Why should I get an individually accredited agent or attorney to help me apply for disability compensation?
- It can take months and, in many cases, years, to win the level of disability compensation you deserve. Very often it takes longer because of poor case development and or reliance on an unskilled or inexperienced representation.
- We can help stream line the development process and cut through the adjudication process to get your case prepared for decision-maker sooner. We know how to win because we know how to fix development issues, leverage due process rights in your favor, present persuasive arguments and aid in evidence discover problems.
What is the cost for representation services?
There is no cost to you for our services unless we win your appeal or have increased your benefits through the appeal process. We receive a one-time-only fee, which is 20 percent of the retroactive payment the VA owes you in benefits. The Advocate’s fee is subject to review by the VA’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC). The VA/OGC generally considers a fee of 20% of the retroactive award as a reasonable payment and we agree. Subject to the review of the OGC, and only if we win an appeal, your advocate will be paid a one-time fee of 20% of your retroactive award.
How do I apply for disability compensation benefits?
You can apply on your own for disability compensation by completing and submitted a VA Form 21-526EZ. The VA has a duty to assist you with the initial development. They will send you a development letter to direct you to complete any VA forms that they require and will notify you on what evidence they need from you to fairly decide your case. During the development process, the VA may order you to report for a VA examination. On average, the VA renders a decision around 1 year after you have filed the application.
There are some common mistakes veterans make in filing that initial application.
If you can’t work because of disability that you related to service, always include a claim for individual unemployability even if the VA hasn’t awarded service connection on one or more of those disabilities.
When claiming service connection for a psychological condition like post-traumatic stress disorder, we recommend that you file the claim phrasing the issue service connection for an acquired psychiatric condition to include [your diagnosis] or claimed as [your diagnosis]. For example, a claim for PTSD should be listed like this: “I am seeking service connection for an acquired psychiatric condition claimed as PTSD.” Frequently, the veteran will be convinced that they are diagnosed with one psychiatric impairment, but the mental health progress notes will document another diagnosis or various diagnoses. By making your claim broader, you leave room for the VA to consider service connection for an acquired psychiatric condition; however it may diagnosed. Since psychiatric impairments are evaluated under a general rating formula, the objective of your claim should be to get your psychiatric impairment service connected.
Try to avoid listing symptoms as separate conditions. List the disability in broad terms and then describe the condition’s symptoms and how it affects you. The VA often fails to use discretion when accepting your claim and will list the symptoms as separate issues and try to develop for those issues, which serves to frustrate the development process creating additional delays in the processing of your claim.
For a systemic disease like diabetes, heart disease, cancer or stroke, add the phrase “to include all related complications”. Systemic diseases affect other aspects of the body and at times, these additional complications are contemplated in the rating criteria, while at other times, these additional complications warrant service connection on a secondary basis and should be evaluated separately to be combined.
When filing your initial application, the most important thing is to get the application submitted in a timely fashion. It is best to submit the initial application within the 1st year following discharge, or for a post service diagnosis, within 1 year of manifestation of the disability or disease. You may file the claim as early as the final 6 months prior to separation from active duty service.
Should a service connected condition become worse, you should file a claim for an increase using a VA Form 21-526b as soon as possible and certainly within a year of the period that you felt it got worse.
Whenever filing, be sure to mention your employment status and if not working, indicate whether you feel your service connected disabilities impair your ability to secure and maintain full time employment.
When you receive a rating decision from the VA in response to your claim, please contact Gumps Legal to have it reviewed by one of our agents or attorneys to help you decide whether an appeal is warranted. We can get involved at any stage of your appeal, but the earlier the better.
What does service connection mean?
In general, service connection means that disability is related to military service. There are 4 general avenues to establish entitlement.
Direct – Caused directly by service to include coincidental onset with military service.
Aggravated – The pre-service condition was made worse by the rigors of military service.
Secondary – The condition was caused by or aggravated by a service related disability or the treatment for a service connected disability.
Presumptive – The condition was legislatively determined to be a disease that is presumed to be the result of exposure to something while in the military (i.e. Agent Orange, Radiation, Mustard Gas…)
While these are the 4 most common avenues to entitlement, if you can logically relate a disability to your military service even if diagnosed several years following your service, then you should claim it. If unsure, it is better to claim it and be wrong, then to not claim it and lose out on your benefits.
It is important to establish that your injury or illness is service-connected if you want disability compensation from the VA.
How long does it take for the VA to make a decision on my case?
On average, it takes about a year to get an initial decision on an original or reopened claim. If you receive what you believe to be a fully favorable decision, check the effective date of the award and the percentage of disability assigned. If you disagree with the decision, or if you are denied, you should appeal for more benefits. At this point, you should certainly contact us to help you win your appeal. You have a choice in representation and hiring a skilled advocate with a vested interest in winning for you improves your chances.
If my case is approved, when will I start receiving benefits?
Generally, the effective date for receiving benefits is aligned with either the date of the claim or the date that medical condition manifested to a degree warranting entitlement, whichever is later. There are some exceptions to the general rule. If an original claim is submitted within a year of military separation or within a year from a change in law (i.e. a disease is recognized as service-connected) the benefits may be awarded as early as the date of the claim following separation or the date of the change in law. Also, what constitutes a “claim” is sometimes debatable. A qualified veterans’ disability advocate can review your unique circumstances to help you determine whether the effective date awarded is consistent with governing law.
Can I work while receiving disability compensation?
Yes, you can work and also receive compensation benefits for your service-connected disability. In fact, the VA provides vocational rehabilitation training to help veterans get back into the workforce.
Can I receive Social Security disability benefits and disability compensation benefits at the same time?
Yes, you can receive Social Security Disability Insurance as well as your VA service-connected compensation benefits. If you need help in applying for SSDI, contact us to help you get started on your claim.
How much compensation will I get if I am unable to work?
If you are unable to work because of your service-connected disability you will be found totally disabled. The VA rates disabilities from 0 to 100 percent and even higher for severely service-connected disabled veterans. A combined rating of 10% pays about $130 per month while a rating of 100% can pay over $2800 per month. Additional compensation is awarded for dependents at a combined evaluation of 30% or greater. Additional compensation may be awarded for service connected special circumstances like loss of or lose of use of a creative organ or extremity(ies), blindness, complete deafness, or being housebound or in the need of aid and attendance.
If my disability gets worse, can I get more compensation?
Yes. You will have to resubmit an application for more benefits and be able to explain how your disability has worsened. Simply submit any written statement or complete a VA Form 21-526b form to the VA regional office nearest you. Evidence that your disability has gotten worse is not required. All you need to do is claim that it is worse and the VA will be required to reopen your claim and develop the evidence for you, which generally involves that you report for a VA examination.