Below are answers to common questions many veterans have when they first contact Marc Whitehead & Associates. Remember, if your initial claim for veterans disability is denied, don’t give up. There are a number of things you can still do.
Be sure to download our free eBook, Veterans Disability Claims – Strategies for a Winning Campaign – written for veterans and their families covering every aspect of filing a successful disability claim.
Q: Who is eligible to receive VA disability benefits?
If you were wounded, injured or became ill while on active duty, or a condition was made worse by active military service, then you may be entitled to service-connected disability benefits. These basic criteria establish whether you are eligible under the VA’s basic definition of a veteran:
- You have served in any branch of the military – US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard
- Your service was considered “active”
- Under what circumstances you were discharged
If you did not serve in one of the five branches of the US Military, you may still meet the first requirement of the VA’s definition of a veteran. It’s always best to consult a qualified veteran’s disability lawyer on these details.
That’s the first step. Factors such as how long you served and whether your active service was during wartime will impact the types and amounts of benefits you are eligible to receive.
Q: What is a service-connected disability?
A disability is considered service connected if you can prove it occurred as the result of injuries or sickness that you had while serving in the armed forces. Service connection can involve a condition you had prior to service that was made worse by the rigors of active duty. Conditions can also be established as secondary to a service-connected illness or disease. Conditions that result from the use of drugs and alcohol are excluded from service connected disabilities.
Q: How do I apply for Veterans disability benefits?
The first step is to fill out VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension. Attach copies of any medical records and evidence, as well as dependency records (marriage certificate, your children’s birth certificates.)
You will also need to submit military records that prove the location and length of your active duty service as well as the type of discharge you received. There are three ways to do this:
- Submit the original document from your service department
- Submit a certified copy of the original document
- Authorize an accredited agent to submit a certified copy
You can mail or take the application to the closest VA regional office. You can also go through the Veterans Disability claims process entirely online using the Veterans Online Application, or VONAPP.
Q: What if my service records do not portray an accurate picture of my service?
In that case, you are allowed to submit what is known as “lay evidence,” including documents like medical records and personal testimony, to help make your case. Veterans’ claims are often won or lost on the basis of credible lay evidence.
Q: How Does the VA Evaluate Disability Claims?
When you begin the VA claims process, you will be subject to an examination at a VA medical center. An approved examiner will conduct the physical review of symptoms and take note of all your complaints. These examinations are offered for free to all veterans who are concerned that their ailments are related to their military service. Once the examination is complete, the results will be considered along with the evidence you provide with your disability claim.
Q: What’s the difference between VA Compensation and VA Pension?
- Compensation is money paid by the VA to a veteran due to an injury, disease, or condition that is service connected. Compensation is not needs-based (based on income) and is not restricted to any particular period of service. Compensation is paid as a percentage amount based on the percentage of disability.
- Pension is needs-based (based on income) and is paid based on (1) disability, that is not the result of active service, which causes a veteran to be totally disabled from work and thus needs financial assistance and (2) the veteran’s age.
Q: How is the amount of monthly compensation payment determined?
The VA calculates the monthly payment amounts based on the degree your disability would impair the average person earning a living wage in the United States. As a veteran, your individual earning ability is not taken into account at all. A rating system – called the Schedule for Rating Disabilities – is used to categorize a veteran’s degree of disability resulting from service-connected injuries.
VA has established 10 grades of disability. These grades are: 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, and 100%. The higher the disability evaluation grade, the higher the veteran’s monthly payment.
Q: Are any veterans benefits available to family members?
In some cases, veterans’ benefits may be available to dependents of a living veteran who is unable to support them, or to surviving family members of a veteran who has passed away. Benefits can include: death compensation, death pension, accrued benefits, and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC).
Q: Will I have to pay taxes on veterans disability compensation?
No. Veterans disability benefits are tax-free.
Q: What mental disorders are eligible for VA compensation claims?
Eight categories of mental disorders are eligible for VA disability compensation:
- Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
- Delirium, Dementia, and Amnestic and Other Cognitive Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
- Dissociative Disorders
- Somatoform Disorders (A disorder where a person has certain physical symptoms of a medical condition, but tests do not reveal that they actually have that condition)
- Mood Disorders
- Chronic Adjustment Disorder
- Eating Disorder
Because of so many issues that are particular to mental disorders, these disability claims are often very challenging, and difficult to have properly diagnosed. You must decide what mental disorder you are seeking benefits for.
Q: What determines whether I’m eligible for PTSD disability?
If you are a veteran and are experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed below, you may be eligible for veterans’ benefits on the basis of a PTSD diagnosis.
- Emotional numbness for a long period after the traumatic event
- Survivor’s guilt
- Nightmares about and flashbacks to the traumatic event
- Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
- Strong reactions to sounds mimicking the traumatic event
- Difficulty reconnecting emotionally with friends and family
- Generalized anxiety, nervousness, or depression
The VA has a series of strict criteria in place to determine the validity of PTSD-related disability claims. These rules can be tough to navigate, but a qualified disability lawyer can see you through the process and help you obtain the benefits you deserve.
Q: Can my VA disability ratings be increased ?
Yes. If you believe the level to which you are disabled has increased, you may return to the VA and ask for your disability rating to be reevaluated. It is a good idea to submit medical and treatment records to the VA to prove that your condition has worsened.
Q: I am receiving Social Security Disability benefits. Am I still eligible for Veterans disability benefits?
Yes. Veterans benefits are not considered income. Social Security does not factor veterans benefits into your total income, therefore you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Q: What do I do if my claim for VA benefits is denied?
Many veterans’ claims are incorrectly denied. You must challenge the denial by appealing the decision. Appeals can be a lengthy and complicated process, with several levels of appeals to go through. An attorney who is experienced in Veterans disability law and has a proven track record at the Veterans Court can mean the difference between getting the disability rating that you deserve and receiving either unsatisfactory compensation or no payments at all.
We encourage you to ask questions about veterans disability law, how you can improve your case, and use the most effective strategies to receive maximum benefits. For answers to your individual questions, please contact us for a free case evaluation.
Marc Whitehead has significant experience fighting for veterans’ benefits across the country. Learn more about Marc’s veterans disability practice here.