Veterans’ Disability Frequently Asked Questions
One must be a “veteran” in order to qualify for veterans’ benefits. Generally speaking, a “veteran” is a person who served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard and was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Such an individual may be eligible for veterans’ disability compensation. Certain National Guard and Reserve members may qualify for disability compensation. Benefits may also be available for a dependent or survivor of a veteran, such as a spouse, child or parent.
A veteran who suffers from a disabling medical condition may be eligible for disability compensation, pension, aid and attendance, housebound allowance, and special monthly compensation. Survivors pension, burial benefits, and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) are available for survivors of a deceased veteran.
Disability compensation is a benefit available to a veteran who was injured or incurred a disease during military service or for whom a pre-existing medical condition was aggravated by military service. The veteran must have a current medical diagnosis which is related to military service in order to be deemed eligible for this so-called “service-connected disability compensation.”
There is no defined set of conditions for which a veteran might qualify for disability compensation. Some typical conditions handled in administering claims for benefits under this program include PTSD, traumatic brain injury, neck or back conditions, knee or ankle conditions, shoulder or wrist conditions, tropical diseases (such as malaria), hearing loss or tinnitus, toxic exposure (such as Agent Orange), and exposure to environmental hazards (such as burn pits or contaminated drinking water). In certain situations, such as exposure to Agent Orange, burn pits or contaminated drinking water, the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a list of presumptive conditions for which the claims process is more streamlined for a veteran suffering from such a condition.
Initially, an applicant for benefits must prove that he or she is a “veteran” so a copy of the DD-214 should be included when a claim is filed. Medical evidence to document a current diagnosis as well as course of treatment since discharge for the claimed condition is also required. The veteran’s Military Personnel Record and Service Treatment Records should be obtained and submitted with a claim for benefits to support the event of injury or illness or aggravation of a pre-existing condition while serving in the military. A medical opinion from a doctor confirming that the current medical condition is related to military service (known as a “nexus” opinion) should be part of the claim packet. A “buddy statement” could also prove helpful as it might help document an event in service, a change to an individual following service, or a current medical condition and its effects on the veteran’s ability to function.
Applying for disability compensation is simple. To start the process, file Form 21-526ez which is available at www.va.gov. A veteran can file the claim form on-line to start the process or work with a VA accredited attorney, such as the attorneys at Avard Law Offices, to request disability compensation.
Once an application for disability compensation is filed, the VA starts to gather evidence to properly handle the claim. Medical records from VA facilities or private medical providers will be requested. Military personnel and treatment records will be requested and become part of the claim file. In addition, the VA may request that you attend a medical exam to determine the status of each medical condition for which you are claiming benefits as well as to obtain its own “nexus” opinion as to whether a particular condition is linked to your service. After the VA has finished its review of your claim, a rating decision will be issued advising you whether you have been found eligible for disability compensation.
If disability compensation has been granted for a particular medical condition, the VA will have assigned a percentage of disability (ranging from 0% to 100%) and an effective date of disability for that condition. If there is a compensable rating assigned (10% or higher), the VA will calculate whether any retroactive benefit is due and also advise the current monthly benefit to be paid to you. If you are satisfied with the decision, you need do nothing further.
If the VA has denied eligibility or if you are not satisfied with the percentage rating and/or effective date of an approved medical condition, you generally have one year from the date of the decision within which to file an appeal requesting further review of your claim. Appeal options include:
- Supplemental Claim (requires new evidence be submitted as part of the appeal)
- Higher-Level Review Request (a senior reviewer examines the evidence of record)
- Decision Review Request (considered by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals [BVA])
- Direct Review Lane (evidence of record considered)
- Evidence Submission Lane (90 days to submit new evidence for consideration)
- Hearing Lane (hearing scheduled; new evidence can be submitted)
Note that review options also exist if you are not satisfied with a decision issued by the BVA, including filing a Supplemental Claim or an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The spouse or dependent child of a veteran or service member may qualify for certain benefits, such as health care or education. If you are granted service-connected disability compensation at a rate of 30% or higher, you can add your dependents to your claim by filing Form 21-686c which is available at www.va.gov. The payment added to your disability compensation award due to adding your dependents is referred to as a “benefit rate.”
An attorney accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs can navigate the claim and appeals process in order to expeditiously obtain the maximum benefits available for you and your dependents. Avard Law Offices has 6 VA accredited attorneys on staff, 2 of whom are members of the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, and 3 of whom are admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Avard Law Offices has the ability to assist you in filing claims for disability compensation and handling the appeal of any adverse decisions issued by the VA in your case.
What if I feel my questions are not answered in this Q&A?
Please call your Avard Law case worker or attorney at (239) 945-0808 and tell them the question for which you do not understand the answer. Or ask a question not covered by the Q & A questions. Please note that your calls should be answered within 48 hours. Thank you for your assistance. We are working very hard to help you win your case.
Board Certified in Social Security Disability by the NBTA. Licensed in both Florida and Massachusetts. Accredited Veterans’ disability attorney.
Board Certified in Social Security Disability by the NBTA. Licensed in both Florida and Michigan. NOSSCR Board of Directors Member.
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