If you are preparing to file for VA disability, arming yourself with information is the first step in ensuring you have the best outcome possible. Everyone who serves in the military services will probably, during certain periods of their career, be engaged in activities or present in locations that are hazardous to health and safety. That’s one part of military service that civilians see and respect as sacrifice. You have put your body between America and the things that present a threat to it. For that, you deserve to be fairly evaluated when it comes time to apply for VA disability.
What is a Presumptive Service Connection?
The VA has laid out specific conditions that they presume to be connected to your service. These are considered “presumptive connections.” If you were deployed or stationed in a certain area, and you develop a certain impairment now, they presume that it was connected to your service because you were exposed to something that happened in that area.
Presumptive disability benefits stem from military service in readily identifiable situations such as when a veteran has been a prisoner of war, witnessed nuclear testing, served in the presence of carcinogenic chemicals in Vietnam, or served in the Gulf War Theater, the origin of so many still-unexplained illnesses. Ailments related to situations and locations such as these have been identified. It is presumed that veterans’ impairments linked to certain conditions and locations in their military records will be connected to their military service. This presumption, substantiated by medical records, can greatly simplify the process when you file for VA disability. In other words, a presumptive service connection greases the skids when a veteran applies for VA disability.
What Sorts of Disabilities Are Presumptively Connected, and Why?
Breathing issues, specifically identified forms of cancer, and many other issues can be presumed to be connected to a certain time and place in a veteran’s service history. Such a presumption does the heavy lifting for you. With a presumptive connection, you don't have to document a direct or secondary connection between your impairment and your history of service. You don't have to go through the more formal process of connecting current medical problems to prior military service. You simply have to meet the presumptive connections that show, for example, that you were on board a C-130 aircraft that sprayed agent orange over Southeast Asia, or that you watched an atomic test protected only by a couple miles’ distance and a pair of tinted goggles. Keeping track of your military and medical records is essential, but all it takes to prove a presumptive connection is often simply showing that you were where you were, and did what you did.
Filing for VA disability starts with preparation. The first thing to do is to find out if you’re eligible for VA disability. Criteria for eligibility include these factors, both of which must be true:
- You served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
- You have a disability rating for a condition connected to your military service.
At least one of these factors must apply to you as well:
- In-Service Disability Claim -- You became sick or got injured while serving in the military, and can link the condition to your service-related duties.
- Pre-Service Disability Claim -- You were injured or became ill prior to your joining the military, and serving made that condition worse.
- Post-Service Disability Claim -- You have a service-related disability that didn’t present itself until after you were separated from service.
Some presumed disabilities the VA might consider include any illness caused by time spent as a prisoner of war (POW), problems caused by exposure to toxic chemical contamination or other hazardous materials such as radioactive isotopes or asbestos, or a chronic illness that presents itself less than a year following your separation from military service. VA disability may be covered not only for you, the veteran, but also for your dependents, if they are found to qualify.
You have nothing to lose when you file for VA disability, so if you believe you have suffered injury or chronic illness due to your military service, it would be in your best interest to apply. According to the Veterans Administration, it takes an average of 82.4 days for the VA to make a decision as to whether your claim will be covered. So, be prepared to be patient for at least a couple of months while you wait for their decision.
Once you have applied, and a reasonable amount of time has passed, you can track the status of your case on the VA website here.
What Should You Do While You Wait?
Unless the VA has sent you a letter by regular mail asking for more information or clarification, you won’t have to do anything except exercise patience. After all, anyone who served in the military is familiar with the concept of “hurry up, and wait.”
The VA may schedule physical exams for you, so be on the lookout for emails from them, and check the mailbox for letters. You won’t want to miss an exam appointment, as they can be extremely time-consuming to reschedule. The more complex your claim, the more time it’s likely to take to resolve.
What If you Disagree with the Veterans Administration’s Decision?
You can ask the VA to review their decision. If you don’t agree with their findings, you can choose one of three options to continue your case. You can:
- File a supplemental claim, in which you add new and relevant evidence.
- Request a higher-level review, in which you ask for a more senior reviewing official.
- Request a board appeal, in which case you appeal to a veterans’ law judge.
What If You Need Help with Your Review?
If you need help applying for a review of your case, you may choose to work with an attorney, a claims agent, or a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative. These professionals are trained and certified, and thus trusted by the VA, to help you with your claim.
If you’re thinking about filing for VA disability and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people just like you file for VA disability for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 373-1649.