When you served your nation in the armed forces, you entered into an honored contract where your military commitment to our country which still entitles you to certain benefits should you become disabled as a result of your military service. Our Nation's Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the VA or Veterans Administration) pays for your loss of health or earning ability with disability benefits in an effort to restore or make up for your sacrifice for the nation. This federal system of hospitals, claims offices and Vet Centers is intended to honor this contract with those who sacrificed for the Nation. When you apply for service connected disability benefits, the VA determines your degree of service connected disability and must grant the appropriate monthly amount you are to be paid for disability. Even if you are not service connected, you are still eligible for "pension" if you are disabled for non service-connected reasons if you served during a period of wartime - even if you did not actually serve in the combat zone.
What is a Veterans Administration (VA) service connected Disability?
The VA has complex regulations to determine if you are eligible for service connected benefits or Pension. These benefits are paid to people whose military service caused health problems or disability limitations. These benefits are paid for any condition which affects your efforts towards competitive work. Even if your service-connected disability is non compensable or "zero" percent, you are entitled to medical care for the service connected condition. The VA regulations take into consideration such additional factors as additional medical care based on your medical condition. Disability means that you have a service connected medical condition which affects or prevents you from performing competitive employment.
How does a Veteran apply for benefits?
Go to your local Veteran's service representative and apply for benefits immediately if you believe you have health problems caused by military service and which are service connected. After your medical records are reviewed, the VA Regional Office will send you a letter giving you a rating decision. Most people who apply are denied service connected benefits at this initial stage of application.
How long will a decision take?
Currently the backlog of cases within the VA is several years – repeat, several years! Most VA Regional Offices have backlogs of several years.
Should a Veteran appeal a rating decision?
Yes! The VA may try to give a veteran a slight increase in hopes that the veteran will be satisfied. Unfortunately, many people simply give up after an initial denial. The next stage of appeal is called “Notice of Disagreement”. You must give your "NOD" within one year after initial denial or your claim cannot be appealed. Some disabled Veterans like to have an experienced representative at all stages of application. Most people who give a Notice of Disagreement are also denied again when the Regional Office issues a "Statement of the Case" (SOC). Sometimes the Regional Office issues a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC) after sending an SOC. A Veteran should submit both a Notice of Disagreement and a VA Form 9 to any SSOC - since the Regional Office rarely tells the Veteran whether the SSOC is a new issue requiring a Notice of Disagreement or whether the SSOC requires a VA Form 9.
Should a Veteran appeal the SOC?
Yes! Now you can appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in Washington, DC. After your SOC denial, you must appeal to the BVA within 60 days by filing a VA Form 9 with the Regional Office. The BVA will allow you to testify at a hearing. BVA backlogs can be several years causing further delays When can a Veteran hire an Attorney to Represent the Veteran before the Veterans' Administration?
An attorney cannot charge a fee for representing a disabled Veteran unless approved by the VA or Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Contingency fees are limited to 20% of past due benefits by the US Code and VA regulations. Most attorneys charge a percentage or “contingency” fee of 20 percent because most disabled Veterans cannot afford an attorney until benefits are awarded. A contingency fee means no attorney fee is owed if benefits are not awarded, however, most attorneys charge actual office expenses (such as doctor charges for medical records) even if the case is lost. The VA may withhold 20% of past due benefits for the attorney in disability cases. The claimant is expected to pay the attorney 20% if the VA fails to withhold benefits. After winning benefits, the attorney is not entitled to further fees for future monthly benefits.
Can a Veteran ask for benefits before the date of first VA application?
No! A Veteran can only ask for benefits to start on the first day of the month after application unless there is a reopening of a prior claim which has clear and unmistakable error, grave procedural error an unadjudicated claim for an earlier effective date.
Can a Veteran work and still be disabled for service-connection?
Yes. The VA allows a Veteran with a percentage up to 100% to continue to work. If the Veteran receives individual unemployability or Pension, he cannot continue to work.
Can a Veteran receive Social Security disability benefits and VA Veterans benefits at the same time?
Yes. The DVA allows a Veteran with a percentage up to 100% or with individual unemployability to continue to receive Social Security disability benefits if insured. Pension is reduced by the amount of Social Security disability