Veterans with disabilities face worries about their families’ health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they also may need to contend with the stresses of filing for VA disability benefits.
Some good news: Those receiving VA disability benefits won’t see disruptions in their payments, and the process of filing a claim is much the same as it was pre-coronavirus.
The exception to this is that many regional VA offices have been temporarily shut down during the pandemic. That has begun to change.
Since October, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been returning to in-person benefits services. Certain regional VA offices are slowly reopening with limited hours and services, while adhering to CDC guidelines.
Yet, there are many aspects to consider when applying for benefits, appealing an unfavorable outcome, or filing an additional claim.
The process can be complex—and how you approach managing your benefits will depend on your unique circumstances.
The right disability lawyer can help you navigate your disability benefits and medically prove your disability to receive the higher rating you deserve.
In this article, we’ll discuss how COVID-19 affects VA benefits, including:
- Filing a VA Disability Claim during COVID-19
- C&P Exam: Telehealth Versus Going in Person
- Who Can Help Guide You
- How a Disability Attorney Will Help with Your VA Claim
Filing a VA Disability Claim during COVID-19
Many regional VA offices are starting to return to in-person services for claimants. Yet, some offices may still not be offering certain services, depending on the specific office.
To determine what services are available in your area, you must contact your regional VA office in Georgia.
There are many potential forms to choose from that you’ll need to file your disability claim with the VA—and different methods to file.
For instance, for claim submittals and appeals, you may visit certain regional offices, as explained above. However, you can also fax or mail documents to the appropriate offices.
As an example, when you need to fax VA Form 21-526EZ, you’d send it to the VA Claims Intake Center, using these fax numbers:
(844) 531-7818 for those inside the U.S.
(248) 524-4260 for those outside the U.S.
Or you could mail the documents to:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
In some instances, you can utilize the eBenefits online system. But this depends on your specific claim.
There are different types of situations that will determine the forms and steps to filing a claim. A few examples include:
- You have a pre-discharge claim.
- You have a fully developed disability claim.
- Your disability appears within one year after discharge.
- You’d like to file for a secondary condition connected to a service-linked disability.
- You’re filing a supplemental claim.
- You’re appealing a denial or for a higher disability rating.
Each of these situations is unique. Discuss your options with a qualified attorney to better understand your options.
C&P Exam: Telehealth Versus Going in Person
As a component of proving your disability claim, you may be asked to undergo one or more Compensation & Pension (C&P) exams.
If your regional office is open for you to visit, you may receive your exam as you normally would. The office will adhere to strict health and safety guidelines during your visit, and there may be restrictions such as visitors and special hours of operation. Call the office to find out the specifics.
However, if the office is not open—or you feel uncomfortable visiting in person—you may choose to do one of the following:
- Postpone your exam until a later date.
- Undergo a virtual exam via the VA’s telehealth services.
Note: The telehealth exam option may only be available for certain types of disabilities, and you’ll need to follow up with your regional office to determine if this is a good fit for your claim.
Additionally, a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) may sometimes be filed using telehealth services.
Who Can Help Guide You
This can be confusing and, frankly, overwhelming. You may need someone to guide you through the process.
A Veterans Service Officer (VSO) will work to help you apply for disability benefits or file an appeal. VSOs are there to assist Veterans, service members, their dependents, and survivors.
VSOs may also help you pursue educational opportunities, home loans, life insurance, health care, burial benefits, Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), and other Veteran support programs.
A VSO will not charge you for their services but may charge for unusual expenses. Some types of VA-connected representation may charge a fee once a decision is made on your claim; you should discuss this with them up front.
How a Disability Attorney Will Help with Your VA Claim
There are many variables specific to your claim that will require different steps and preparation. You must gather medical and service records related to your disability, as well as “Nexus” letters from medical providers to prove a service connection to your condition and earn you an accurate disability rating.
If the VA reaches an unfavorable decision in your case, you may need to go through a complicated appeals process.
For whatever steps you need to take to qualify for your disability, the right attorney can guide you through the process and advocate on your behalf.
While VSOs and other VA representatives can help you, an attorney will act as your personal advocate throughout your claim.
The law protects Veterans regarding legal fees and cases. Before 2007, veterans weren’t allowed to have legal representation from attorneys regarding their disability claim. An initial case evaluation is often free and can be used to determine if legal representation is a good fit for your claim.
If your VA Disability claim or your SSDI claim was 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) 795-7227.