What is VA Disability?
The Veterans Administration provides monthly, tax-free compensation to former U.S. military service members injured or suffering from a chronic disability related to their time in service, or whose pre-existing condition their duties exacerbated. Veterans may qualify for benefits stemming from physical or mental conditions developed during or after their service. Physical injuries during service are common, as are mental conditions brought on by the rigors of active duty, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronic conditions and pre-existing conditions made worse by your military service are also covered by VA disability in some situations where the connection to your time in service is established.
How Does the VA Define Disability and Determine my Disability Rating?
If you served on active duty, were honorably discharged, and have a service-related condition or injury, you are a candidate for VA disability. Once the service connection is established, a disability rating is assigned to you based on the severity of your impairments. The amount you are paid each month is based on the percentage assigned to you in your disability rating. You may be assigned multiple ratings for distinct injuries or conditions, but instead of adding them up, the VA calculates them for you based on their own specific formula, and you’ll be compensated accordingly.
NOTE: Sometimes, an other-than-honorable discharge does not preclude applying for VA service-connected benefits
When Can I File for VA Disability?
Most veterans are allowed to begin their claim between 180-90 days before separation from military service through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD). With some exceptions, if you have less than 90 days of active duty remaining, you won’t be able to file through BDD, and although you can file before your discharge, your claim won’t be completed until after separation. However, you can begin the process of filing your claim(s).
A post-service claim can be made any time following your separation from active duty. However, the later you file your claim following your service, the more challenging it may be to prove your claims. After all, you are trying to connect the in-service issues to your current medical problems, after the fact. Documenting a recent injury is much more straightforward than substantiating one that occurred decades ago. If you plan to make a claim for injuries sustained during a time in the less-than-recent past, the right legal team can be critical to navigating the system.
Claims can be made for specific disabilities connected to events or areas of service, including disabilities related to your time in Vietnam and possible Agent Orange exposure, as a prisoner of war (POW), in Southwest Asia, or for disabilities with symptoms that present following exposure to hazardous materials. In any of these cases, retaining an attorney can make the difference between proving your disability and winning your case, or being denied.
How Do I Prove Eligibility to File for Benefits?
You’ll have to meet certain specific qualifications to prove your eligibility for a VA disability rating. In addition to showing proof of active-duty service, in most cases you must directly link your condition to a particular clearly documented time and place during your military service. Once you’re proven eligible, the VA will want to connect your condition or injury to a service-related event, and then they’ll rate the severity of your condition.
How Do I Prove my Service Connection?
Proving the connection between your condition and your service means that you have a history of service records, medical records, and doctors’ opinions that show a clear line of cause and effect between your condition and your service. Proving this requirement can be broken down as follows:
- Do you have a current medical condition that was diagnosed and causes you disability or limitations?
- Do you believe there was an in-service event, injury, or illness that either caused or aggravated that disability?
- Can you produce medical documentation linking the current disabling condition with an in-service injury, illness, or event?
Note: A claim for presumptive connection does not follow the above guidelines.
How is the Severity of my Condition Determined?
The VA rates the severity of your disability between 0%-100%. While the VA may establish the connection between your condition and your service–a crucial step–they often won’t rank the severity of your disability as highly as you may expect. The VA often grants service-connection with a “zero percent” impairment rating. While there may not be any immediate monetary benefit from a zero percent rating, this service connection could still be very important as your health worsens over time, and especially if you appeal your decision or file a supplemental claim later.
What is a C&P Exam?
A C&P exam–short for compensation and pension exam–is a medical examination performed by a VA physician or contracted physician who will evaluate and document the current severity of your condition or injury under consideration for disability. This exam may be brief, but has long-lasting consequences when it comes to the amount of benefits you may receive. Examiners’ findings can be brief as well. The VA code ratings are very specific, and require detailed findings by an examining medical professional.
Sometimes, only one C&P exam is necessary to determine your level of disability. However, if you have specific injuries or conditions related to your hearing, vision, or a dental or psychological condition, you may need additional C&P exams with a specialist.
You have the right as a veteran/claimant to submit your own evidence in the form of an examination that you acquire. These exams can be used to rebut the findings in prior C&P exams. These exams can provide the level of required detail to properly address how your conditions fit into the rating codes.
How Long Does a VA Disability Case Take?
Disability claims are notorious for taking months, if not years, to resolve. However, most initial VA disability claims are determined within three to ten months. Each case is unique, and more complicated cases can take much longer. An appeal to the BVA (Board of Veterans’ Appeals) following a denial can add years to the claim, unless you meet specific criteria for expedited processing.
Why Might I Need an Attorney for my VA Disability? Isn’t that Expensive?
Thirty-one percent of VA disability claims are denied. If you’re one of the thousands of veterans denied disability benefits each year, the right legal team can advise you, help you file appeals, assist you with proper and complete documentation, and fight by your side as you navigate your next steps.
Perhaps most importantly, they can help identify logical theories that provide a path to victory amid the chaos of multiple claims and levels of appeal.
The law specifically protects veterans with regard to legal fees. Before 2007, veterans weren’t allowed to employ legal representation by attorneys regarding their disability claim. Veterans groups and other advocacy groups petitioned Congress to change the laws to create protections for the rights of veterans. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We can quickly determine if we can help you win your case.