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Veteran Disability and VA Benefits FAQ

What are VA benefits?

Veteran disability benefits are based on an illness or an injury that was either acquired or made worse while serving in the military. (The definition of a veteran is "A person who served in the active military, naval or air services, and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.")

The condition—the illness or injury--must be "service connected". Sub-standard care at a VA hospital that causes or aggravates a condition can also be considered service connected. 

What do I need to qualify for veteran benefits?

You (a veteran) basically need the following to qualify for disabled veterans benefits:
  • You must have a current medically diagnosed disability.
  • You must have had a precipitating disease, injury or event while serving in the military.
  • Your current disability must be related to the precipitating disease, injury or event from veterans' service time.
Can attorneys help veterans claim disability benefits?

Yes. A law now allows veterans to hire lawyers for disability claims much earlier in the VA claim process. Prior to this law, veterans faced a lengthy filing and/or appeals process. This law makes it easy to find and hire an experienced VA disability benefits attorney. If someone at the Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) tells you that you cannot hire an attorney to represent you before the issuance of a Notice of Disagreement (your appeal), have them speak with an attorney--it isn't true.

Although you can hire an attorney anytime in the process, an attorney can only charge you a fee for representation (for claims which were denied on/after June 20, 2007) after a Notice of Disagreement has been filed.  If the VA denied your claim prior to June 20, 2007, an accredited agent or attorney is only permitted to charge fees for services after the Board of Veterans’ Appeals issued a first final decision in the case.

Further, if notice of disagreement is submitted after June 20, 2007 you can hire a lawyer after the filing of that notice of disagreement. You can also hire a lawyer if you have a case in federal court.

How can a lawyer help with my VA disability claim?

The laws that govern disabled veterans benefits are extremely complex and often difficult to understand—it can be a long haul, especially if your VA disability is initially denied.

A qualified lawyer can help provide the evidence—such as medical reports-- you need to win your case. Perhaps someone at Veterans Affairs told you that pertinent evidence does not exist—chances are, a lawyer can find the right information. An experienced lawyer speaks the same language as the VA; a very important tool when filling out necessary forms.

Why are most VA claims denied?

Most claims are denied because of the third qualifier—above.

Say you have a condition that is service connected and that condition causes another condition to develop--this second condition also qualifies for service connection.

However, it is difficult to prove that your present disability is related to the "service condition". Or your current medical condition is very different but caused by the service condition.

You may not even be aware that your service condition caused your present condition—a typical example is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even if you were diagnosed by your psychiatrist, PTSD is often denied: This is the time when a qualified attorney can help you.

How can I get compensation for post traumatic stress disorder?

Fortunately, there are new rules for veterans compensation claims for PTSD, and good news for veterans who have been denied their VA compensation. 

According to the VA press release dated July 12, 2010:  "Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA doctor confirms that the stressful experience recalled by a Veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the Veteran's symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.  Previously, claims adjudicators were required to corroborate that a non-combat Veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity. This final rule simplifies the development that is required for these cases."

However, to win your claim for PTSD VA disability benefits, you must have evidence that shows "it is at least as likely as not" that you meet these three requirements:
  • You must have medical evidence that diagnosis PTSD is in accordance with the diagnostic criteria in DSM-IV.
  • You must also have a link between your current symptoms and in-service stressor established by medical evidence.
  • You must have credible supporting evidence that the claimed stressor occurred.
I was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War but denied compensation. Now I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Is it too late to appeal?

Veterans who served in Vietnam, which includes in land waterways and in the Korean demilitarized zone during the Vietnam era, are "presumed" to have been exposed to Agent Orange. This presumption means that you don't have to prove an association between your illness and time served in the military.

A host of illnesses have been connected with Agent Orange and recently, B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease have been added to the list of illnesses associated with Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.

How much can I expect to get paid for VA benefits?

The amount of monthly tax-free VA disability benefits paid is based on percentages of disability and run anywhere from 10 percent to 100 percent. For 30 percent or more disability, an additional amount is added for each dependent. Additional amounts are also paid for severe disabilities such as the loss of use of a limb or an organ. In extreme cases, "monthly compensation" can apply, which pays more than 100 percent.

The VA calculates the amount to be paid by taking the percentage of disability from the Compensation Rate Table. For current information about disability compensation payment rates, visit the VA rates table.

How long will it take to receive a decision on my VA compensation claim?

That depends on your claim, such as the complexity of your disability(ies), the number of disabilities you claim, and evidence needed to decide your claim—and the evidence you have provided. Although most claims typically take about six months, complicated claims can take longer.

What can I do to speed up my VA benefits claim?

Collect all your medical records and any evidence ASAP. Get a copy of your C-file from the VA to determine if any information is missing. And if anything is missing from your Rating Decision or Statement of the Case, get all the information they require because you will need it to win your case.  If you are having difficulties obtaining records or information, get the help of a lawyer. Make sure you don't miss any deadlines or VA medical exams.

You can't "jump the line" to speed up your VA disability claim, but you can make sure that you've done everything possible to ensure you obtain veterans' disability benefits.

How can I appeal the VA decision—the Notice of Disagreement?

If the VA reached a decision on your claim and did not grant some or all of the VA benefits you claimed, and you do not agree with the VA decision, you may:
  • Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the Board) by telling the VA you disagree with the VA’s decision.
  • Provide further evidence that the VA does not already have that may lead the VA to change its decision.
An attorney can help with your appeal and gather further evidence.
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Last updated on Jan-18-11

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