Veterans who return from war with a service-related medical disease, illness, or condition will likely apply for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If the claim is ultimately approved, the VA will assign a rating of 0 to 100 percent designating the severity of the disability.
Over time, however, a veteran may find that his service-connected condition has worsened and believes the initial percentage rating given to him when his claim was first approved is too low. If this happens, he can ask for an increase in this rating.
While it’s easy enough to make this request, it may be helpful for veterans seeking an increase to work with an experienced lawyer who understands the VA process. A lawyer may be especially helpful in explaining why an increase in your disability rating doesn’t always mean an increase in your benefits and help assess your situation to see if an increase will provide additional financial resources.
What to Know About Requesting an Increase
If you believe your service-related condition has worsened and need an increase in your disability rating, you should complete and file a form 21-526EZ . This form should be mailed certified mail return receipt requested to the VA Regional Office (VARO). Since March 15, 2015 VA regulations require claims for increase be on specific forms to obtain the earliest effective date. A claim that is not on standard form will be considered a request for an application form for benefits.
Once you’ve sent the form, the VARO notifies you that the request was received, and the necessary medical evidence will be requested. Additionally, VARO may schedule a Compensation and Pension exam, the medical records will be analyzed, and a ratings veterans service rep will make a determination regarding your request for an increase.
When you ask for an increase in your rating, you should know that the VA will review your entire benefits claim. This can sometimes have a positive outcome; however, it can also have a less than positive outcome. So, it’s important to understand what happens at each step of the process. Here is a brief look at those steps:
- Know the type of request to make. If your benefits were awarded within the last year, you may need to file a notice of disagreement rather than send a request for a rating increase. An appeal typically requires that you send notices and submit forms within a specific time. It is important to comply with any deadlines. However, if it’s been more than a year since you were awarded benefits, you can fill out a simple form to request the increase.
- Understand that your rating could decrease. Because your benefits claim will be completely reviewed, it’s possible that the VA may decrease your rating based on the changes to your condition. This can also happen if the VA finds mistakes were made in your initial compensation. Before you file, compare your symptoms with the VA schedule of ratings, or get the opinion of a doctor or an attorney about whether or not either believes your request could be successful. Be sure that the request you’re making is really for an actual disability that has worsened over time.
- Gather your medical evidence. The VA wants proof that justifies a request for a disability rating increase. You must provide medical evidence that supports your claim that your disability has worsened. If you’ve been treated by VA doctors, this means submitting the name and address of the military facility or VA medical center that has your records. If you’ve been treated by your own private physician, Form 21-4142 must accompany your increase request. It authorizes the release of your records to the VA.
- It’s important to remember that in requesting an increase, the VA will re-evaluate your claim to ensure that you are rated properly. This could mean that your rating will be reduced if the VA rep feels you’re being compensated incorrectly.
We Can Help
If you believe that your service-connected disability has worsened and you want to request a rating increase, we can help. Call Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405 to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation.