Veterans should know their options for applying for disability benefits. Some have the option to apply for both U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits. (A good article that discusses the distinction between the two can be found at DisabilitySecrets.com.)
In this column, I address the eligibility for filing for VA disability benefits and the appeal process if you are dissatisfied with the VA response. Unfortunately, the appeals process can be cumbersome and long (likely more than two years), so it is important that you receive competent advice if you decide to appeal.
To be eligible for VA disability benefits, an individual must have served on active duty and received a discharge other than dishonorable. You must be able to prove your medical condition was caused by or worsened by your service in the military.
You should submit a “fully developed claim” in order to get a faster answer regarding veterans disability compensation. You have to file VA form 21-526, available from www.va.gov/vaforms, or file online at www.ebenefits.va.gov. A local Veteran Service Officer (VSO) can assist you with your claim.
Here are examples of specific injuries which can result in disability benefits:
- Depression. This can be the result of a disabling physical injury, an incident that occurred in service or another mental condition.
- Heart or cardiovascular problems. VA has specific rules as to which conditions will be awarded disability compensation and how they will be rated.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A letter from a private doctor is required describing this disability and how it is service-related.
One of the major distinctions between benefits from the VA and benefits from Social Security is that the VA can approve disability in 10 percent increments from 10 percent to 100 percent. If you apply to the SSA, you will have to demonstrate 100 percent disability. You also might be eligible for travel expenses for rehabilitation or treatment.
If you are approved for 10 percent disability, you will be entitled to $133 per month; for 50 percent, $836 per month; and for 100 percent, $2,915. If you are awarded 30 percent or more, your benefit can be more if you are married or you have dependent children. Your benefit cannot be taxed at either the state or federal level.
Visit the official blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/) to understand the difference between a claim and an appeal. After your initial application, the VA determines whether a claim is approved, and if so, at what level. You can file an appeal if your application is not approved at all, if you feel a higher level is justified or you believe that an earlier effective date is justified. If an established medical condition has worsened, you should be filing a new claim, not an appeal.
If you disagree with a rating decision made less than 12 months ago, you can file an appeal using the services of an authorized disability attorney or VA-accredited claims agent. Because the appeal process is cumbersome and long, I recommend the use of an attorney or accredited claims agent. Although there are fees associated with the use of these services, the statute limits these fees to 20 percent of your retroactive compensation, and only if the appeal is successful. If your case is weak, it is likely that the attorney or claims agent will recommend against filing an appeal.
The VA maintains a complete list of accredited attorneys, claims agents, and VSOs that you can use for assistance in filing an appeal. A good source of information regarding the appeal process is available at www.truehelp.com, a reputable claims agent. True Help is a division of Allsup, a company with a great deal of experience regarding disability issues.
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