Veterans’ Information and Frequently Asked Questions
Service members and their families often have multiple questions about the benefits they should be receiving. To assist our veterans, Vets National Advocates has created this information portal containing the most frequent questions our office fields from veterans.
Vets National Advocates, Helping Our Nation’s Veterans.
Hiring an Advocate
BENEFITS OF HIRING A VETERANS RIGHTS ADVOCATE
Some advocates, like those at your local VA office, will review your initial application for errors and make sure that you have all the information you need before you submit the claim to the VA. These services are offered on a pro bono, or free basis, and may not be available from all attorneys or veterans advocates. Vets National Advocates only reviews appeals for denied disability claims. If your claim was denied, call us at (877) 777-4021 or use our contact form for a free consultation.
No. Many veterans file their initial application on their own, and only hire an advocate if their claim is denied or if they disagree with the claims decision and wish to appeal.
No. Federal law prohibits anyone, whether it is an attorney, a claims representative, or a Veterans Service Organization, from charging veterans for simply preparing a claim. Except in very limited circumstances, you can only be charged a fee after your initial claims decision has been denied.1
Many veterans consider hiring an advocate when they are denied disability benefits or disagree with the initial decision made on their disability benefits claim. The process of appealing a claim decision is lengthy and complicated. An advocate can navigate this process on your behalf and ensure that no vital steps are missed. If you wish to appeal your denied disability benefits, Vets National Advocates is here to help. Call us at (877) 777-4021 or use our contact form for a free consultation.
All attorneys, Veterans Service Organizations, and claims agents must be accredited by the VA in order to legally provide advice about benefits to veterans.1Be sure that the advocate, and all people working on your claim, have this accreditation before you hire them. You can be sure that your attorney, claims agent, or VSO is accredited by the VA by searching here.
If you need an advocate to represent you after a decision on your claim has been made, you will enter into a fee agreement, and agree to pay either a flat rate for services, an hourly rate for all worked performed, a percentage of the benefits you recover, or a combination of these three. Make sure you understand your fee agreement and know exactly what you will need to pay before hiring an advocate. Also, never pay a “consultation fee” or pay anyone to prepare your benefits claim—this is against federal law.
Generally, no. Your case file can be sent to your advocate’s office in the mail, and the majority of evidence and arguments submitted to the Regional Office are also sent via U.S. Mail or electronically. Usually, there is no need for your advocate to be located near you or near your VA Regional Office.
Vets National Advocates represents veterans at the CAVC. We handle appeals from denied benefit claims. The Vets National Advocates Network is also here to help with class action claims. If you believe you have an issue relating to your time in the service, Vets National Advocates can fight for you.
Vets National Advocates are accredited by the VA and some of our advocates are licensed to practice before the CAVC. We understand that veterans and their families may be struggling financially after being injured in the service. This is why we work on a contingent fee basis, meaning that you pay nothing unless your claim is successful.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VA DISABILITY BENEFITS
VA disability benefits are monthly, tax-free payments paid to veterans who have a disability caused by, or made worse by, military service.1These benefits are calculated based on the amount of disability you have suffered, and are subject to eligibility requirements.
A person is eligible for VA disability benefits if they:
- Served in the uniformed services on active duty, OR
- Served in active duty for training, OR
- Served in inactive duty training, AND
- Were not dishonorably discharged, AND
- Are at least 10% disabled by a disease or injury that occurred during or was aggravated by their service.1
If you are unsure if your injury qualifies you for VA benefits, contact Vets National Advocates for a free consultation.
Injuries which qualify for disability benefits can be either physical injuries or mental disorders, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Additionally, some service members have presumed disabilities, meaning their service in a certain area or during a certain time is presumed to be connected to their present conditions. This eases the burden of proof required to receive disability benefits for these veterans.
Veterans whose disabilities are presumed to be service-connected include:
- Former prisoners of war
- Veterans who have certain chronic or tropical diseases that become evident within a specific period of time after discharge from the service
- Veterans who were exposed to ionizing radiation, mustard gas, or Lewisite while in service
- Veterans who were exposed to certain herbicides (usually by serving in Vietnam)
- Veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War1
In order to receive disability benefits, you must show that your injury or disability was caused or made worse by your service, and that you are at least 10% disabled. Your disability rating is determined by the impairment of your body or mind as a whole, and its ability to function under the ordinary conditions of daily life (including employment). If your injury is to a specific body part, like an arm or finger, it may be determined by your loss of function in that body part.
Many common diseases and injuries have been determined to have a specific disability rating; for example, the amputation of a big toe can lead to a disability rating of 10% or 30%, depending on where the toe was amputated. In contrast, blindness caused by a service injury generally leads to a 100% disability rating. Your disability rating will be determined by VA employees who review your claim and medical records for evidence of your disability. Your disability rating will determine how much money you may receive in VA disability benefits on a monthly basis.1
The benefits you receive are determined by your disability rating, your marital status, and how many children you have, if any. The rates are published each year on the VA website. A veterans disability advocate like those at Vets National Advocates can help you calculate your rate and make sure you are receiving all of the compensation you deserve.
Yes. Active duty service members are considered to be on active service from the time they enlist to the time they are discharged, even if your injury occurred while you were off-duty. Also, if your injury was caused by a car accident or by playing sports, for example, you could still be eligible for disability benefits.1
Generally, yes. If a veteran is rated at 100% based on an unemployablity evaluation, then the veteran will need to continue to meet the unemployability criteria to maintain the 100% rating. However, if unemployability was not a factor in the veteran’s rating decision, then the veteran may continue working. The manner and extent of work permitted depends on the circumstances of each individual veteran. If you have questions regarding this issue, call Vets National Advocates. We can help.
No. However, spouses or children may be eligible for other survivors’ benefits.
Special claims benefits are benefits other than the monthly cash payments that veterans are eligible to receive. These benefits are meant to provide additional help for disabled veterans, and may include payments for rehabilitation care, automobile or clothing allowances to accommodate a disability, dental care, or additional compensation during lengthy hospitalizations.1A veterans disability advocate like those at Vets National Advocates can advise you of any special claims benefits for which you may be qualified.
FILING A CLAIM FOR VA DISABILITY BENEFITS
Yes, and in fact, it is recommended. Many veterans who apply for disability benefits prior to discharge receive their benefits much earlier than those who apply post-discharge. If you are between 1 and 59 days from your discharge date, you can apply using the Quick Start program. If you are between 60 and 180 days from your discharge, apply using the Benefits Delivery on Discharge program. “The effective date of an award of disability compensation shall be the day following the date of the veteran’s discharge or release if the application for benefits is received within one year from such date of discharge or release,” pursuant to 38 U.S.C. 5110(b)(1).
This depends on the complexity of your disability, the state where you live, and the amount of additional information required by the VA. Claims may be processed in as little as 3 months, or may take over a year. The VA’s current goal is to have all claims processed within 125 days and eliminate the claims backlog by 2015.1
1VA Strategic Plan to Eliminate Compensation Claims Backlog, January 25, 2013.
The VA has created an optional disability claims process called the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) program. This program allows the VA to process claims more quickly, letting veterans receive their benefits sooner.
An FDC is like a regular disability claim, except that the veteran submits all available medical evidence at once as part of the initial claims package. The veteran also certifies to the VA that there is no outstanding medical evidence besides what has been submitted to the VA. By evaluating all medical evidence at one time, VA can make a faster decision on a veteran’s claim.
One major advantage of the FDC program is that a veteran will not lose any time if additional medical evidence is discovered after the FDC is submitted. The VA will simply remove the FDC from the accelerated process and use the regular claims process to evaluate the application.
To file an FDC application, use the VA’s eBenefits page.
The eBenefits site is the VA’s online benefits portal. This portal allows veterans to view the status of his or her application, upload medical records, apply for health care, or request copies of service documents. The website is free, and can even be used by survivors or dependents. You will also have access to the VA’s massive resource database, which can help you find services or support groups in your area. To take advantage of this site, register for your eBenefits account here.
Once your claim is received by the VA, it will be reviewed by a Veterans Service Representative (VSR). The VSR will determine if any additional evidence is needed, such as more medical testing. If so, the VSR will request, gather, and review this evidence.
Once sufficient evidence of your disability has been collected and reviewed, the VSR will recommend a decision. This requires the VSR to prepare several documents detailing that decision. After the VSR’s recommendation is reviewed by the VSR’s supervisor, the supervisor will either approve the recommendation or request additional information.
Once a decision has been made, a claim letter and package of information is prepared which explains the VA’s decision and the veteran’s disability rating. The decision is then mailed to the veteran. The date the decision is mailed to the veteran will begin the one year time limit for the veteran to file a notice of disagreement.
The decision will determine whether your condition is related to service, the severity of your condition, and/or the effective date of the decision. If your claim is approved, the VA will also determine your total combined disability rating, which will in turn determine the amount of benefits you will receive. The decision can also require that you have periodic medical evaluations if the VA believes that your disability rating may change over time.
The claim decision can also require that you have period medical evaluations if the VA believes that your disability rating may change over time.
If your disability gets significantly worse, you may be able to submit new evidence to your VA regional office and request that your disability rating be increased. If your disability rating increases, you could receive additional money to cover the worsening disability.1
Appeal the decision to the Board of Veterans Appeals or the CAVC. If you are not satisfied with the VA’s decision on your claim for benefits, the first thing you need to do is submit a Notice of Disagreement to your local VA Regional Office within one year of the decision. You also have the right to be represented by an accredited advocate agent during the appeals process.1 For more information about the appeals process, call Vets National Advocates.
APPEALING YOUR BENEFITS DECISION
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) consists of attorneys and Judges that review decisions made by regional VA offices and issue decisions on appeal.1 The BVA is part of the VA and is located in Washington, D.C.
No, you can file an appeal yourself. However, an advocate can better navigate through the complicated legal maze of administrative laws and regulations which could affect your disability claims.
Additionally, without an advocate, you must be constantly aware of very important deadlines which may cause you to lose your appeal if missed. An accredited advocate understands the appeals process and can help move your claim more quickly through the system.
After your VA regional office receives your Notice of Disagreement, it will review your claim and compile a Statement of the Case, explaining the medical and legal reasoning it used in making a decision on your claim. They will also send you a VA form 9, which must be sent back to your VA office within sixty days to begin the appeals process at the BVA.
Do I need an advocate to file an appeal at the CVAC?
No. However, the Secretary will defend the Board’s decision and will be represented by an attorney. You should also be mindful of various deadlines and procedural rules associated with filing an appeal before the CAVC.
Yes, you can submit additional evidence documenting your disability to the BVA, but you will need to waive review by the local VA office after the case has been certified to the BVA.1
After your VA regional office receives your Notice of Disagreement, it will review your claim and compile a Statement of the Case, explaining the medical and legal reasoning it used in making a decision on your claim. They will also send you a VA form 9, which must be sent back to your VA office to begin the appeals process at the BVA.
You may then have a hearing with the BVA. This hearing can take place either in Washington D.C., or at your local VA office either in person or via video conference. Your advocate will attend this hearing with you and will help you explain your claim to the BVA.
After the hearing, the BVA will review your file and the transcript of the hearing before making a decision. The BVA will then either grant your claim, deny your claim, or remand your claim to your local VA office for reconsideration.1 This process will take some time. The VA’s goal is to have all appeals resolved within 400 days, or a little over a year. In actuality, this process can take up to three years.
If the BVA denies your claim, you have four options:
- Appeal your claim to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims
- Request that your local VA regional office reopen your claim
- File a motion asking the BVA to reconsider your claim or re-review your claim due to a clear and unmistakable error (CUE) in the board’s decision, or
- Do nothing.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is located in Washington, D.C. and is not affiliated with the VA. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over the BVA’s decision, meaning that it is the only court which can hear an appeal from the BVA.1 It consists of 7 permanent judges and two additional, temporary judges. “The only evidence which the Court of Appeals can consider is that which was presented to the BVA, which the CAVC calls the ‘record before the agency.'” The Court of Appeals cannot consider any new evidence outside of what was already presented in the record.
If you disagree with the BVA’s decision, you must file a Notice of Appeal within 120 days. This will put your case on the docket in front of the Court of Appeals.1
Once the Notice of Appeal has been docketed, your advocate will file a lengthy legal document known as an appellate brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. This document will outline the legal mistakes which you believe were made by the BVA. Attorneys for the VA will file their own appellate brief supporting the previous decision. The judges may schedule oral arguments, where both sides will debate the legal merits of the case.
The judges will consider all evidence presented in the briefs and at oral arguments, and will eventually issue a decision regarding your claim.
Taxes and Social Security
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TAXES AND SOCIAL SECURITY
Yes, the Social Security Disability benefits system is separate and distinct from the VA disability benefit system. If you qualify for both programs, you may receive both benefits.1
UNDERSTANDING YOUR VA PENSION BENEFITS
Pension benefits are a need-based, non-service connected benefit. These benefits are paid out to qualified veterans who are older than 651 or unable to work because of disability2. However, this disability does not result from the veteran’s military service.
Veterans who were injured and are disabled as a result of their military service receive disability benefits, not pension benefits.
A veteran may receive pension payments if he or she meets both the minimum service requirements1 and the eligibility requirements.
First, a veteran must generally have served at least 90 days on active duty, with at least one day during a wartime period. For veterans entering active duty after September 7, 1980, 24 months of service is required (or shorter if you completed the full tour of duty for which you were called.) At least one day of this service must be during a wartime period. Moreover, the veteran must have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
In addition, he or she must meet at least one of the following conditions:
- Be age 65 or older2, OR
- Be totally and permanently disabled, OR
- Be a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
- Be receiving Social Security Disability insurance, OR
- Be receiving Supplemental Security Income.
In addition to these limitations, your monthly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress. If you and your family earn more than this amount, you will not receive benefits even if you meet the other conditions.
The VA recognizes the following years as active wartime periods:
- World War I (April 6, 1917–November 11, 1918)
- World War II (December 7, 1941—December 31, 1946)
- Korean Conflict (June 27, 1950—January 31, 1955)
- Vietnam Era (February 28, 1961—May 7, 1975 for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam. All other locations: August 5, 1964—May 7, 1975).
- Gulf War Conflicts (August 2, 1990—Present)1
In order to qualify for pension benefits, a veteran must have served at least one day during one of these wartime periods.
1 U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Current Conflicts, Congressional Research Service.
Pension payments are calculated to be the difference between a person’s countable family income1 and the annual pension limits set by Congress. For example, a person with no spouse or children has a yearly income limit of $12,652 in 2014. If a person earns more than $12,652 per year, then he or she will not be eligible for a pension that year.
The amount of countable income a person earns per year can be reduced by accounting for some other expenses, such as medical bills. Additionally, married veterans or veterans with children or other special circumstances have a higher yearly income limit.1 A knowledgeable veterans’ rights representative like those at Vets National Advocates can help you calculate your countable income and make sure you are maximizing the amount of pension payments you deserve.
No. Pension benefits are paid to veterans who do not have a service-connected disability. VA disability benefits are paid to those veterans who were injured or disabled as a result of their military service. If you happen to qualify for both types of benefits, the VA will pay you the benefit that is worth the most.
Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits can be paid to a veteran who is already eligible for and receives monthly pension benefits. Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits increase the monthly payments to a veteran who is housebound, or requires the aid and attendance of another person in their daily life.
Aid & Attendance benefits are available to veterans who:
- Require the assistance of another person for the functions required in daily life, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, etc.
- Are bedridden as a result of their disability, not as a result of prescribed treatment
- Are a patient in a nursing home as a result of mental or physical incapacity, or
- Are blind or nearly blind.1
Housebound benefits are available to veterans if their disability substantially confines them to their current surroundings.
SURVIVOR BENEFITS AND PENSIONS
There are many types of survivor benefits, including emotional and financial counseling services, tuition assistance through the Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program, and monthly compensation through the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation programs or the Survivors’ Pension.
A Survivor’s Pension (or Death Pension) is payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried children of a deceased veteran with wartime service. In order to receive a Survivor’s Pension, the family’s income must be less than the pension limits set by Congress.
Yes, you have the right to appeal any decision denying you or your family the benefits due to survivors. If you have received a denial of benefits, make sure to file a Notice of Disagreement, and contact a veterans’ rights representative like those at Vets National Advocates as soon as possible.1