Have Questions About the Disability Claims Process for Social Security or Veterans? Check Out Our FAQs

Dealing with the disability application or appeals process always comes with plenty of questions. Whether your questions are about Social Security or VA Disability, here are some of the questions we hear the most at our Omaha law firm.

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  • Why does OSA cause depression, and can I get VA disability for this secondary condition?

    Veterans who suffer from service-connected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may also suffer from secondary medical conditions, including depression. OSA is a sleep disorder that causes the throat muscles of a sleeping person to relax and ultimately, block the airway—reducing the oxygen reaching her lungs. Because a veteran with OSA never gets the chance to fully rest at night, she may experience problems staying awake and face extreme exhaustion.

    The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes depression as a ratable illness, and you may be eligible for disability benefits if you suffer from this as a secondary condition. If you can prove your OSA is service-connected and believe you’re suffering depression because of it, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help appeal your claim for compensation.

    The Link Between OSA and Depression

    vet_insomniaA variety of studies report the link between OSA and depression. People who suffer from OSA are much more likely to experience depression than those who don’t have OSA. Reports show that patients who suffer from OSA are 21–39 percent more likely to have depression.

    It’s been debated whether there’s a direct link between OSA and depression, or whether there’s simply a correlation. There are a number of thoughts on this issue:

    • One theory suggests that because patients with OSA suffer a lack of oxygen, it may cause problems in the brain and body that can lead to depression. Additionally, OSA may cause inflammation in the body and affect “neurotransmitter activity,” which could contribute to the symptoms of depression.
    • A second theory suggests that because OSA causes fatigue, exhaustion, and daytime sleepiness, managing the requirements of a normal routine becomes increasingly more challenging. The difficulty in handling daily life can trigger depression. There are clinical studies to support this, as OSA and extreme drowsiness and fatigue are linked with depression.

    Depression and Qualifying for Benefits

    Your chances of receiving an approved claim for secondary depression depends on if you can prove your service-connected OSA is the cause. It’s important that your doctor write a letter of opinion about your condition with:

    • A diagnosis of depression—either major depressive disorder or dysthymic disorder
    • Evidence that your sleep disorder likely caused your depression

    It’s also important that you provide the appropriate documentation—medical reports and test results that show the link between your depression and OSA.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to OSA and would like to submit an application for depression as a secondary condition, call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How do I service-connect my OSA for VA benefits?

    Veterans who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may wake in the morning feeling drained and exhausted, and then be extremely fatigued all day long. OSA occurs when an individual is sleeping and throat muscles continually relax, blocking the airway and reducing the amount of air that makes it into the lungs. This causes the breath to stop and start throughout the night.

    OSAOver 90 percent of veterans who submit claims for OSA were on active duty in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, as well as Gulf War I. It’s estimated that 9 out of 10 veterans who receive disability benefits for OSA from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are rated 50 percent disabled by this illness. And veterans who suffer from service-connected OSA may also have secondary medical conditions, including depression.

    Proving Service-Connected OSA

    It’s not easy to prove your OSA is service-connected. In 2013–2014, the Board of Veterans Appeals denied over 70 percent of sleep apnea appeals by veterans. This means approximately three of four veterans will be denied their sleep apnea claims and appeals.

    Thus, you need to provide strong lay evidence about the symptoms you experienced while in service such as:

    • Interrupted breathing at night
    • Loud snoring
    • Gasping for air
    • Dry mouth
    • Extreme daytime exhaustion

    Additionally, you need your doctor’s medical opinion that explains how these symptoms are “more likely than not” linked to sleep apnea during your service. If your doctor can establish a direct connection between your symptoms and your time in the military, you may be able to prove service-connected OSA.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran who wants to prove your OSA is service-connected, call Cuddigan Law. Our VA attorneys have years of experience handling veterans’ claims, and we're happy to handle yours. We'll examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How does the VA rate chronic pain secondary depression?

    If you’re a veteran with an injury that doesn’t improve, you feel consistent physical discomfort, and you find it hard to manage daily tasks, sit, walk, or stand, you're likely suffering from chronic pain. This type of pain usually occurs in one or more parts of the body and lasts for three–to–six months.

    chronic_pain_depressionMany veterans suffer from chronic pain caused by the ongoing effects of injuries sustained while in combat or during active military duty.

    It’s possible that a sustained injury may heal over time, but re-develop throughout the aging process and become a source of chronic pain.

    Not only do roughly 100 million Americans suffer from this condition, but also 44 percent of service members in combat suffer chronic pain.
     

    Chronic pain can result in other serious, secondary conditions. One of these is depression. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers depression a ratable illness, and it’s possible for veterans to file a claim for disability benefits if they suffer from depression as a secondary condition.

    If you have service-connected chronic pain that you believe is the cause of your depression, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim.

    How the VA Rates Chronic Pain Secondary Depression

    The VA rates depression according to a percentage scale: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, and 100. It’s possible for a veteran to receive a 0 percent rating if she has symptoms of depression that don't impair her ability to function, perform daily tasks, or engage in social activities. However, if the VA gives a 0 percent rating, a veteran may still be eligible for some types of benefits, including healthcare. The VA will give a 100 percent rating only if a veteran has zero ability to work at a job or function socially and cannot manage a daily routine.

    For a veteran to receive benefits for secondary depression, it’s important that she:

    • Has a current diagnosis of depression from a physician
    • Has a service-connected disability and can prove it
    • Can show medical evidence of the association between that disability and her depression

    It’s essential to provide a doctor’s opinion explaining how the veteran’s physical condition has caused the depression.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    Veterans suffering from depression due to chronic pain who would like to submit a benefits application for a secondary condition should call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will examine your case, help provide evidence that your chronic pain is service-connected, and work with you to submit your claim to increase your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How does the VA rate heart condition secondary depression?

    Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of people in America, and it’s the primary reason veterans are hospitalized in the healthcare system of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

    This disease includes conditions such as strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and peripheral artery disease, and it’s a major cause of veteran disability. Not only is cardiovascular disease a serious condition, but it's often linked with other illnesses, including spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and depression.

    doctor_with_patientThe relationship between heart disease and depression is well documented. Approximately 22 percent of veterans diagnosed with angina, heart attack, stroke, or coronary heart disease (CAD) also suffer from depression.

    The VA recognizes depression as a serious, ratable illness, and individuals who suffer from this condition may be eligible for disability benefits.

    How the VA Rates Depression Secondary to Heart Conditions

    In general, depression and other mental disorders are rated by the VA depending on how much the condition interferes with a veteran’s occupational and social functioning and ability. The rating given to a veteran’s claim is based on how the symptoms impact his life, not the specific symptoms.

    Available percentage ratings for depression are: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100. If a veteran receives a 0 percent rating, this can still be significant, as it may entitle him to VA benefits such as healthcare. If a veteran receives a 100 percent rating for depression, it means he has no ability to function in social or work situations.

    Seeking Benefits for Secondary Depression

    If you’re seeking benefits for heart condition secondary depression, it’s important to include the following with your disability application:

    • Specific evidence that your depression is the result of an accepted service-connected heart condition.
    • Expert medical opinion about the relationship between your depression and your heart condition.
    • Proof that your service-connected heart condition is on record with the VA.
    • Medical records that show you were diagnosed with depression by a physician.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to a heart condition and would like to submit an application for a secondary condition, contact Cuddigan Law and talk to one of our experienced VA disability lawyers. We’ll help with your claim for disability benefits and explain the type of evidence you need to prove your depression was caused by your service-connected heart problem.

     

  • How do I opt-in to RAMP if I’m waiting on a claims appeal?

    Opting-Into RAMPIn an effort to expedite the process for reviewing appealed benefit claims, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). This initiative followed President Trump’s signing of the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017.

    RAMP was designed to expedite the review process of an enormous backlog of appeals and provide veterans with eligible appeals the earliest possible resolution. Under the legacy process, veterans waiting for an appeals decision may not see one for up to seven years. RAMP is a voluntary option for veterans to “opt-in” to a new and potentially faster and more efficient process.  

    If you’re a veteran waiting for a decision on your benefits claim appeal, you may consider opting into RAMP. However, an experienced, skilled VA disability attorney can help you understand if this new initiative is right for you.  

    Opting-In to RAMP

    If you're a veteran with a pending disability claim, you may be sent a letter by the VA offering you the opportunity to opt-in to RAMP. You're eligible to receive this letter and opt-in if you:

    • Have a notice of disagreement (NOD) filed with the VA
    • Have appealed to the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) using a VA Form 9
    • Have an appeal that’s been certified to the Board but isn’t activated for a Board decision
    • Have an appeal that’s been remanded from the Board to the Regional Office

    What it Means If You Opt-In

    If you choose to opt-in to RAMP, you’ll have the following three different options, or lanes, to choose from to expedite your appeals claim:

    • Higher-Level Review. If you think the VA made an error in its decision about your claim, you can choose this option to it fully reviewed by a new claims adjudicator. Using existing evidence only, your claim will be re-evaluated.
    • Supplemental Claim. Under this option, you’re allowed to submit new evidence about your claim, such as an updated diagnosis from your doctor, new test results, or you have additional lay statements. Your claim will be reviewed by the same claims adjudicator as before, and the VA will try to process your appeal within 125 days.
    • Appeals to the Board. If you used the Higher-Level Review lane and are denied by the VA, you can still appeal to the BVA after February 2019.

    If You Need Help With Your VA Disability Appeal

    The attorneys at Cuddigan Law have filed thousands of appeals for veterans whose claims have been denied. Our firm fights hard for those veterans injured and disabled during their military service.

    If you need help with a claims application or your appeal, the Cuddigan Law legal team will walk you through the process and work to ensure your best possible chance for getting an approved claim, whether you are submitting it for the first time or are waiting on an appeal.

  • What are the benefits of RAMP?

    When President Trump signed the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017, a new initiative was launched by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To expedite the resolution of claims that were in the appeals process, the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, was created to provide a more expedient resolution to these appeals and address the enormous backlog of claims.

    consultationThe legacy process for appeals splits jurisdiction between two agencies: The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). Not only does this complicated process require many additional steps, it’s often confusing. The wait time for decisions is long—sometimes up to seven years. 

    If you want to expedite your appeals claim, it’s important to understand if the benefits of the RAMP outweigh the disadvantages.

    An experienced VA disability attorney can help you understand the changes in the appeals process.

    What Are the Benefits of RAMP?

    There are varying opinions about whether RAMP is an initiative worth pursuing. Some people feel there are still too many unknowns about the program, while other think the process may not actually be faster. However, the VA promotes RAMP as way for veterans to:

    • Enter a more efficient and effective review process for their appeals
    • Receive the earliest possible resolution of their disagreements with the VA’s decision about their claims
    • Have the option to use multiple review options: Supplemental Claim, Higher-Level Review, or appeal to the BVA after 2019
    • Receive the same potential effective date for benefits no matter which review option they choose 
    • Get a fresh, expedient evaluation of a previous VA decision by a skilled claims reviewer

    If You Need Help With Your VA Disability Appeal

    Cuddigan Law has filed many appeals for veterans trying to get their benefits claims approved, and we work hard for veterans injured and disabled during their military service. If you need help with a claims application or your appeal, call Cuddigan Law. We’ll work to help ensure your best possible chance for getting an approved claim, whether you’ve submitted it for the first time or are waiting on an appeal.

     

  • How does the VA rate depression caused by my diabetes?

    Of all the conditions veterans face when returning home from service, diabetes is one of the most common. This service-connected illness can cause a variety of secondary conditions, including vascular disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, and kidney failure. But this blood sugar disease can also be the cause of depression—an illness that some veterans can claim as a secondary service-connected disability.

    depressed_soldier_and_doctorAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about eight percent of people in the U.S. have diabetes, and approximately 25 percent of all veterans who receive care from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suffer from this disease.

    Researchers believe that diabetes affects veterans disproportionately for the following reasons:

     

    • Veterans have a higher rate of obesity and greater likelihood of being overweight than the rest of the population. Over 70 percent of VA patients are overweight or struggle with obesity.
    • Patients receiving care from the VA are often older, are from lower income families, and don't have easy access to food that's healthy and of high quality.
    • VA patients may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

    All of these can increase the risk of developing diabetes—and this disease can increase your risk of developing depression.

    If you suffer from service-connected diabetes, it’s also possible there’s a link between your disease and secondary depression. Because the VA recognizes depression as a ratable medical condition, you may be eligible for disability benefits for depression as a secondary condition. But it’s important to hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help with your claim.

    The VA Rating System for Secondary Condition Depression

    It’s possible to apply for VA compensation for depression as a secondary service connection to diabetes if you have a diagnosis of diabetes from your doctor, as well as a diagnosis of depression.

    You also need to provide medical evidence that shows a connection between your depression and your diabetes. The VA rates your depression using a 0 percent–100 percent rating scale that evaluates your symptoms and their effects on your occupational and social functioning. To receive a 100 percent rating, you must show total social and occupational impairment caused by hallucinations, disorientation, and potential self-harm.

    Call Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to service-connected diabetes, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help you better understand if your condition meets the requirements under which depression claims are evaluated and approved. We’ll work with you to help ensure your best possible chance for getting an approved claim for depression as a secondary condition.

     

  • How does the VA rate depression caused by my TBI?

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is generally defined as a change in the way the brain functions due to some type of external force. For civilians, this external force can come from a fall, a car accident, an assault or attack, or some other event when the head strikes an object or an object strikes the head.

    For those who serve in the military, TBIs are most often the result of an improvised explosive device (IED), grenade, mortar, mine, or bullet.

    What Happens After a TBI?

    depressed_manAfter a person suffers a TBI, amnesia is common for some period of time—for a few minutes up to weeks. The patient may have difficulty remembering what happened just before and after the brain injury.

    For veterans, they may have no memory of the circumstances prior to or following an IED explosion.

    TBIs became known as the “signature wound” of Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) because there were
    so many explosion-related concussions during combat in these two wars.

    After experiencing a TBI, veterans commonly experience depression. Research shows that following a brain injury, depression is the most common psychiatric diagnosis—the rate nearly 50 percent. Individuals with severe brain injuries suffer from higher rates of depression, and those who suffer even mild TBIs present higher rates of depression than people without a brain injury. 

    The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes depression as a serious medical condition and provides disability benefits for eligible veterans. If you suffer from depression after experiencing a service-connected TBI, it’s possible that you qualify for disability benefits for depression as a secondary condition. Hiring an experienced VA disability attorney can help determine if you qualify for these benefits.

    How the VA Rates Secondary Condition Depression

    Depression is a common mental health condition and one that frequently affects military service members. A recent study found that the risk for suicide is most prevalent in younger veterans, and approximately 10 percent of those treated by the VA between 2009 and 2013 suffered from major depressive disorder.

    The VA changed its regulations on secondary service connections in 2013 to add a connection between a TBI and certain conditions, including depression. The new regulation states that the veteran’s depression is presumed to be a secondary condition of a TBI if:

    • A veteran’s depression occurs within three years of a moderate or severe TBI
    • A veteran’s depression occurs within 12 months of a mild TBI

    It’s very common for veterans to develop depression after some type of service-related physical illness or injury. If there's evidence of a physical disability connected to military duty, it’s possible for a veteran to apply for increased compensation for depression as a secondary service connection. In order to establish this secondary connection, you must have:

    • A diagnosis of depression from a physician
    • A service-connected disability, illness, or condition
    • Medical evidence that proves there's a link between your condition and your depression

    Rating Depression

    The VA rates a veteran’s depression using the following six percentage levels to determine if he’s eligible for benefits:

    • 0 percent rating: A veteran will like receive a 0 percent rating if the symptoms of his depression don’t interfere with his occupational or social functioning. Additionally, a veteran will receive this rating if he’s not been prescribed medication for his condition. 
    • 10 percent rating: To receive this rating, a veteran’s symptoms must be controlled through medication, and he must present impairment “from mild to inconsistent” with symptoms that limit or decrease his work performance when under stress.
    • 30 percent rating: There must be signs of social and occupational impairment due to weekly panic attacks, anxiety, memory loss, and sleep problems. 
    • 50 percent rating: There must be signs of occupational and social impairment with “reduced reliability and productivity” that includes problems with social and work relationships, impaired judgment, and panic attacks.
    • 70 percent rating: The veterans must show signs of problems with family relationships, independent functioning, and judgment.
    • 100 percent rating: A veteran must show complete social and occupational impairment caused by disorientation of time and place, hallucinations, or possible self-harm. 

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to a TBI, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help you better understand if your condition meets the requirements under which depression claims are evaluated and approved. We’ll work with you to help ensure the best possible chance for getting an approved claim for depression as a secondary condition. Contact us today to see what we can do for you.

     

  • If I’m a veteran, can I get disability benefits for cirrhosis?

    Cirrhosis is classified as a liver disease. It's sometimes referred to as a silent condition because patients don’t always exhibit symptoms. After this critical organ experiences long-term damage, scar tissue replaces the healthy tissue in the liver and makes it impossible for it to filter toxins, fight infections, and perform other necessary duties, such as clotting blood. 

    cirrhosisIf you’re a veteran who’s been diagnosed with cirrhosis, you may be eligible for disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, it may be difficult to obtain benefits for this condition. An experienced veterans disability attorney can help ensure you meet the criteria for submitting a successful claim.

    Qualifying for Benefits for Cirrhosis

    Cirrhosis is not always caused by alcohol. There are a variety of ways to qualify but the basic rule is that benefits will not be paid for secondary disabilities such cirrhosis that result from primary alcohol or other drug abuse disability.  However benefits may be paid under the following conditons:

    • An alcohol or drug abuse disability develops as a secondarily to service  connected condition; or
    • A secondarily service connected drug or alcohol  disabilty that is aggravated.

    One easy example to undersatnd  is a veteran who abuses alcohol secondarily to a service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder who develops cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse may be entitled to service connection for cirrhosis.  

    Diagnosing Cirrhosis

    While doctors can diagnosis cirrhosis by evaluating blood tests, considering your military history, and discussing your exposure to TCE, the only way to prove you have cirrhosis is through a liver biopsy. By removing liver tissue and analyzing it, a doctor can confirm this condition.

    We Can Help

    The attorneys at Cuddigan Law can assist you when applying to the VA with a disability claim for cirrhosis. We’ll look at your specific case and discuss your situation, offering our years of experience to help increase your chances of getting an approved claim. Contact Cuddigan Law today.

     

  • What medical evidence do I need to qualify for TDIU?

    If you’re a veteran who’s returned from duty with a service-connected disability, you may find that it interferes with your ability to perform your daily routine. This may be serious enough that you can no longer work.

    Being unable to carry out the job requirements of the position you once held or being unable to work in any capacity at any job may qualify you for a 100 percent disability rating known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU).medical_records

    To be eligible for TDIU benefits, you must prove that you’re unable to “sustain gainful employment” because of your service-connected illness, condition, or disability. Because TDIU gives you the highest possible disability rating, it’s not always easy to get an approved claim, and you need specific types of evidence to help receive it.

    Medical Evidence for TDIU

    There are a number of ways to better ensure an approved claim for TDIU, including providing your own statements about your disability and statements from friends and family. However, using medical evidence is critical to your success.

    Here's a brief look at some of the medical evidence that can help improve your chances of getting TDIU benefits:

    • Be sure that you’re in treatment with a medical professional who can substantiate the personal statements you’ve made about your service-connected disability.
    • Provide documentation from your doctor appointments that supports your inability to hold a job.
    • Ask your doctor for an opinion letter to include with your application. This letter should cite the reasons why you’re unable to work, with details to support this claim. If possible, have your doctor include why you’re unable to work at past jobs due to your condition, as well. That’s why a VA disability attorney can help with your  appeal, as well as gather the necessary evidence and reports from a vocational expert.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    We understand that applying for disability can be a confusing process, and TDIU benefits can be especially hard to receive. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law will examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim with all the necessary paperwork, evidence, and medical reports. Contact Cuddigan Law to get help with your VAappeal to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.