The Department of Veterans Affairs, better known as the Veterans’ Administration or the VA, offers disability benefits to eligible veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. However, anyone who has dealt with the VA for even a routine matter such as setting a doctor’s appointment understands the red tape one must successfully cut to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
But don’t despair, a Veterans Disability Attorney may be able to help.
At Denmon Pearlman, we have spent years helping veterans just like you.
We understand how frustrating it can be to suffer from physical or psychological pain as a direct result of your military service and then run into obstacle after obstacle while trying to get the benefits to which you are entitled.
First, let’s start with some basic principles you should know before pursuing your VA disability benefits claim.
The Elements Of A VA Disability Claim
Your disability must be a current, ongoing condition. If the disability is temporary and a claim was not pending during the duration of the disability, you cannot be compensated. However, in some cases, you can be compensated for temporary disabilities — but you must file a claim promptly. Temporary disabilities are usually service-related injuries such as broken bones.
A doctor must have formally diagnosed the injury or medical condition. Simply having a lot of pain, especially if a doctor did not diagnose the cause of the pain, won’t cut it for a VA disability claim.
The injury or condition must be directly related to your service in the U.S. Armed Forces. If you fell off a military truck while serving the U.S. Army overseas, that qualifies. If you were on leave or otherwise off work and had a car accident, that might not qualify.
If you caught malaria or were exposed to toxins such as Agent Orange because of your military service, that could qualify you for VA disability benefits and in some circumstances, disabilities stemming from exposure to such toxins are assumed to be service-related.
If you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of your injury, you do not qualify for benefits. The same rule applies if your condition is the result of willful misconduct.
What If I Am Diagnosed After Leaving The Military?
Many veterans are diagnosed with service-related conditions after leaving the military. However, you may still qualify for VA disability benefits if you can demonstrate that the disability was caused by an in-service event:
A doctor must state that the illness or injury was directly related to the patient’s military service.
Some injuries, such as disabilities stemming from exposure to Agent Orange and some other toxins, are automatically assumed to be connected to military service.
Any other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony (known as a “Buddy Statement”), that supports your VA disability claim.
How Does The VA Rate A Disability?
If you’re researching disability claims, you’ve surely read about the programs available through the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, it is harder to qualify for Social Security disability benefits than VA disability benefits. The SSA requires you to be totally disabled in order to receive payments, but the VA uses percentages instead.
Disabilities are assigned a percentage based on 38 Code of Federal Regulations. For example, chronic congestive heart failure can result in a 100% disability rating. However, if you have one disability that is rated at 30%, and another that is rated at 50%, that does not equal an 80% disability rating. Rather, the VA uses a formula to compute the overall disability rating when there are multiple disabilities to be rated. It is important to talk to an attorney to ensure the VA has properly computed your overall disability rating.
Filing Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
You’ve been injured or are ill as a direct result of your military service. You have doctors and witnesses to back this up.
So, it seems like it should be easy for you to file a VA disability claim and receive your benefits — right?
Unfortunately, not always.
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of red tape when dealing with the VA. One problem is that there is no deadline by which the VA must act on your disability claim. Thousands of veterans wait months or even years for a decision — years during which they are not receiving the monetary compensation to which they are entitled. This creates a situation in which the veteran’s family and friends must shoulder the responsibilities of providing support to the veteran, which can create an undue financial and emotional strain on those relationships.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A Veterans Disability Attorney can expedite your claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs by ensuring all the proper evidence and documentation is sent to the VA for review. It’s a sad but true fact that all organizations, especially government ones, take requests more seriously when an attorney is involved.
What Steps Must I Take To File A VA Disability Claim?
Hopefully, you’ve received medical attention for your injury or illness. As mentioned above, this is critical to your VA disability claim — not to mention your health and wellbeing.
The next thing to do is fill out VA Form 21-526 or 21-526EZ.
Often times, your initial claim will be delayed or denied — especially if an attorney did not file the paperwork on your behalf. If it is denied, you will have an option to appeal this decision. Depending on the appeal route you choose, hearings may be another required part of the process, and the Veterans Disability Attorneys at Denmon Pearlman can represent you to ensure you present your best case to the VA.
What Type Of Evidence Will Be Used During The Claims Process?
The Department of Veterans Affairs will consider myriad pieces of evidence when evaluating your claim.
Here’s a partial listing:
- Medical records from before, during, and after your military service.
- Your DD 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). This document gives your service dates, service locations, and discharge status.
- The geographic locations of your service are extremely important especially for cases of malaria or Agent Orange exposure.
- Personnel records from your service years, especially when a tour of duty was involved. These records will include any counselings, evaluations, training, military schools attended, awards, and achievements.
- Eyewitness testimony or a “Buddy Letter.” As mentioned before, anyone who can directly attest to the fact that your illness or injury was a direct result of your military service will be extremely helpful to your case. Be sure this person has an impeccable military record himself or herself.
What If My VA Claim Is Denied?
Don’t panic if your VA claim is denied; this is all too often part of the process. The good news is the VA Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) of 2019 made it easier for veterans and their families to voice their grievances with VA decisions.
For example, veterans can now more easily check their case statuses online. Also, veterans are given clearer choices in regard to how to appeal an unfavorable decision. Finally, the new appeals process allows the veteran to receive back paid benefits even if their case takes years to reach a resolution.
The Difference Between A Veterans Disability Attorney And A Veterans Service Officer (VSO)
You have probably heard the term VSO, which can mean Veterans Service Officer or Veterans Service Organization.
Possibly, you’re wondering whether you should just use a VSO instead of consulting a Veterans Disability Attorney.
To be certain, VSO’s serve a valuable purpose and sometimes a VSO can give you all the help you need.
However, there are some important facts to keep in mind as you decide whether to work with an attorney or a VSO.
First, a VSO is not an attorney. They are certified through the Department of Veterans Affairs to help people fill out the paperwork; they can even appear at hearings. However, they’re not attorneys.
Yes, the services of a VSO are always free of charge. Even if they collect a sizable benefits package for you, they will never request money. These folks work through charitable organizations such as the American Legion or the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).
If your case is simple, such as an injury during a tour of duty, a VSO could be all you need.
However, as your claim becomes more complex it is important to consult a qualified and experienced Veterans Disability Attorney. Attorneys are simply more experienced in interpreting the law, conducting legal research, and formulating legal arguments.
When it comes to complex cases such as sexual trauma or traumatic brain injury (TBI), you need someone with experience with many facets of the law to successfully fight the bureaucracy that is the VA.
Also, VSOs are volunteers and often overworked. They simply won’t have the time and resources to thoroughly collect evidence the way a reputable law firm such as Denmon Pearlman can.
Remember, you don’t just have the help of your attorney when you choose one. The attorney’s clerks, paralegals, investigators, and even other lawyers are also devoted to your case.
In addition, our lawyers do not ask for any money upfront. If we are unable to collect additional benefits for you, you owe us nothing.
Click to learn more about Veterans Disability Attorney, Andrew Plagge.
Getting Help Right Away
If you want to start your VA claim off on the right foot or your VA claim has been denied, call Denmon Pearlman at 813-694-4130 for a free consultation. We have offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey. Also, we can come to you, speak on the phone, or meet online via video conferencing.
The Veterans Disability Attorneys at Denmon Pearlman can also help you and your family with other types of VA claims, including but not limited to:
- discharge classifications;
- veteran’s pensions;
- survivor benefits; and
- life insurance.
Your Veterans Disability Attorney will also be a veteran and is accredited through the Department of Veterans Affairs. He or she will only get paid when you do, so contacting one of our compassionate veterans’ rights lawyers can only benefit you and your loved ones. Call us today at 727-493-5610.
We have offices throughout Tampa Bay including in New Port Richey, Tampa, and St. Petersburg.