The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits for military personnel wounded during service and can prove a service-connected injury or condition. But the VA also offers additional financial support for veterans who suffer catastrophic injuries that create significant disabling circumstances. To help veterans who have specialized needs due to severe service injuries, the VA makes available a special monthly compensation award (SMC).
An SMC compensates for non-economic losses when certain types of injuries can significantly change a veteran’s ability to live and function as he did before military service. If a veteran lost a limb, his hearing, or his eyesight, he'll be unable to perform normal, daily tasks in the same way as before—if at all. If he lost the use of his voice, reproductive organs, or his bowels, or he's housebound or bedridden, his abilities in all areas of life will be permanently and forever changed.
Although the VA recognizes the severity of these injuries and provides the SMC to compensate for them, the SMC is one of the most complicated and complex programs in the VA, with approximately 60 levels divided into nine letter categories (K-T). Consequently, veterans who have been denied SMC should contact a VA disability lawyer to help them through the claims process when appealing for this monetary award.
The Language of the SMC: Understanding Aid and Attendance
There are complex procedures to follow and guidelines you must meet to qualify for an SMC. The types of injuries and conditions eligible for this disability benefit are defined under those nine letter categories, with terminology that's important to understand when applying for an SMC and comparing your disability with the listed requirements and limitations. This terminology includes:
- Permanently bedridden. When you're permanently bedridden, you're unable to get out of bed for any reason. This isn't a limited or short-lived situation where your doctor prescribed bed rest until you feel better. If you can get out of bed and move around, even on a restricted basis, you're not bedridden and won’t meet the criteria for an SMC.
- Loss of use. Most veterans receive additional SMC benefits if they’ve suffered an amputation. But similar benefits are available even if an amputation wasn't required, but the veteran lost the use of a limb. If a veteran lost function of an arm, a hand, a foot, or a leg, the VA assumes he’s lost all use of that body part, just as if it were amputated. For example, it’s considered loss of use if you’re can no longer balance on a foot or hold an object in your hand without dropping it.
- Aid and attendance. If your condition is serious enough that you require the help of another person, it may meet the definition of this term. Here's a brief look at eligibility under this definition:
- If you're mentally or physically incapacitated and a patient at a nursing home.
- If you require the assistance of another person to manage and perform daily tasks, including going to the bathroom, bathing, brushing your teeth, eating, getting dressed, and adjusting your prosthetic device.
- If your disability or condition requires you stay in bed fulltime except for taking part in any type of treatment or therapy.
- If your eyesight is compromised and limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes.
- If your mental or physical incapacity requires that someone assist you to protect you from the dangers and hazards found in an ordinary environment
It’s important to note that being hospitalized for your condition doesn’t qualify under the term “aid and attendance.”
More on Aid and Attendance
Veterans who need aid and attendance usually apply for an SMC under Category “l” (lowercase L). There are varying amounts of financial support available for veterans who qualify under aid and attendance, depending on the level of care that’s needed. The amount of this benefit is approximately $704 per month.
It’s important to note that the caregiver providing the aid and attendance doesn’t have to be a nurse or a member of the medical profession. A veteran can still qualify for aid and attendance benefits if the person providing care is a neighbor, a friend, or a family member. However, if the veteran requires care by a medical professional, he may be eligible for additional benefits that provide increased compensation. Here are a few other things to note:
- You can still receive the aid and attendance benefit even if your disability compensation isn’t at 100 percent. There have been veterans with a rating below 50 percent who have received an SMC(l).
- You may be eligible for further financial support because SMC(l) is a building block to higher levels of SMC, although these higher levels have tougher requirements.
- You're automatically eligible for an SMC(l) if the VA grants you a 100 percent disability rating. This is because SMC(l) is an inferred claim, which means the VA is obligated to not only consider the claims specifically mentioned by the veteran in the application, but also benefits the veteran might be entitled to that are supported by evidence.
We Can Help With Your Claim
If you lost a limb or suffered a catastrophic injury during your military service and seek an SMC, or your SMC claim has been denied, contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We can help you understand the complex ratings for this financial award and answer your questions. To discuss your situation, start an online chat on our website today.