When a Veteran starts considering whether or not to file a VA Disability Claim, there are a lot of questions that he or she tends to ask. Over the last 10 years, the following are the 14 most common basic questions I am asked about when it comes to filing VA Disability Claims.
1. What benefits do you get from a VA Disability claim?
There are several major categories of VA benefits you can get when you file a VA Disability claim. One category is what is called the “Non-Service Connected Pension” which is available to extremely low-income veterans with disabilities. Another category is education benefits. A third category is burial benefits. A fourth category is health care benefits. And the category that is the focus of this post – and the Veterans Law Blog – is disability compensation for diseases, conditions, and disabilities that had their origin in military service.
(Note that you do not need to show that military service CAUSED the disability – Congress long ago recognized that Veterans should get benefits even if a disease or disability that wasn’t caused BY service has its origins IN service.
When it comes to a VA Disability claim for service connected disabilities, the primary benefit is financial. Once you prove to the VA that your current medical condition, disease or disability is related to your military service, they will assign a percentage of disability to that condition – using a complicated table and formulas. That percentage of disability translates to a monthly dollar amount. 10% equals one amount….20% another amount… and so on and so forth.
You can take a look at the current VA Disability claim compensation amounts by clicking here (assuming the Department of Veterans’ Affairs hasn’t restructured their website, as they commonly do when it gets a little too easy to navigate).
In addition to the basic rates of compensation mentioned above, you can get additional compensation for different scenarios that you raise in your VA Disability claim. Here are just a few:
- A Veteran who has certain percentage ratings for multiple disabilities can be eligible for additional Special Monthly Compensation. This Special Monthly Compensation is also available to Veterans with certain disabilities that limit use of, or that resulted in the loss of, their extremities, their reproductive organs, organs of special sense (vision, etc).
- Veterans who are unable to work because of their service connected disabilities are entitled to a 100% total rating under a benefits program called Total Disability for Individual Unemployability, or TDIU.
- Veterans who need special aid and assistance with certain activities of daily living are entitled to an additional amount of compensation.
- And Veterans with a spouse or certain dependents are entitled to higher rates of compensation as well.
- There are certain vocational rehabilitation benefits available to Veterans with service-connected disabilities
- The total percent rating of your service connected disabilities can play a role in the ease you get VA Healthcare or the Priority Group you are assigned to.
- There are grants available for special adaptations to housing or automobiles that can grow out of your service connected disabilities.
- Survivors of Veterans are entitled to non-service connected survivors’ pensions – also limited to the lowest income survivors. These survivors are typically spouse or children, but it some cases include parents, and adult children who were permanently incapable of support before they turned 18.
2. How do I file a VA Disability claim?
It used to be that you could file a VA Disability claim for a service connected condition, disease or disability just by writing your claim on a piece of paper – a famous anecdote that floats around the Veterans’ community is the veteran who wrote his claim on a square of toilet paper while in prison.
This is no longer the case: filing a VA Disability claim has, like many other things in this world, become increasingly complicated.
Generally, filing a VA Disability claim requires a series of actions:
- Step 1: Filing Phase – You can first file an informal claim for benefits using the required Veterans Affairs Form. If you formalize your claim within one year of that informal claim, the Veterans Affairs treats your informal claim as a formal claim. (You can see where this is headed….the rules and steps get goofier and goofier as we go through the steps. One of the things that the Veterans Law Blog works really hard to do is to show you a way to cut through all of this fog and file a VA disability claim that is more likely to get granted, award you the proper benefits, and do so in the shortest time possible.)
- Step 2: Development Phase – You can let the Veterans Affairs develop the evidence to support your claim – officially, they have a Duty to Assist the Veteran in this development of certain claims in limited situations. Or, you can be more proactive and develop your OWN claim, filing what is called a “Fully Developed Claim” for VA Benefits. Theoretically, these claims are supposed to be decided more quickly, and for the most part, they are. But by developing your own claim, and using the knowledge, information and tools I share on the Veterans Law Blog, you can set your claim up for more thorough decisions, more proper decisions, quicker decisions and….worst case scenario, if you have to appeal, a better chance at winning your claim on appeal.
- Step 3: The Decision Phase – In this phase, the Veterans Affairs will decide that there is possible merit to your Veterans Affairs Disability claim for service connection of one or more conditions. In most scenarios, they will send you to a C&P (Compensation & Pension) Examiner, who is, in theory, a medical doctor that will decide if your diagnosed condition is related to your military service and how bad your condition is, percentage-wise.
- Pillar 1: Are you eligible to file a VA Disability claim for compensation benefits
- Pillar 2: is the medical condition – or conditions – in your VA Disability claim related to your military service? (This pillar is often called the “service connection” or “nexus” element of your VA Disability claim)
- Pillar 3: To what degree does your disability impair your ability to seek and hold work, or engage in average daily living activiites? I call this pillar the “Impairment Rating”.
- Pillar 4: What effective date are you entitled to (it is the effective date that governs how far back in the past your benefits will be retroactive). Some Veterans call this “back-pay” or “past-due benefits”, and depending on how long you have been battling the VA, they can often go back decades. A colleague of mine just won a case for a Veteran with service connection granted all the way back to the 1950s, for example.