What is an Attorney’s Role in the VA Claims Process?

What is an Attorney’s Role in the VA Claims Process?

Most claimants for VA Disability Compensation will never need an Attorney.  In fact, by law, Attorneys are barred from even taking a fee for representing claimants before the VA until the Veteran appeals a decision against her.  

The VA is, of course, a large federal agency with millions of active claims. By the VA’s count, there are nearly 4 million Veterans with service connected conditions (2014 numbers). The agency must try to quickly and fairly adjudicate this overwhelming number of claims with limited resources.  For this reason, VA adjudicators rely on a checklist system for determining outcomes; in other words, if they cannot easily put a check in the box for the elements of each claim, they will deny it.  However, the law relating to VA claims can be very complex and does not lend itself to the checklist method in every case.

For example, in the course of a normal claim, the Veteran’s service medical records will be ordered and examined.  The VA will typically schedule a medical examination and from that will determine whether a diagnosable condition exists and whether it is linked to an event found in the service medical record.  If the answers to these questions are easily answered in the affirmative, a rating specialist will determine the degree of impairment based on the medical examination and this will result in service connection at a specific rate of disability in 10 percent increments.  

At this point, if the Veteran does not disagree with this outcome, there is no need for an Attorney.  However, oftentimes whether a Veteran suffers from a current diagnosable condition is not cut-and-dried, or whether the current condition is related to something that occurred during service may not be clear.  If the process described above results in a denial of service connection, or a lower impairment rating or later effective date than the Veteran believes she is entitled to; then the Veteran may need an attorney to advocate on her behalf based on the complexity of the facts and law.

What if the Veteran cannot afford an Attorney?  Typically, attorneys representing Veterans appealing their claims are paid on a contingency basis, much like personal injury attorneys.  In other words, if the Veteran is successful on appeal, the attorney is paid based on a percentage of back pay owed (usually 20%).  If the Veteran’s appeal is denied, the Veteran owes no attorney’s fees.

Published with permission and written by Dan Burton as a guest blogger of Greening Law, P.C. To get in touch with Dan Burton for Veteran, please contact him at vetslawattorney@gmail.com.

Why It Is Important to Make Your VA Disability Compensation Claim

Why It Is Important to Make Your VA Disability Compensation Claim

Much like wearing service ribbons you rate but feel you did nothing significant to earn, many Veterans are uncomfortable making claims for VA Disability Compensation. Because Veterans are by nature selfless and uncomplaining, many will look at their brothers and sisters-in-arms with more severe combat injuries and believe that their own conditions are undeserving because they are still able to work, or that overall, they are getting along “fine.” As I will explain, there are several important reasons you should apply for “service connection” as early as possible and for each condition arising from service.

But first, let me provide you with some very basic information about VA Disability Compensation. VA Disability Compensation is a statutory benefit meant to compensate Veterans for injuries and illnesses acquired in service based on loss of degree of employability.  Similar in concept to Workers’ Compensation but unlike Social Security Disability, there is no requirement to be totally disabled to be eligible. For Veterans with an honorable or general discharge, entitlement is based on a current diagnosable condition which is medically related to an injury or illness which began during your active service.

Now, let me explain three of the most important reasons for you to make your claim as soon as possible, even for conditions that you may not now consider “severe.”

  1. Service Connection Entitles You to VA Healthcare. Service-connected Veterans are entitled to in-patient and out-patient treatment free of cost through the VA for each service connected condition (even those rated at 0%).  Veterans service connected with at least 10% are entitled to VA Healthcare for any disability.
  2. Your Condition May Worsen Over Time.  As you age, conditions acquired on active duty may worsen.  Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a good example.  Soldiers and Marines who hump heavy packs often develop lumbar DDD which begins as lower back pain during service.  This condition, in advanced stages, can be debilitating. If such a Veteran waits to make his claim until middle-age or later, it may be difficult to show that his condition arose from active service rather than was the normal result of aging.  However, if the Veteran was service connected early on, even to a small degree, it will be easier to establish an increase in disability for the already service-connected condition than to prove-up such an entitlement from scratch.
  3. Your Survivors May Be Entitled To Compensation.  Later down the road, should a service connected condition be the principal or a contributory cause of your death, your survivors may be entitled to Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  For the most part, these conditions are not debatable and most service members who suffer from them wisely claim them as soon as they are diagnosed.  Examples include cancers, diabetes and heart disease.  However, some are not so obvious.  Many conditions acquired in service are linked to diseases which can result in a contributory cause of death. For example, hypertension is linked to strokes and heart disease. Seeking service connection early for what may seem like a minor condition now may aide your dependents and survivors in being awarded DIC at a later date.

Of course, there are many other very good reasons for establishing service connection including eligibility for many state veterans’ benefits and enhancements to existing federal VA benefits.

 

Published with permission and written by Dan Burton as a guest blogger of Greening Law, P.C. To get in touch with Dan Burton for Veteran, please contact him at vetslawattorney@gmail.com.