Whether you are filing a new claim or continuing an appeal, the process of receiving an adequate disability rating from the VA can be challenging - at best. Many veterans have been fighting their claims for one, five or even ten years. Now, filled with answers to questions I once had, I want to pass this valuable information on to you. My personal experience has been a long journey, and I want to help you gain insight on what the VA seeks and needs to grant your claim.
If you have advice you wish to share, please feel free to email me. We want to help each of you gain access to the benefits you deserve! Together, we can make a difference and help our fellow veterans by sharing our insight and experience.
Below is a list of generalized questions you may have about disability claims. Also, please check out my tips and tidbits to help avoid common mistakes often made when dealing with a disability claim.
Who is eligible to receive disability compensation?
If you have an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated while serving and if you have been discharged from the military other than dishonorably, you may be eligible to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There are two types of compensable disabilities recognized by the Veterans Affairs:
- Type I: First incurred while serving within a branch of the military.
- Type II: Began prior to entry; however, it was aggravated or increased during service.
How do I apply?
Form 21-526 General Instructions , Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
Form 21-526, Part A, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
Form 21-526, Part B, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
Form 21-526, Part C, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
Form 21-526, Part D, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
When filing, don’t forget to submit supplemental information needed to verify your eligibility. Such applicable documentation includes copies of your DD214 (official separation papers from the military), marriage certificate, divorce decree(s), and dependents’ birth certificates.
Once all information is submitted, depending upon your VA regional office, it can take up to a year before a decision is received. When you do receive your response, additional information may be requested. Don’t get discouraged and give up. This is part of the process; unfortunately, we must all play “the waiting game”.
Why is dependent information important to the VA?
If you are rated at 30% or more disability, are married, and/or have children, you qualify for additional compensation based upon marital status and number of children, i.e. dependents. Qualifying children include biological, adopted, and stepchildren. In order for children to qualify, they must be under the age of 18, be at least 18 and under 23 and pursuing a qualified course in education, or have become permanently unable to support themselves before reaching the age of 18. Check with your local VA office for more information.
How long do I have to file my claim?
If you are exiting the military, you have one year from the date of separation to file your initial disability compensation claim with the VA. Similarly, if your claim is in appeal, you have one year from the date of your decision letter to submit additional information requested. Be extremely careful with the one-year date. If you are continuing an appeal and do not let time frames lapse, your compensation will be back dated to the original date of claim. However, if you do not appeal within the one-year time frame, as notated on VA correspondence, your case will be closed, and you will need to initiate a new claim altogether. This can potentially cost you thousands of dollars of lost compensation.
The VA is notorious for losing, or “misplacing”, claims and appeals received. I highly suggest that you either send your documents through your veterans’ representative, certified mail, or both. If it is lost and there is no documentation showing that it was received – it never was. No proof = no claim!
What guidelines are used by the VA to evaluate a claim?
Title 38 of the Federal Code of Regulations (FCR) is utilized as a guideline for any and all benefits and eligibility applicable to you.
Are there any illnesses that are automatically service connected?
According to the VA, certain conditions are classified as presumptive and automatically qualify for disability compensation if you served during various war-time periods. Although not all inclusive, undiagnosed illnesses and medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses may include chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowl syndrome, skin disorders, cardiovascular symptoms, muscle pain, joint pain, sleep disturbances, headaches, abnormal weight loss and more.
Likewise, conditions such as leukemia and certain cancers may be associated with radiation, agent orange, and other herbicide exposure while serving in the military. General conditions must be met in order to qualify for benefits. For more information, please consult your local VA office.
What evidence will be used to support my claim?
Substantial Evidence is a crucial component to help establish the onset and existence of your disability(s) being claimed. Without such, the VA will automatically deny your application or appeal. It is extremely important to submit as many forms of evidence as possible. Although the VA will often request medical and service records, I never suggest relying on their diligence alone.
Likewise, if you are currently on appeal, you must submit new and material evidence that has not been previously submitted, within the one-year time limit, to avoid a permanent denial.
How can I receive assistance fighting my claim with the VA?
Various veterans’ service organizations are available to assist and act as your representative in processing and appealing your claim. Although useful, most are also extremely backlogged with pending claims for other veterans. Nonetheless, I highly recommend utilizing their services to help with the process. They typically act as a “go between” to ensure documents are promptly received by the VA and answer any questions you may have. To assign an accredited organization, complete VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant's Representative.
Can I hire an attorney to help with my claim?
You have the right to hire an attorney to help battle the VA over your disability claim; however, this can be a “catch 22” situation. First, you must understand that there are various stages when filing and appealing your claim for compensation. Once you have exhausted your appeals at the local level, your dispute will be evaluated by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA).
Although you have the right to seek counsel by an attorney at any stage of your claim, he or she may not charge you fees until it reaches and has been decided by the BVA. In essence, you better have an attorney in your back pocket; otherwise, you can not utilize their services until the end. Typically, by the time your appeal is evaluated by the BVA, many years have quickly passed by. If you can, and do, utilize such services, file VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Individual as Claimant's Representative.
How is compensation calculated?
If you are being rated for a single disability, the calculations are fairly straight forward. You will be rated by the VA based upon their determination of the severity of your illness or injury. They will utilize and evaluate all evidence submitted as well as the results from your medical C&P exam. Eventually, the VA will refer to the Federal Code of Regulations (FCR) to determine your final rating.
However, if you are claiming multiple disabilities, the VA will use a combined-rating system that, quite honestly, is extremely confusing and difficult to understand. Typically, you can expect your overall rating to be 10-20% or more below the sum of all individual ratings added together. For example, if adding all ratings individually, your total may equal 90%; however, based upon their formula for calculating, you may only be rated at 70% service-connected disability. The basis and directives for such can be found within Title 38 of the FCR.
Do I need to pay taxes on my compensation received?
To date, any and all compensation received for disabilities through the Veterans Affairs is non-taxable income.
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