We Provide Answers to Your VA Disability Benefits Questions

  • Page 1
  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • How do I improve my VA disability rating?

    If you’re a veteran who has suffered a service-connected illness or condition, it’s likely you’re receiving disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The amount of compensation you receive was determined by a ratings schedule for physical and mental impairments in increments from 0 percent to 100 percent.

    However, you may find the condition has deteriorated over time, and additional benefits are necessary to keep up with medical costs and treatment. If you need an increase in your disability rating, an experienced VA disability attorney can help you apply for a rating increase.

    How to Increase Your Ratingstudying_computer

    If you plan to file for an increase in your disability rating, it’s important to be prepared for all possible outcomes when the VA re-evaluates your claim.

    Here’s what you need to know:

     

    • Consider the consequences. When you ask the VA to re-examine your rating, your entire claim will be reviewed. During this review, the VA may find mistakes in your original award amount or determine your circumstances warrant a decrease in your rating. Be sure you have medical proof, reports, and a doctor's opinion that back up your new claim. Additionally, don’t make your request because you need additional funds; rather, be sure it's due to your deteriorating disability.
    • Make the right request. If it’s been less than a year since the VA awarded your benefits, you need to file an appeal to your initial request, not a request for reconsideration. The appeals process often requires that you appear for court proceedings and hearings. However, if you began receiving benefits over a year ago, you can request a re-evaluation to your rating by filling out Form 21-526b.
    • Provide medical proof. It’s important to show that your disability has worsened since you were awarded benefits. To do this, you need medical evidence from your doctor. With your request for a rating increase, you must include Form 21-4142, which allows the VA to access your medical records.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you need an increase in your VA rating, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law will examine your specific case and develop the best strategy for filing an appeal or requesting a re-evaluation of your current rating. Contact us today (402) 933-5405, for experienced, skill help with your request for a rating increase.

     

  • How does the VA rate depression and mental illness?

    Veterans who return from duty with a service-connected illness or condition may suffer from more than just a physical injury. They may also suffer from depression as a secondary condition.

    Many veterans don’t realize they can apply for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a secondary condition, also called a secondary disability. This secondary condition occurs as a result of another service-connected medical condition.

    To qualify for VA benefits for depression as a secondary condition, you must prove that it’s connected to your time in service. VA Ratings for depression vary widely based on how severe your symptoms are and the extent to which they interfere with your daily routine. If you want to apply for disability for depression, it’s best to hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help determine if you qualify for benefits.

    Rating Mental Illness and Depression

    vet_with_depressionPeople diagnosed with depression may share some similar symptoms, but everyone experiences this condition differently.

    Consequently, the VA designated a formula that measures the level of mental disability using the following percentage ratings:

     

    • 0: A zero percent rating means a veteran’s mental condition was diagnosed by a medical professional, but his symptoms don’t interfere with his social or occupational functioning. Additionally, the veteran doesn’t take medication for this condition on a consistent basis. This rating is non-compensable. 
    • 10: For this rating, the veteran shows impairment from mild to inconsistent with symptoms that limit or decrease his work performance during times of stress. Additionally, the symptoms can be controlled with consistent medication.
    • 30: A veteran who receives this percentage rating shows social and occupational impairment because he experiences anxiety, panic attacks at least once every week, sleep problems, memory loss, and depression.
    • 50: For this rating, a veteran shows occupational and social impairment with “reduced reliability and productivity,” with behavior such as impaired judgment, panic attacks more than once a week, and problems with work and social relationships.
    • 70: A veteran with 70 percent secondary disability shows occupational and social impairment with problems with work, family relationships, and judgment due to ongoing panic attacks, depression that affects independent functioning, and the inability to handle relationships.
    • 100: For this rating, a veteran shows total and complete social and occupational impairment due to hallucinations, ongoing danger of self-harm, and disorientation of time and place.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you need help getting VA disability for depression, contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law (402) 933 5405. We will examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied.

     

  • What benefits are available with TDIU?

    If you’re a veteran who returned from military duty with a service-connected disability, you may have applied for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Your compensation was determined by the VA’s rating schedule, and if you met the listed requirements for that illness, you received a rating of between 10–100 percent.

    However, some veterans suffer disabilities so severe, they're unable to work. These can include:

    • Mental conditions such as depression or PTSD
    • Physical conditions such as diabetes, traumatic brain injuries, back problems, and heart disease
    • Conditions considered “secondary” to your service-connected medical problem

    unemploymentIf a veteran has 100 percent and can’t sustain gainful employment, he or she may be eligible for a special type of disability known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) or IU.

    If you think you’re eligible for TDIU benefits, you need hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help with your claim. Initially, most TDIU claims are denied by the VA and must often go through the appeals process before being approved.

    The Benefits of TDIU

    A VA TDIU rating can affect a veteran’s benefits in a positive way. When the VA approves a claim for TDIU, the rating for the veteran’s service-connected disability is automatically paid at 100 percent. Thus, the payment happens despite the combined rating for each of the veteran’s individual disabilities.

    For example, if a veteran suffers from depression, heart disease, and back pain, and his combined rating is 60 percent, he will be paid at 100 percent if awarded a TDIU rating. This increase significantly boosts the veteran’s monthly benefit, and it can have a major impact on veterans who find it challenging to find or maintain a job because of their service-connected conditions.

    If you receive TDIU benefits you may be eligible for other benefits.You may eligible for VA Special Monthly Compensations and other benefits. And if you apply in the appropriate timeframe, these benefits might be awarded retroactively to the date you could no longer work.

    Call Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran who is unable to work due to a service-connected disability, you may qualify for TDIU. Contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We’ll examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied. We’ll help you understand the process and work with you on your VA application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.

     

  • What does it take to qualify for total disability VA benefits?

    When a veteran suffers a service-connected disability, it may be severe enough that he can no longer perform the type of work he or she did in the past, or even work at all. When this happens, a veteran may qualify for a 100 percent disability rating known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU).

    The primary factor when determining the eligibility of a TDIU claim is whether or not a veteran is unable to engage in “substantially gainful employment” due to a service-connected condition. This term means a person can hold a job that meets the annual poverty level amount designated by the federal government.

    If you're not able to work because of an impairment suffered during military service, an experienced VA disability attorney can help determine if you qualify for this benefit.

    Meeting the Requirements for TDIU

    To qualify for TDIU benefits, a veteran must meet the following criteria:

    • He or she has a service-connected condition or disability with a scheduler rating of 60 percent or more
    • He or she has two or more service-connected conditions or disabilities, and at least one of them is rated at 40 percent or more, and the combined rating is 70 percent or more
    • In both cases, the service-connected conditions must make the veteran unemployable

    In order for someone to prove unemployability by the TDIU requirements, an individual must provide medical evidence which verifies he or she can’t work. Often, a doctor’s opinion letter is included with the veteran’s application that outlines and explains the veteran’s inability to work.

    Additionally, employment history records are included to show a veteran is now unable to perform past jobs and that shows evidence of unemployment due to his or her condition.

    You Can Still Have a Job and Get TDIU Benefits

    You won’t be disqualified from getting a TDIU award if you have a paying job. However, that job must meet the following requirements:

    • It pays less than the designated poverty level amount
    • It's “protected” from the typical requirements another employee might be required to perform for that position 
    • It's a task or responsibility a friend or family member has hired you to do.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    We understand that every veteran’s claim is different. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law will examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied.

    Contact Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.

     

  • What evidence do I need to get the VA extra-schedular rating?

    If you’re a veteran and suffered a service-connected injury or condition after returning home from military duty, you may be eligible for the extra-schedular rating offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This rating gives you an additional percentage of compensation for your disability, but only if your symptoms are unique and exceed what's expected for that rating code.

    For example, if you suffered an elbow injury, you might receive a 20 percent rating because the range of motion in your arm is limited. However, you might be considered for the extra-schedular rating if you’re unable to work at a computer for more than 30 minutes before there's intense pain and swelling in the elbow.

    Getting an approved claim for an extra-schedular rating requires a significant amount of evidence, so it’s helpful to hire a VA disability lawyer to assist you through the appeal process for this financial support.   

    Evidence for the Extra-Schedular Ratingflags and fatigues

    Some veterans have special and exceptional conditions that make them eligible for the extra-schedular rating. Their symptoms may not match the criteria for a specific disorder or listing, but their illness, disorder, or injury exceeds the rating code. They may have experienced a life-changing event and now suffer with consequences that make it difficult to sustain gainful employment, or live a life that allows for a normal, daily routine. Veterans in these circumstances are considered for the extra-curricular rating. 

    However, it’s important to understand the evidence you need to make a successful claim for the extra-schedular rating. Here are three tips for helping to ensure your claim is approved:

    1. Know what’s in your C-file. A veteran’s claims file—also known as a C-file—is considered the most significant element to a successful claim. Consequently, it’s important that you have a copy of the information that’s in the file because, in general, it contains all the information the VA is using to make a determination about your claim. The information may include service records, service medical records, C&P exam request letters and opinions, post-service treatment records, VA correspondence, and VA legal documents like your notice of disagreement (NOD).

    The C-file also contains code sheets. Each time the VA issues a ratings decision, a code sheet is usually attached to the last page of the decision. This code sheet tells you and any legal advocate you have which claims were service-connected, the effective dates of the injury or condition, the impairment ratings, the method of service connection, and the diagnostic codes used to make a determination. It’s a critical piece of documentation that many veterans don’t know exists. 

    It’s important that you also know what’s not in your C-file. If the VA can’t find parts of your paperwork, the agency may conclude that there’s an absence of evidence against the claim. And because people at every level of the claims process read and review your C-file, it’s important that critical documentation be there.

    1. Provide superior proof and credible evidence. The evidence you provide with your claim for an extra-schedular rating must clearly show why you need and deserve this financial benefit. It’s not good enough to simply fill out the forms, state that you have a service-connected condition, and expect the VA rater to immediately see or understand your situation. To show your eligibility, your evidence should:
      1. Be given by a specialist or someone who has expertise and skill. The person should have personal knowledge of your condition and, if possible, training in that area to offer substantiated proof that your symptoms are documented accurately.
      2. Be factual. Your claim should show that you're an eligible veteran; suffered a service-connected injury or condition; and have received a medical statement of the diagnosis with an expert medical opinion about how your condition is related to your military service.
         
    2. Provide both lay evidence and medical evidence. These are generally the two classification types for evidence in a VA claim. Here is a brief look at each:
      1. Lay evidence. Typically, lay evidence is proof that doesn’t need trained, skilled, or knowledgeable expertise. This can include your “buddy statement” that confirms and substantiates the events that led to the injury or condition; your own testimony about the incident and the symptoms you suffer with your disability; your spouse’s testimony about how the condition has affected you; and even your performance evaluations following the incident can be used.
      2. Medical evidence. This typically comes from a physician, psychologist, medical examiner, or a professional in the medical field. If you have a private medical expert offer an opinion about your condition and its connection with your military service, it’s important that he include critical words and phrases in that opinion to ensure it’s considered competent by the VA, including:
        1. “I reviewed the claimant’s entire C-file.” VA raters may believe that the medical professional can’t possibly give an expert opinion if he hasn't looked at all the medical information.
        2. “As least as likely as not.” This phrase is important to show that you’ve met the burden of proof and have enough evidence to support your claim. However, medical professionals aren’t used to this phrase, and may not feel compelled to cite their findings this way, even though it’s the best way to state that they have a reasonable degree of medical certainty about your condition.
        3. Words that explain why the medical professional reached the conclusion he did and why the diagnosis may differ from the VA C&P exam results.

    Let Us Help You

    If you need help applying for the extra-schedular rating, or want to know if you meet the extra-schedular criteria, contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We can help answer your questions. To discuss your situation, start an online chat on our website today or call us today for a free evaluation (402) 933-5405.