When you file for VA disability benefits, the process can feel overwhelming and arduous. Proving a connection between your service and disability has multiple steps, and a claim can take months or even years to reach a decision.
While the VA has a duty to assist Veterans seeking disability benefits, the agency acts neither as an advocate nor an adversary.
The VA ultimately expects you to advocate on behalf of yourself when seeking benefits, increasing current benefits, or appealing a decision.
Understanding this process can help you better prepare, and thus give you the best possible chance for a positive outcome in your case.
Know when to consult a disability attorney.
While in the past Veterans haven’t been able to seek legal counsel for their benefits claims, Veterans’ advocacy groups petitioned the government to change the law in 2007. The law also protects Veterans with regard to legal fees and cases.
Knowing what to expect, and consulting a lawyer, could make a major difference in your case outcome.
4. Before You File for VA Disability, Know You Could Be Denied
While it’s obvious that your claim could be denied, it’s also easy to believe your case is one of those that is a 100 percent sure thing. This is because you know you’re disabled and deserve VA benefits, and you’re certain those determining your case will reach the same conclusion.
Most disabled Veterans applying for benefits feel this way—yet nearly a third of claims are initially denied.
Here are some of the main reasons the VA might deny a claim.
- The disability cannot be proved to be service connected. There’s no “nexus” connection proving your disability was caused or made worse by your service. This is why it’s best to apply for benefits as soon as possible, so proving this connection is easier.
- Not enough medical evidence for a diagnosis, or no proof of current symptoms. Without proper medical evidence to prove a diagnosis, or to prove current disabling symptoms, your claim could be denied.
- Other disqualifying events. These can include dishonorable discharge, disability caused by misconduct, injury or illness while AWOL, or injury or illness while court martialed or detained for a civil court felony.
In addition to approving or denying your claim, the VA will determine the severity rating of your disability or disabilities, from 0% to 100%, and this can determine how much benefits you receive.
While there are legitimate reasons the VA might deny a claim or give you a lower severity rating, there are also times the decision can be reversed through appeals. You should never be dissuaded from appealing your claim, as doing so is your legal right and may help you reverse an unfavorable decision.
3. Before You File for VA Disability, Prepare to Appeal
Veterans who apply for disability benefits should always prepare for a claim denial and be ready for the appeals process in case this happens.
A denial doesn’t always mean you won’t ultimately win your case.
When you appeal a decision by the VA, you have three options to review the decision. If one option doesn’t reach a favorable outcome, you can then try the others available to you.
A VA disability attorney can help you with the appeals process.
The appeal options for VA benefits are:
- Supplemental claim
A supplemental claim can be filed when you have new evidence relating to your case that you haven’t previously submitted to the VA.
A supplemental claim takes four to five months on average to resolve, according to the VA.
- Higher-level review
You can request that a senior-level reviewer look at the decision in your case and determine if it can be changed based on a difference of opinion or error in the earlier decision-making process. You can only appeal for a higher-level review if you haven’t done so previously for the same claim, and haven’t already requested a Board Appeal or have a contested claim.
A higher-level review takes four to five months on average to resolve.
- Board appeal
This is an appeal to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans' Appeals. You can request a board appeal after an initial claim denial, supplemental claim, or higher-level review. You cannot request more than one board appeal in a row for the same case.
You would make this appeal either by requesting a direct review, submitting more evidence, or requesting a hearing.
2. Before You File for VA Disability, See What Other Benefits You Qualify For
While seeking VA disability benefits can be an important step in post-service life, there are also other benefits for which a Veteran might qualify. These benefits and programs can help enrich Veterans’ lives and offer needed support.
Some of these benefits programs include:
- The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for families of military service members transitioning to post-service civilian life, including guidance for potential benefits, career, training, and counseling.
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits for Servicemembers and Veterans
- Educational benefits for Veterans, such as the GI Bill and related benefits.
- Home loan benefits for Veterans, Servicemembers, and Survivors.
- Life insurance benefits for Servicemembers, Veterans, and Survivors.
The best time to apply for many of these benefits is roughly 90 to 180 days prior to discharge, through what is known as “pre-discharge claim.” This can potentially speed up the process of receiving benefits.
1. Before You File for VA Disability, Talk to an Attorney
An attorney can help you through the process of filing a claim, navigating multiple claims or appeals, or appealing for a higher disability rating.
You may have also missed deadlines, had a change in your condition or the severity of your condition, or feel that a denial was due to an error during the review process. A qualified lawyer can help to resolve all these and file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD).
In specific instances, you may also qualify for Social Security Disability, and an attorney can help you understand how to proceed.
Affleck & Gordon’s experienced disability attorneys offer a free case evaluation to learn more about your VA disability rights.
If your VA Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-7165.