Veterans Administration (VA) disability compensation gives disabled vets who became disabled while serving in the military or whose services made an existing condition worse a monthly tax-free income. Benefits are available for physical conditions, such as a chronic illness or injury, and mental conditions, such as PTSD that developed before your service, during it, or after you retired. However, as with all government programs, there is a subtle and complex application process for obtaining VA disability benefits.
Am I Eligible for Benefits?
To qualify for VA disability benefits, you must meet two requirements:
- You have a current illness or injury (a “condition” in the VA system) that affects the mind or body, and
- You served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training
You must also meet one of these standards:
- You became sick or injured while serving in the military, and your condition can be linked to the service (an “inservice disability claim”), or
- You already had an illness or injury before your service and serving made the condition worse (a “preservice disability claim”), or
- You have a disability-related to your active-duty service that didn’t appear till after you left the service (a “postservice disability claim”)
Some conditions are considered presumed disabilities. These include a chronic illness that appears within one year of your discharge, an illness caused by contact with hazardous materials during your service, or an illness caused by time spent as a prisoner of war.
If you meet all the required tests, you and your qualified dependents may be eligible for benefits. Note, however, that if you received an other-than-honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable discharge, you will likely not be eligible for disability benefits.
What Conditions Are Covered for VA Benefits?
Some of the conditions covered include:
- Chronic back pain resulting in a currently diagnosed disability due to that pain
- Breathing problems from a current lung condition or disease
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of range of motion
- Cancer from contact with military dangers
- Scar tissue
- Traumatic brain injury
- Mood disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
How Do I Apply for Benefits?
As with all government benefit programs, the process for filing your application is complicated.
Before You File
Before you make an application, review the covered conditions to find out if you might be eligible. Locate all the documents that will be needed to accompany your application. See if there are any other forms for specific conditions or circumstances that might need to go with your application, and if so, complete them as well. An experienced VA disability attorney can help to ensure that your application is complete and includes all necessary supporting documents.
Fully Developed Claims
The VA offers a program for faster decisions on disability claims. The Fully Developed Claims program requires that your application include:
- Submit a completed Application for Disability Compensation and Relationship Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ), and
- Submit all evidence and supporting documents that you have or can get along with the claim form, and
- Certify that there’s no more evidence that the VA might need to decide your claim, and
- Go to any VA medical exams that the VA requests to help decide your claim. The VA will notify you if they require any such exams.
What Evidence Should Be Submitted?
Whether or not you choose to use the Fully Developed Claims program, any application for benefits should be accompanied by as much evidence as you have or can get. Some of the documents you should submit are:
- All of your private medical records relating to the claimed conditions, such as reports from your doctors and test results from non-VA hospitals, and
- Any records of medical treatment received for the claimed condition while you served, and
- Any military personnel records relating to the claimed condition, and
- Information about any other related health records that you don’t have but that the VA may be able to obtain on your behalf from a federal facility
- Letters from family, friends, clergy, law enforcement, and those you served with that can explain your condition and how it happened.
Again, an experienced VA disability attorney can help you put all of this documentation together to enhance the effectiveness of your application.
How Is My Application Processed?
Upon receipt of your application, the VA will determine whether to request a VA claim medical exam. If so, you must take that exam or abandon your claim. If not, the VA will proceed to review your claim and issue a disability rating and send you a decision letter with that rating in it. This review process usually takes three to four months. In reviewing your file, the VA claim processors will look at your application, the medical records that accompanied it, the reports from your claim exam (if one was required) and any required medical tests, statements from you and others about your disability, and your military records.
Can I Appeal a Denial?
The VA offers three decision review options for use if you disagree with the decision in your case. If you are not satisfied with a decision you receive in a review, you can try one of the remaining options.
A review processor decides whether new evidence changes the prior decision. Use this if you are adding new relevant evidence to your claim that was not previously considered. It usually takes about four months to complete.
A senior claims adjudicator will review the original decision using the information in the original file. Use this when you don’t have new information, but believe the original decision was incorrect. You may request a one-time conference with the adjudicator to discuss what you believe to be the specific errors in the original decision. It usually takes about four months to complete.
A Veterans Law Judge at the Veterans’ Appeals Board will review the decision in your case. You may choose a direct review if you do not want a hearing or expect to submit new evidence. You can also request to submit new evidence or to have a hearing. It usually takes at least a year to complete.
What Benefits Can I Get?
Veterans with a service-related disability and an “other than dishonorable” discharge can qualify for payments ranging from $133 to $3400 per month. Certain conditions, such as a seriously disabled spouse, dependent children, or a determination that you are unemployable due to the disability, can increase those amounts. Vets who have to travel to VA medical appointments may also receive travel benefits. You continue to be eligible for all veterans benefits you would have been eligible for without the disability (e.g., home loans).
How Can An Attorney Help?
As you can see, the disability claim process is complicated, and appealing an adverse decision even more so. A skilled and experienced VA disability attorney can help you put together a complete package and obtain the best possible result on your claim. The Iscoe Law firm stands ready to help you, serving Miami, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Fort Lauderdale, and Broward County. If you or a loved one needs the help of a VA disability attorney please don’t hesitate to contact us online, or give us a call at 800-800-6500 today.