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VA disability claims

VA Disability Claims

Veterans who become sick or are permanently injured during their military service or who had a previously diagnosed condition that worsened due to their service are entitled to VA disability compensation. For disabled veterans, this is a monthly tax-free payment for both physical (amputations, disease) and mental conditions (post-traumatic stress disorder) that developed before, during, or after active service. In order to receive these benefits, veterans must first file a claim.

Of course, veterans’ benefits are well deserved. They help pay for medical bills, compensation and pension, as well as help dependents, including the spouse. However, the claims process for a monthly benefit can be really stressful for a lot of reasons. Not only is there likely some kind of physical or mental discomfort for military retirees, but financial needs might also becoming more and more pressing. While it can be frustrating dealing with a bureaucracy, there are some things you can do that can help you cope with the process of claiming for compensation benefits.

When to File a Disability Claim

It’s best to start the process for compensation as soon as possible. If you have between 90 and 180 days left on active duty, you can start the process with the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program. This gets the process started much sooner so you’ll have a decision soon after your discharge. If you have 90 days or less left before discharge, you can start a Quick Start claim. These are processed at dedicated facilities so the process moves along a little faster.

If you’re already out of the service, the best time to file a claim is as soon as possible. The earlier you get the process started, the fresher the evidence. If you have an injury and go years without filing a claim, it’s sometimes difficult to prove how severe the injury was at discharge versus how much it has exacerbated through the passing years.

A lot of veterans fall into the idea that taking money for a disability isn’t appropriate. It’s easy to see injuries and illnesses as just a part of the job but there’s always a chance that your condition can worsen and you’ll be unable to work. There’s no time limit to apply so even if you’ve been out of the service for years, it’s worth a shot.

How to Help the Process Go as Smoothly as Possible

One of the things you can do to take a little bit of the stress off your shoulders is to appoint a representative to help you make sure everything is working as it should. There are a lot of attorneys who can help you through this process but there are also plenty of non-profit groups who can help, too, like the American Legion as well as VA offices at the state and local levels.

Another important thing to consider is what you should claim. Some veterans claim every single thing they’ve ever been treated for but claiming too many things results in a lot more examinations and paperwork and makes the decision process take even longer. A better approach is to only claim those things which stayed with you after service. For example, an illness like the flu will most certainly be denied while a broken bone may lead to problems down the road so you should definitely file a claim.

Request a copy of your medical records from all of your private physicians. The VA can’t legally compel a private physician to send records. If physicians are willing to send them, they often charge a fee which the VA can’t pay for them. You’ll likely end up having to get them from your physician in the end so it can save a lot of time to just submit them on your own with the initial claim.

After you file, the VA sends a letter called a VCAA letter. This letter tells you what’s next for the VA, what you’re expected to do, and how the claim will be determined. If the VA requires any additional information, it will appear in this letter. Submit it as soon as you can to keep the process moving along.

Once they do make a decision, you’ll receive another letter explaining your assigned rating and the benefits you’re entitled to. If you feel the decision isn’t right, get in touch with your representative immediately. It’s better to attempt to fix the situation right away than go through the long appeals process which will take up even more time and resources.

What to Do if You’re Denied

If you’re denied benefits, there is an appeals process to follow. First, get a representative to help you through the process. The first thing you’ll have to do is file a Notice of Disagreement within one year of receiving the decision.

Once the VA receives your notice, they will forward a Statement of the Case. If the review officer doesn’t think an appeal is warranted, they’ll send you their findings. Then, you’ll have to decide whether or not to continue. You have 60 days to make this decision.

You can submit any new evidence that you think will help your appeal. From here, any intent to continue along with any new evidence goes to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals who will review it and make a decision.

Admittedly, the appeals process takes a long time. The cases are worked in the order they’re received so the oldest cases get priority. If you’re in poor health or financial distress, you can apply to get your case on the Advanced on Docket. This happens automatically for veterans over the age of 75.

From there, you can request a hearing to plead your case but this isn’t required. The Board will examine all the evidence and make a final decision. If you still disagree and want to continue, you can take it to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. Again, this can be a long process.

Build the Strongest Case Possible

The VA gives hiring preference to veterans so it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the people you’ll come in contact truly understand where you’re coming from. Keep the lines of communication open and collect as much evidence as you can in order to make the strongest case possible to claim your well-deserved compensation.

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tinnitus va ating

Tinnitus VA Rating

About one in ten American adults suffer from tinnitus and the condition affects veterans more than any other group. Repeated exposure to noise from gunfire, aircraft, tanks, and other machinery make tinnitus is the number one disability among veterans.

Despite the fact that it’s so prevalent, a disability claim for tinnitus is often minimal and not so easy to make as a disability evaluation unlike an amputation, an impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, or other disorder. Unless the tinnitus is concurrent with significant hearing loss, the financial compensation will be minimal. That said, the VA is working on other options to help those with tinnitus manage in their day-to-day lives, as well as disability benefits.

What Is Tinnitus?

Most people describe tinnitus as a ringing in the ears which is partially true. Also known as Meniere’s disease, tinnitus is usually defined as the perception of noise in the ear. Commonly, this is ringing but it can also be whistling, buzzing, swooshing, or clicking.

Tinnitus is commonly associated with hearing loss. Because the brain receives less auditory stimuli, tinnitus may be the brain’s way of filling in the gaps for the frequencies that the ears can no longer hear.

In addition to frequent exposure to sounds that can lead to hearing loss, veterans are also susceptible to traumatic brain injuries. The middle ear is easily damaged by concussions and other shocks to the brain and even mild head injuries can result in chronic tinnitus.

What Is the VA Rating for Tinnitus?

The VA uses a rating system for all disability claims to determine how much monthly compensation should be. This system rates your condition on a scale of 0 to 100. Theoretically, the more severe the injury and the more it impacts your ability to work and perform activities of daily living, the more compensation you should receive.

Recurrent tinnitus carries a standard rating of 10% which is about $140 a month. This rating applies whether the tinnitus occurs in one or both ears.

Since a lot of veterans often suffer from both tinnitus and hearing loss, it’s worth mentioning that this 10% is awarded in addition to whatever compensation has been determined for hearing loss.

Proving Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Since tinnitus and hearing loss are so common, you might think that these disabilities are easy to prove. The truth is the process is not that straightforward.

First, you’ll need a medical diagnosis. It’s beneficial to see an audiologist for an official diagnosis. Since they’re specialists, their findings will carry a little more weight than a general practitioner or PCP. The VA is very particular about a medical diagnosis so it’s important to get the best evidence possible.

You also have to be able to make a service connection to prove that the tinnitus and/or hearing loss was caused by things that happened during your time in the military. While it can be time-consuming, causation can be pretty well established just by looking at your service record. Identify times when you may have been exposed to heavy machinery, gunfire, or explosions.

Finally, you need your doctor to connect two. Essentially, you need a solid medical opinion that the exposure you experienced in the military resulted in your tinnitus or hearing loss.

Determining Severity

Again, tinnitus carries a standard rating of 10% and there’s nothing you can do to increase that, regardless of severity. The only way to get more compensation is to have a concurrent diagnosis of hearing loss.

The VA uses two different tests to determine how severe your hearing loss is. The first is a pure tone auditory test which directly checks your ability to hear frequencies ranging from low to high. The second test is called the Maryland CNC test which checks your ability to hear spoken word. A licensed audiologist performs these tests on both ears, even if the hearing loss is only present in one.

After the VA gets the results of these tests, they assign a rating. As we mentioned, tinnitus is only 10% but hearing loss can be rated pretty high if it impacts your ability to support yourself and your family. In fact, ratings for hearing loss of 30% or more may also qualify your dependents for coverage if you are unable to work. It’s important to note that the severity of hearing loss is determined by how well your ears work together. If one ear is significantly damaged but the other isn’t, your disability won’t be rated as high.

Can the VA Help in Other Ways?

While the VA rating for tinnitus isn’t particularly high, it doesn’t mean you’re not suffering. Tinnitus can be emotionally and mentally difficult to deal with and there are other ways that the VA can help.

The VA uses a program called Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM) to help veterans cope with the lasting effects of tinnitus. It involves a well-rounded approach that incorporates education, counseling, psychotherapy, and sound therapy.

There are numerous sound therapies to try. Sound therapies refer to interventions using external noise to change the patient’s reaction to tinnitus. The function using four different mechanisms: masking, distracting, habituation, and neuromodulation.

Masking uses white noise that’s loud enough to cover the sound of tinnitus whereas distraction uses an external sound to divert the patient’s brain from their tinnitus. Often, a simple white noise machine can help with masking and a hearing aid can augment external noise to help distract the brain.

Habituation is the process of training the brain to reclassify tinnitus as background noise that should be ignored. It can take time to accomplish but can have good results.

Auditory neuromodulation refers to the use of specialized sounds to minimize the neural hyperactivity in the brain that’s thought to be an underlying cause of tinnitus. The goal is to make long-lasting changes to the activity patterns in your brain so that the tinnitus decreases in severity. Auditory neuromodulation can take time but delivers pretty good results when it works.

Hope for the Future

While the financial compensation for tinnitus isn’t likely to improve thanks to the VA rating system, there’s a real push to find treatments that work. Since tinnitus is so prevalent, advances in correcting it would help a large portion of veterans who deserve to be heard.

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the importance of a lawyer in your vet disability claim

The Importance of a Lawyer in Your Vet Disability Claim

If you served in the military, you dedicated your time and your life for your country. You were dedicated, you followed orders, and you helped keep the United States of America a safer place for everyone. You’re a hero by all rights.

So, when you’ve been injured in military service and you’re unable to work, you deserve disability benefits to make up that loss of wages so you can live comfortably. To do this, you need to file for a disability claim through the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The VA can be tough and their policies and rules on disability benefits can be difficult to navigate. If you’ve been denied your claim or you know you should receive more than the VA is offering you in terms of disability compensation, it’s time to hire an experienced lawyer.

We’re going to learn the steps of filing for veterans with a disability and how a lawyer can help you accomplish this big process.

Benefits of Hiring a Lawyer

Whether you’ve suffered from a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder or another stress disorder, or one of the many disabled veterans who may have had an amputation, it’s completely free to file the paperwork when applying for disability from the Department of Veteran Affairs. However, it can be rather confusing and difficult.

There are several fantastic benefits to hiring a lawyer when you have to struggle with the VA.

A few of these benefits include:

Knowledge of VA Law: When you represent yourself, you might not have not only the general knowledge of VA law and legal services but the what policies help you. You might not be able to represent yourself to the best of your ability. A VA disability attorney knows the VA law, they’ve spent years learning every bit of this law and will be able to walk you through the claims process as the claimant. If they have experience, even better. This means they’ve been through the process many times before.

No Up-Front Costs: Like with workers’ compensation, most VA disability lawyers as part of a specialized law firm don’t require you to break the bank while you receive legal assistance and before you even know how your case is going to turn out. There’s no expectation for you to pay when you’re not receiving compensation yet. They know the process can be long. Some of these attorneys also won’t take money for their services unless you’ve been awarded your compensation by the VA.

Experts: The most experienced disability lawyers know how experts can benefit your case or appeal. A lot of these lawyers provide you the very experts you need to win your compensation, even with the board of veterans’ appeals. They use the best doctors and psychiatrists to determine your condition. They gather all these reports from their own experts so they can better assist you in the VA court.

Paperwork and Deadlines: Paperwork is a headache, especially if you’re new to the VA process. An attorney will do the tedious work for you. Missing a deadline is a big no-no in the VA court. Your lawyer, just like with the paperwork, will take care of the deadlines so everything gets done on time. This takes a huge amount of stress off of you.

Faster Claims: Now, an VA disability lawyer can’t push through the process
faster for your case. However, between they’re knowledge of the law and the ability to negotiate, you will more than likely receive your benefits faster. If you hire a lawyer in the beginning, you may be accepted the first time around, saving you the hassle of an appeal or worst of all, a remand.

What to Look for in an Attorney

Since you know the major benefits of having an experienced VA disability lawyer, it’s time to know what to look for when hiring a lawyer. There are specifications they should have, including being VA accredited and assets that you don’t have.

Never hire the first lawyer you speak to if you haven’t spoken about your claim to another lawyer. You should speak to at least three lawyers to decide who will suit you the best.

The best disability lawyers will be:

  • VA Accredited: Your lawyer has to be accredited by the VA. In order to be accredited by the VA, they must fill out paperwork for the Department of Veteran Affair’s Office of General Counsel (also known as VAOGC). All the forms and documents are examined and determined if they’re fit to fight for vets. The lawyer then gets 12 months from when they’re accepted to complete a 3-hour course.
  • Experienced: Experience is always good when hiring any lawyer. You want an attorney to know the entire process in and out. They have experience working for other vets, just like you. A great lawyer will let you know what needs to be done every step of the way. Not only should they have an extensive past dealing with VA regulations, but they should be currently practicing this same law. If they haven’t practiced recently or haven’t been to the VA court in years, they might be a little rusty on everything.
  • Focused: Alongside experience, you want a VA disability lawyer whose focus has been primarily on cases like yours. A lawyer with too many focuses may only know the basics of the VA’s policies on disability. Your lawyers need to know the intricacies.
  • Trustworthy: A lawyer that’s trustworthy brings you the peace of mind you deserve, especially during an appeal. Your lawyer’s time spent with you and their dedication to your appeal will show you that you’ve found the right VA disability attorney.

The Bottom Line

As a veteran of one of the U.S. military branches with a disability, you deserve compensation from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Hiring an attorney right away means you’re putting your best foot forward as soon as you start your claim. You should accept a helping hand, especially if you’re denied you claim the first time around.

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va disability percentages for conditions

VA Disability Percentages for Conditions

If you apply for disability benefits for a military service injury from the Office of Veteran’s Affairs and they determine whether or not your disability is, in fact, service related, then the VA will give your disability a rating. This rating places a percentage on how much the disability from active duty affects your life and determines how much financial compensation (disability benefits) you’re entitled to. Here’s a detailed look at how it works.

How Does Schedule for the VA Rating Work?

The VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities is extensive and every disability claim is complicated. Each rating on the schedule is broken down but parts of the body impacted. The ratings of disability compensation are calculated on the impact each disability has on earning capacity. They range anywhere between 0 and 100% in increments of 10%.

For example, the schedule of ratings for the ear includes Meniere’s syndrome (tinnitus), an inner ear disease that can be caused by changes in the fluid in the ear. This is further broken down by severity. If it includes vertigo and certain changes in gait occurring more than once a week, it’s
rated at 100%. If vertigo and gait change occurs between one and four times a month, it’s rated at 60%. If vertigo occurs less than once a month, it’s rated at 30%.

Categories of VA disability compensation are by body part and each category is further broken down into groups of different medical issues affecting that body part or system. Each issue has a list of coded applicable diagnoses. Disability ratings are ultimately determined by the coded medical diagnosis. Each one spells out the symptoms are required for each staging.

If you have a disability that fits into several categories, you will still only be rated under a single code. That said, the VA will assign the code with the highest rating. If you have a disability that isn’t listing within the schedule, they will seek out something that’s as close as possible to representing your symptoms and assign a rating based on that criteria.

Simply put, whether you are suffering from an injury or illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental disorders, sleep apnea, or something physically more obvious like an amputation or total disability, the percent disability rating is somewhat complicated for all disabled veterans. That said, you are still entitled to VA compensation.

It’s important to know that the VA looks carefully at all of the medical evidence you provide them when assigning a rating.

What Do the Percentages Pay?

Currently, here’s what you can expect based on your percentage.

With a rating of 0%, you don’t qualify for disability compensation but it can qualify you for assistance through the VA, including for priority health care.

All other monthly amounts are determined by whether or not the person receiving the benefits has dependents to support. The more dependents you have, the more you’ll be compensated as your ability to support your family will have been greatly impacted.

In 2018, a single veteran without children and a 30% rating, would receive about $430 a month, $620 for 40%, $880 of 50%, and $1114 for 60%. A married veteran with one child would receive $517 a month for a 30% rating, $736 for 40%, $1027 for 50%, and $1290 for 60%.

A single veteran with a disability rated at 70% in this same year would receive $1403, $1632 for 80%, $1834 for 90%, and $3,057 for 100%. A married veteran with one child would receive $1610 for 70%, $1868 for 80%, $2099 for 90%, and $3,352 for 100%.

Addition compensation is factored into all of these figures for living parents that are supported by the veteran and additional children. Living expenses are also considered and an increased cost of living is also taken into consideration.

What about Multiple Disabilities?

Ratings for multiple disabilities aren’t as simple as just adding the individual percentages together. Instead, the VA used a Combined Ratings Table so that no combination can equal more than 100%.

Say, for example, you have two disabilities, one rated at 10% and the other at 60%. The combined rating for these is 64%. They round this to the nearest 10% which happens to be 70% which is the sum of the original ratings.

Now, say you have two disabilities, each rated at 50%. The table puts this combined rating at 75% which would round up to 80%.

Is there Compensation for Pre-Service Disabilities?

Should you experience a pre-service injury and a service injury and it’s impossible to determine what exactly is exacerbating your disability, the VA will generally be in your favor and assume that the service injury is at fault.

Another possibility is that a pre-service injury was made worse by your service. In this case, they VE will attempt to assign your baseline disability a rating as well as a post-service rating to determine how much the original injury was aggravated by your service. For example, if your pre-service disability was rated at 20% and is now at 30%, you would be entitled to compensation at a rating of 10%.

What Are Staged Ratings?

If your condition gets worse while you’re waiting for VA consideration/approval of your application, you can request that they assign different ratings depending on the period of time. Assuming your symptoms worsened, you can submit medical evidence to show that you now meet the set criteria for a higher rating and, therefore, more compensation. Note that if your condition improves, the VA will additionally reevaluate and assign you a lower rating.

This is important to mention because VA claims can take years to be approved so you could be waiting quite a while. If you’re depending on your disability to get by, there’s a good chance that your condition might have worsened.

A Complicated System

While some people may think that the VA Disability Classification is unfair, you have to admit that putting together a fair way to evaluate how much compensation veterans are entitled to—based on their injuries—is a difficult thing to do.

The best way to make sure you get what you’re entitled is to make sure you have as much medical evidence as possible. Also, be patient. This is a long process to go into it knowing that you might be waiting a long time for a result.

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the 2019 VA disability rate increase

The 2019 VA Disability Rate Increase

Since the beginning of 2019, you may have noticed a nice bump in your monthly disability compensation from the Department of Veteran Affairs (also known as the VA). Obviously, it’s nice to see an increase in the rates and nobody is going to complain about more money.

The VA has a system in place to determine how much money you receive and this includes whether or not you get an increase in your disability benefits. What’s more, 2019 has been a blessing for many struggling veterans, especially if you are a disabled veteran.

Out of 12 million vets between the ages 21 and 64, almost a 3 rd have reported some type of disability.

Therefore, we’re going to go over how the VA decides compensation for ex-military service and how the process works, plus what this increase rate is for those that are already receiving disability compensation from the VA.

The 2019 Benefit Increase for VA Disability Compensation

When the Department of Veteran Affairs decides how much to increase the disability rates every year, they make this decision regarding the predicted Cost of Living Adjustment (also known as COLA) for that year.

Whether suffering from a physical disability while on active duty such as an amputation or a mental disability such as post-traumatic stress disorder, this helps vets maintain a comfortable life, despite inflation in the housing or food market.

Every year, COLA is figured out by the Social Security Administration (also known as SSA).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the Consumer Price Index for Wage Earnings and Clerical Workers (also known as CPI-W). The SSA takes these stats to determine the COLA.

Using this type of disability chart, they figure this by using the CPI-W stats reported based on the 3 rd quarter of the previous year to the 3 rd quarter of the current year.

This index is used to measure the change of price of goods and services, particularly the increase in prices in energy and shelter. But it’s not limited to just these services.

The VA then takes this information to decide how much to up disability payments for vets like you.

It’s this process that helps keep disabled veterans off the streets and in a home with their family. You’re not always able to work, depending on the severity of your disability or if you have multiple disabilities.

As of late December 2018, vet disability compensation has been boosted by 2.8%. This may not seem like much, but it’s one of the largest increases for the past seven years.

In 2011, the compensation rate increase was a massive 3.6%, whereas 2018 only saw a 2% increase.

How much is your increase in your disability compensation? Keep in mind, this list below is based on those without dependents.

  • If you receive 10% in disability compensation you’ve gained $140.05.
  • If you receive 20% in disability compensation you’ve gained $276.84.
  • If you receive 30% in disability compensation you’ve gained $428.83.
  • If you receive 40% in disability compensation you’ve gained $617.73.
  • If you receive 50% in disability compensation you’ve gained $879.36.
  • If you receive 60% in disability compensation you’ve gained $1113.86.
  • If you receive 70% in disability compensation you’ve gained $1403.71.
  • If you receive 80% in disability compensation you’ve gained $1631.59.
  • If you receive 90% in disability compensation you’ve gained $1833.52.
  • If you receive 100% in disability compensation you’ve gained $3057.13.

To get a better idea, Military Benefits has a great set of tables for those with spouses and children.

Different Types of Vet Disabilities

Of course, not every vet has the same disability. There’s a wide range of disabilities that vets acquire over the years. Some of these are due to service while others are from either aging or outside factors.

The VA divides disabilities into two categories:

  • VA Service-Connected Disability: As stated, these types of disabilities are from your service to the U.S. military. This can be either physical disabilities or mental disabilities from combat. This kind of disability is paid to you monthly. In cases of death, the compensation is paid to the vet’s immediate family.
  • Non-Service-Connected Benefits and Pensions: If you’re a vet that’s served in a war and combat, you’re able to receive a pension regardless if your disability wasn’t acquired during your service. You must be severely disabled and not able to bring income on your own at all.

Before 2004, it was illegal for vets to receive both military retirement pay and VA disability compensation. You would have to choose between the two. Thankfully, this law has changed.

Now, you may be able to receive both if these describe you:

  • Concurrent Retirement Disability Pay: Concurrent Retirement Disability Pay (also known as CRDP) is for retired vets who have a VA disability rating of at least 50%. This was passed in 2004.
  • Combat-Related Special Compensation: Combat-Related Special Compensation (also known as CRSC) is for retired vets who have a disability from service that has a VA disability rating of at least 10%. This was passed in 2008.

How the VA Calculates Your Compensation

When you file for disability through the VA, they decide on a percentage basis of how disabled you are and how it affects your ability to work.

They evaluate your ability to work and the severity of your disability by medical records you’ve provided with your disability claim as well as military records if your disability was acquired during service..

The VA’s rates range from 0% to 100% and in increments of 10%.

You can receive even more compensation from the VA if you have dependents relying on you (like children) or your spouse is also severely disabled.

If you have multiple disabilities, the VA uses a Combined Rating Table to determine how much disability compensation you’ll receive.

The Bottom Line

Every year, you should see at least a small increase in your disability compensation. This year was a big boost that every vet needed and fully deserves.

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