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At Morgan & Morgan, our attorneys are dedicated to helping veterans and their loved ones recover the benefits they deserve. Having handled a countless number of veterans benefits claims, we understand that obtaining benefits is a complicated process that often involves multiple appeals. Our firm handles many types of claims for veterans benefits, including disability benefits, survivor benefits, vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits, educational benefits, life insurance, health care; home loans; and compensation and pension.
If you have been denied disability benefits or death benefits, our veterans’ benefits attorneys may be able to help you appeal this decision. To find out if we can help you receive the benefits you deserve, simply fill out our free, no obligation case review form.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney?
Appealing a denied claim for disability benefits, death benefits or a disability rating increase is an overly complicated process, which is subject to thousands of pages or regulations and laws. Those who have been denied benefits are not expected to be able to comprehend these statues on their own. An attorney can help the claimant meet important deadlines outlined by these regulations, as well as gather additional medical records and documents to support their claim. Additionally, a veterans’ benefits attorney can help the claimant avoid mistakes which may unnecessarily delay their claim; even without complication, it takes several hundred days to receive a final decision.
Denied Benefits: How Our Attorneys Can Help With Your VA Claim
If you have been denied benefits, the attorney you select can make a difference between receiving appropriate compensation and the correct disability compensation rating, and having your claim denied again. Proving that a veteran’s disability is connected with their military service is often the most challenging part of receiving compensation. At Morgan & Morgan, our attorneys have extensive experience reviewing medical records and use this experience to help our clients receive the benefits they deserve.
Eligibility for Veterans Disability Benefits
To qualify for benefits, there are four basic requirements:
- The applicant must be a veteran;
- The applicant must have a current medical condition;
- The applicant must have sustained an injury or disease that happened during service;
- The applicant’s current disability must be related to their time in duty (includes diseases or conditions that were exacerbated during service).
Obtaining disability benefits often hinges on whether the veteran can prove that his injury or illness was related to the service. To show that a disability is service-related, the veteran’s record must contain the following: a medical diagnosis of a current disability; medical proof of the development or aggravation of a disease or injury in service; and medical evidence of a connection between the in-service injury or disease and the current disability.
Disability Rating Percentages
After reviewing an application, the VA issues a rating decision through the Regional Office (RO) where the application was filed. The total benefits a veteran receives is based on the VA’s determination of their percentage of disability. These percentages can range from 10 percent to 100 percent, and can net veterans anywhere between $129 and more than $3000 per month, depending on disability rate and the number of dependents. Benefits are tax-free, and individuals may receive both Social Security Disability (SSD, SSDI) and veteran’s disability at the same time, with no offset.
The disability ratings range from 10 precent to full disability (100 percent), and provide the monthly disability payments as listed below. These figures (effective 12/12) only represent benefits for an individual, and do not take into account possible dependents that would raise the benefit total.
- 10 percent - $129
- 20 percent - $255
- 30 percent - $395
- 40 percent - $569
- 50 percent - $810
- 60 percent - $1026
- 70 percent - $1293
- 80 percent - $1503
- 90 percent - $1689
- 100 percent - $2816
According to the VA, veterans who receive a disability rating of 30 percent or more can receive additional allowances for dependents, which include children under the age of 18; children between the ages of 18 and 23 who are still in school; minor children with a disability that makes them incapable of self-support; dependent parents; and spouses. These additional benefit amounts will be based on the disability rating percentage, as well as number and type of dependents.
Percentages for Veterans with Multiple Disabilities
When a veteran suffers from multiple service-related disability or diseases, a special formula will be utilized to establish their total disability rating level. First, the VA will rank the veteran’s disabilities from most severe to least severe. Then, by examining the most serious disability, the VA will determine how efficient the veteran can be.
For instance, if the VA assigns the most severe disability at 30 percent, the veteran is still 70 percent efficient. Next, the VA will consider the second most serious disability. If a veteran’s second disability warrants a 10 percent rating, then 10 percent of the remaining 70 percent efficiency will be evaluated. In this instance, this number,7 percent, will be added to the original disability rating (30 percent) to equal 37 percent. Finally, this number will be rounded up or down; in this example, the veteran would be considered 40 percent disabled.
Changes in Disability Ratings
Once a veteran receives their disability rating, the VA is permitted to alter it in certain situations. The VA may require a re-examination six months after the veteran has left service, and then follow-up re-examinations two to five years later to determine whether the disability still exists or its severity has lessened.
These exams are often used if the veteran’s disability is expected to improve,evidence has been presented indicating a change in disability, or the current disability rating percentage is incorrect. In these instances, a veteran’s benefits may be reduced or stopped completely.
There are also a number of instances in which a veteran’s disability rating cannot be reduced. For instance, if the veteran has received a 100 percent disability rating, this cannot be reduced unless the VA orders a re-examination or evidence shows that the veteran can maintain a job for 12 straight months and exhibits “material improvement” in their physical and emotional well-being.
Additionally, if the veteran has been receiving benefits for more than two decades, and suffers from a permanent and total disability, they cannot have their disability rating decreased. The VA can order a re-examination if the veteran has been receiving benefits for twenty years for a disability which is not “permanent” or “total;” however, their benefits cannot dip below their original level of compensation. For instance, if a veteran receives a 60 percent disability rating percentage and receives benefits for twenty straight years, but a re-examination shows he is only 40 percent disabled, his benefits cannot be lower than the rate connected with a 60 percent rating.
Appealing Veterans Disability Benefits
Most disabilities are rated by the VA at 20 percent or less. When a veteran believes their disability rating is too low, they can file an appeal. If the VA denies benefits or inadequately compensates a claimant, an appeal of the ruling (Notice of Disagreement, NOD, and VA Form 9) can be filed. To prepare for this appeal, the veteran must visit the VA medical facility where they received their compensation and pension physical.
Next, the applicant should contact the Freedom of Information office to obtain a copy of the physician’s report. If the doctor’s report does not accurately describe the disability, the veteran can contact the VA in writing to request another medical exam and to explain why they suspect their condition has not been accurately documented. As an alternative option, the veteran can visit their own doctor to obtain another medical report, which they can send to the VA. In these cases, the VA may order a re-examination.
At the same time as the Notice of Disagreement, or after a decision at that step, a veteran may ask for a traditional appellate review or review by a decision review officer (DRO). The officer was not involved in determining the veteran’s disability rating and will carry out their own review. Only ratings that have not yet been finalized can be reviewed by a DRO. A DRO can only increase a rating unless a clear and egregious mistake has been made in assigning a higher rating than warranted.
If the claimant does not like the decision rendered by the DRO, they can appeal further to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The claimant is permitted to bring a representative (attorney, company, non-profit, etc.) to the meeting. If a claimant is denied again, they can appeal once more to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). There are very small windows of time between each of these steps, and if a service member does not meet these time limits, they may become ineligible for benefits.
The VA offers a wide range of benefits and services for the spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of deceased veterans. These benefits include the following:
- Education Program Refund
- Civil Service Preference
- Commissary and Exchange Privileges
- Burial-Related Benefits
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Parents’ DIC
- Death Pension
- Education and Training
- Health Care
- Home Loan Guaranty
- Life Insurance Proceeds
Morgan & Morgan is one of the leading personal injury firms in the country, handling claims for car accidents, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and many other practice areas. We are proud to bring those resources to bear in service of our veterans, and if your claim was denied, we may be able to help.
Our veterans’ benefits lawyers have earned a reputation for effectively advocating on behalf of veterans and their loved ones, and we are privileged to assist with these claims. To learn more contact our attorneys today by completing our free case review form.