Applying for benefits through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) can be a long, daunting process. It is often complicated and can involve multiple appeals.
If your VA claim has been denied or if you have received a rating decision with a lower rating than expected, you may need someone by your side.
We understand the frustration you must feel. You served and sacrificed for your country. The last battle you should have to fight is getting the compensation you are entitled to for your service-connected disability.
As a military veteran-owned law firm, we fight for our brothers and sisters every step of the way.
We only collect a fee if we are successful with your claim.
So, if you need help with an appeal, a negative decision from the VA, or getting your rating increased, turn to a lawyer at our firm.
The VA offers a tax-free monthly compensation (payment) to veterans with physical conditions (such as chronic illness or injury) and mental health conditions (such as PTSD) that occur before, during, or after service.
To be eligible for VA disability compensation, you must have a current diagnosed physical or mental condition that meets the following requirements:
Also, at least one of the following must be true:
It is important to note that if you received an other-than-honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable discharge, you may not be eligible for VA disability benefits.
If this is the case for you, you can apply for a discharge upgrade. You may have a good case for a discharge upgrade if you can prove your discharge was related to any of the following:
You may be able to access VA disability compensation even though you are unable to obtain a discharge upgrade through a Character of Discharge review. During this review process the VA can determine that your service was “honorable for VA purposes.”
If you fit into any of the categories listed below, it is time to consider applying for VA disability compensation.
If you have never applied for VA compensation in the past, you start this process by filling out an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ). This form can be downloaded on your computer. The VA refers to this initial claim as your “original” claim.
Gather all documents that support your claim of disability.
Be sure to fill out your application completely, then submit it together with your evidence of disability (supporting documents).
You can help your VA disability compensation claim move along by submitting the following evidence of your condition:
Should you need time to gather all your evidence, you can go ahead and start your claim by filing an Intent to File, also called an ITF (VA Form 21-0966). This form is a simple one-page document that preserves an effective date so long as the formal claim (VA Form 21-526EZ mentioned above) is filed within one year of the ITF.
Print the application form, fill it out and send it with any supporting documents you may have to:
Bring the completed application form and any supporting documentation to a VA office near you.
You can get professional help with this detailed and often confusing process by hiring a VA-accredited lawyer, claims agent, or Veteran Service Officer (VSO). These professionals are trained and certified in VA claims and processes.
The VA will access and review your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (Department of Defense form DD214) as part of their evaluation process.
The next stage of this process for you will be a waiting period. You may receive a letter from the VA asking for more information. Obviously, the sooner you reply the faster your claim will proceed.
Also, the VA may schedule medical exams (referred to as C&P exams) for you—be sure not to miss them.
To speed your VA disability claim along, you will need to be organized and respond to any VA requests or medical appointments in a timely manner.
According to recent VA data, it takes between 92.9 and 100.8 days to review and make a decision on a disability claim.
VA disability compensation may include financial payments and/or other benefits, such as health care and job training.
Once you receive a decision notice with a disability rating (more about this later), you will be able to receive your compensation and/or other benefits.
If your disability rating is at least 10%, you will receive your first payment within 15 days—and then monthly thereafter.
Has your VA disability claim been denied?
You have the right to appeal.
The VA appeals system has changed as of February 2019. The appeals process is now a review process that allows you to choose from three decision review options:
If you have new and relevant evidence that is pertinent to your case, you can choose to file a Supplemental Claim. You can supply the new evidence yourself or request the VA to obtain the evidence from places like a VA medical center, other federal facilities, or even from your private medical providers.
According to the VA: “New Evidence is information that the VA didn’t have before the last decision. Relevant Evidence is information that could prove or disprove something in your claim.”
You can file a Supplemental Claim at any time, however, it is best if you can file within one year from the date of your decision letter in order to preserve the earliest possible effective date.
Once your Supplemental Claim is submitted, your new evidence will be reviewed and a new decision will be rendered.
Here are the steps to take:
You can expect this process to take between four and five months.
If you get a Supplemental Claim decision that you do not agree with, you can request a Higher-Level Review or file for a Board of Appeal.
If you disagree with the decision made on your Supplemental Claim, the next step is to request to have a senior reviewer take a look at your case. This request must be filed within one year of the date on your Supplemental Claim decision.
Here are three things to note:
If you disagree with the decision on your Higher-Level Review, the next step is to make a request for a Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) Review.
A BVA hearing is a request to present your disability claims case before a Veterans Law Judge.
With this process, you can request a video conference hearing where you can present testimony about your disability claim to a judge. This hearing will be translated and becomes a part of your appeal file.
Please note that a hearing is not required for this appeal process.
If you decide that a BVA hearing is the best option for you, here are the steps to follow:
In Part II of this VA form, you need to check one of three boxes. These are:
Box 11A: “Direct Review by a Veterans Law Judge.” Checking this box means you are requesting a judge to review your disability claim file, but you do not want a hearing and you do not want to submit any evidence.
Box 11B: “Evidence Submission Reviewed by a Veteran Law Judge.” Checking this box is a request for a judge to review new evidence that supports your disability claim. This is not a request for a hearing, it is only a review. All evidence must be submitted to the judge within 90 days of filing the Notice of Disagreement (NOD).
Box 11C: “Hearing with a Veterans Law Judge.” This is a request for a hearing with a judge. With this process, you can also submit new evidence that supports your disability claim. However, all new evidence must be submitted to the judge within 90 days of the hearing.
Here is a snapshot of how this process works:
If your appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals is denied, you can pursue further action. You may:
Here is what to expect at a BVA hearing:
Hearings are informal; the judge may ask questions, but you will not be cross examined.
You will testify under oath.
You will offer testimony. Just explain to the judge why you think you are qualified to receive VA disability compensation. If you have a professional representative, they can attend and participate in the proceedings.
Answer any questions the judge may ask.
You can submit new evidence. Be organized because BVA hearings usually last only about 30 minutes.
Your hearing will be transcribed and added to your appeal file. A copy will be available to you.
After your hearing, you will enter into a 90-day period for submitting your new and relevant evidence to the judge. If you do not have any new evidence to submit, this 90-day period can be waived.
After the 90-day period closes, your case will be put on the judge’s docket for a decision. Generally, the entire appeal process takes 12 to 18 months.
If your appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals is denied, you can pursue further action. You may:
With all the earlier appeal stages discussed above, it is a good idea to have some sort of VA-certified representation.
However, once you are at the level of a CAVC appeal, you can try to tackle this alone—but realistically, a VA-certified lawyer is a necessity.
Here is an overview of the CAVC appeals process:
Once the Court has received all records and briefs, your case will be assigned to a Veterans Claims Judge who will render a decision.
In general, there are two classifications of a veteran’s disability: High-value VA claims, and low-value VA claims.
High-value claims receive disability compensation at a rate of 30% to 100%. The most common types of injuries or illnesses that fit this category are:
Low-value claims receive a 0% to 20% rating. The most common type of conditions that fit this category are:
Obviously, to get a higher rating you need to focus on your high-value condition(s).
Here is where you have to deal with the VA’s mystifying math.
Multiple disabilities are NOT cumulative. They are factored into each other in numerical order from highest VA rating to the lowest, then multiplied against each other to determine your overall combined VA disability rate.
Here is an example:
You have a 60% heart condition and a 30% foot condition, which would seem like you have a 90% disability rating.
Here is how it works:
60% of your body is disabled, so you are 40% healthy
100% – 60%= 40% healthy
Now the 30% disability is factored into your 40% healthy rate.
.30 x .40= .12 (or 12%)
Next you take your 60% disability and add it to your factored disability of 12%.
60% + 12%= 72%
The VA only works with 10% increments so your rate of 72% is rounded down to 70% which is now your combined rating.
Rather than trying to do the math yourself, you can refer to the rate calculator referenced above.
If your injury or illness has worsened, you may decide to apply for an increase of your disability compensation rate.
Here are a few tips:
Caution: When you ask the VA to open your file to consider a disability compensation rate increase—you open the door for a complete review. Many veterans have reported that they received an unwelcome surprise when instead of getting the rate increase they wanted, they got a proposal to decrease one or more ratings. So, make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you tackle this process.
You have the right to appeal. The appeals process is a review process that allows you to choose from three decision review options:
The top three reasons for a VA disability claim denial:
Today, 31% of disability claims are denied—and 60% of those denials are in error.
The VA has no mandate to deny claims. However, they will deny your request if it is not filed using the correct form.
The average wait time for a VA decision is around 107 days. The VA’s goal is to issue all decisions within 125 days.
The estimated time it takes to decide appeals to the BVA is 365 days. However, if a hearing is requested, it will take more than 365 days.
The BVA is the appellate body of the VA and has the ability to overrule decisions made by a regional VA office.
Yes. VA benefits are granted to veterans as long as they remain disabled at the same level of impairment and even until their death.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for veterans who are disabled to encounter resistance when attempting to make a claim. They may have been led astray by bad advice, or they simply may not have had all of the documentation necessary to receive the compensation they deserve for their service-related disability. This situation is often made even more frustrating by the continually-changing paperwork required by the VA which often leads to unintended mistakes.
A VA lawyer will be able to bring clarity to the confusing nature of the appeals process. Though you usually need to have been denied at least one time before a VA lawyer can assist you, they are often able to quickly determine the missing link between your initial claim and what you need to prove entitlement. Your attorney will make sure to provide a careful review of the reasons for your denial, advice on the most appropriate method of appeal, and assistance in developing the necessary medical evidence.
VetLaw has the experience necessary to take the lead in assisting you with pursuing an appeal and obtaining the benefits that you deserve. Since there may be a limited time to act in some cases, do not hesitate to call a VA lawyer today and start exploring your options.