It’s no secret that VA disability claims can be a long process. After all, the backlog peaked in 2012, with 611,000 claims waiting for a decision for more than 125 days. Fortunately, it’s now getting better. But many veterans still avoid applying because they’re worried they’ll be “milking the system.” This isn’t true.
What is Disability Benefits?
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides two disability programs: Disability Compensation and Post-Service Disability. Disability Compensation is a monthly cash benefit compensating veterans for medical conditions and injuries incurred or worsened while in active service. Veterans must be deemed disabled or have a service-connected disability of at least 50% to be eligible. A total disability rating of 60% based on a single condition or 70% based on a combination of disabilities is enough to receive full benefits, including health care and prescription drug coverage. Disabled veterans determined to be TDIU also get a housing allowance, travel expenses for medical appointments and other special benefits. The ADA defines a disabled person as having a physical or mental disability severely limiting one or more major life activities. An employer may ask whether a veteran with a disability needs a reasonable accommodation for the application process or job duties.
How do I know I’m eligible?
The first stage in assessing eligibility is determining whether you have a medical condition that significantly impairs your capacity to work regularly. This impairment must last for 12 months or result in your death. For service-connected disability benefits, you must show that your active military duty caused your disabling condition. Pensions for non-service-connected disabilities require that you serve during wartime and have limited resources or assets, among other things. Many veterans apply for benefits independently, but it’s important to realize that you can get the highest rewarding claim through the help of an experienced VA attorney. Accredited veteran attorneys have been trained to complete all or nearly all of the paperwork required for your claim and will explain the complex process. They can also help you decipher any correspondence you receive from the VA. If you don’t ask for help from an attorney, you may find that the wait for a decision on your application is long and difficult.
How do I apply?
If you have a condition that prevents you from working, the first step is applying for disability benefits. These benefits include a monthly cash payment from the federal government through SSDI or SSI. This money can help pay a mortgage, buy groceries or send children to college. Disability Compensation is based on the severity of your illness or injury and how it impacts your ability to work. It’s important to apply as soon as possible. That twisted ankle from boot camp may seem minor at 25, but it can become much more serious when you’re 55 and trying to get back into the workforce. If your injuries are 100 percent disabling, you are qualified for the highest level of disability benefits and comprehensive support. Those who receive SSI can also qualify for additional assistance from the VA, including housing grants and life insurance coverage. All disability cases are reviewed periodically, depending on whether medical improvement is expected. Any VA benefits you receive will be deducted dollar for dollar from your SSI federal benefit amount after a general exclusion of $20.
What happens if I’m denied?
Around 65-70% of initial disability applications are denied. If your application is rejected, you can appeal the decision. The first level of appeal is reconsideration, where a different disability examiner will look at your file. It is important to have new and substantial medical evidence at this stage. The second level of appeal is a hearing before an administrative law judge. This is where your chances of getting approved increase significantly. You must have medical evidence, a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form completed by your doctor, and any other relevant information to support your claim at this stage. To expedite the SSA process, Veterans rated 100% permanent and total by the VA can submit their VA disability rating notification letter to SSA when they start their SSDI or SSI application. This will allow the SSA to begin processing their claim more quickly and may lead to faster approval. It is still important for veterans to have an accredited veteran service officer complete all or nearly all of their paperwork on their behalf and help decipher any correspondence from SSA.