look at the effects of your medication on each body system that’s affected.

Each condition is rated using a diagnostic code.  The VA will give you the highest possible VA rating for your side effects based on the symptoms that you experience.

For example, suppose you’re taking a medication for PTSD that causes ED. In that case, the VA will look at the effect of the medication on both your reproductive and nervous systems when assigning your secondary VA rating.

The VA will then give you the highest rating based on the body system most affected by your medication’s side effects. The VA will combine your different direct service-connected disability ratings and secondary service-connected disability ratings to give you a combined rating.

You can use our free VA disability calculator to estimate your combined disability rating and determine your monthly benefit amount.


7. Afraid to take medication? Don’t be scared of a rating reduction 

You may be thinking, if I take medication and my condition improves, won’t that reduce my VA rating? The answer to this question is that no—most disabilities are rated on their unmedicated state. The only way your VA rating would go down due to medication is if medication is mentioned explicitly in the Schedule for Rating Disabilities.

Don’t hesitate to take medications to improve your quality of life for fear of negatively impacting your VA rating.

Get the Rating You Deserve

If you think your medications are causing side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get an official diagnosis. Medical evidence will go a long way in helping you win your claim for VA disability for medication side effects.


Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call with an experienced Team Member. Learn what you’ve been missing so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you’ve earned for your service.


Most veterans are underrated for their disabilities and, therefore not getting the compensation they’re due. At VA Claims Insider, we help you understand and take control of the claims process, so you can get the rating and compensation you’re owed by law.

Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating fast!

If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you deserve!

We’ve supported more than 25,000 veterans to win their claims and increase their ratings. NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

About the Author

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Brian Reese is one of the top VA disability benefits experts in the world and bestselling author of You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned (Second Edition).

Brian’s frustration with the VA claim process led him to create VA Claims Insider, which provides disabled veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim, faster, even if they’ve already filed, been denied, gave up, or don’t know where to start. 

As the founder of VA Claims Insider and CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, he has helped serve more than 10 million military members and veterans since 2013 through free online educational resources.

He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).

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