Veterans Miss Out on BenefitsAs of 2022, there are more than 18 million Veterans in the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 27% of them are known to have one or more service-connected disabilities because they have been assigned a disability rating by the VA — that is nearly 4.9 million Veterans. What is not known is how many Veterans have a service-connected disability but have either not applied for disability benefits or have given up in their pursuit of benefits. These Veterans are missing out on compensation they have earned by their service to their country.

Why Are Veterans Not Filing?

At Cuddigan Law in our many years of representing Veterans who have impairments caused or made worse by their time in service we have consistently seen these eight reasons why Veterans have not filed for benefits or have stopped trying.

1. Confusion About Who Can File 

It may surprise you, but many Veterans that are eligible for VA disability benefits just don’t realize it or may misunderstand who is actually eligible. A common misconception is that to be eligible you had to have been injured or developed an illness from serving in a combat area. Any Veteran who served on active duty anywhere and received a discharge other than dishonorable may be eligible for VA disability compensation. This also includes any Veteran who was activated during their time in the National Guard or Reserve.

Another misunderstanding is that you must have an honorable discharge to qualify you for VA disability benefits. An honorable discharge is always the best, but a general discharge under honorable conditions is also valid.

2. Incorrectly Believing that Too Much Time has Passed

Some medical conditions develop while a Veteran is on active duty or shortly after their discharge. Other conditions may not develop until years or even decades after a Veteran has been discharged like illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange or toxic burn pits, for example. (The 2022 PACT Act expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to toxic substances and streamlines the process for these Veterans to be awarded disability benefits.)

Some Veterans believe that their deadline to file an initial application is past but there is no time limit and no deadline for filing for VA disability benefits.

If you have a current physical or mental condition which can be linked to your military service — no matter when the condition developed — it is worth your time to explore the options which could benefit you and your family.

3. Application Issues

There are no two ways about it — the VA disability process is complex. The bewildering nature of the VA disability application procedures leads to a lot of confusion. As a result scores of Veterans use the wrong VA forms or miss important deadlines after filing. It is not only the initial application which can be problematic. Many Veterans who are filing an appeal after a denial find that process even more difficult to decipher. And the situation is made worse by the highly time-sensitive deadline requirements for an appeal. Because appeals can take years to resolve, it’s easy to lose track of your case causing you to miss out on the benefits that you have rightfully earned. This is an important consideration in hiring a law firm to represent you.

4. Think They Cannot Pursue More Than One Disability Claim at a Time

If you have more than one service-connected impairment, it is advantageous to combine multiple disabilities into one claim, because oftentimes injuries and illnesses impact each other. Also, by not having to wait on decisions regarding individual claims, combining claims, will save time you time. The longer you wait the longer it will take. (This is especially true for VA disability claims.) When filing a combined claim you most probably will get the decision on each impairment around the same time.

 Don’t overlook secondary connections, either. Oftentimes mental and physical conditions can cause other mental and physical conditions. Under VA disability rules a service-connected illness or injury which is caused by or aggravated by another service-connected illness or injury can qualify for a higher level of disability benefits. If you are a disabled Veteran you can file a secondary claim for a new disability that’s linked to a service-connected disability you already have.

 5. Worried About Their Employment

Unfortunately, too many Veterans believe that if you are awarded VA disability benefits you will be prohibited from being employed. This is a myth. If you qualify for disability benefits there are no limits on working.

6. Confusing Social Security Benefits with VA Disability Benefits

Just because you may be receiving Social Security benefits does not mean you automatically qualify for VA disability, and vice versa. If you are a disabled Veteran you can receive VA disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits at the same time, but you have to apply for each separately, because the requirements for each disability program are different.

7. Not Showing Up For Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams

Typically the VA will schedule you for this exam in connection with your application for disability benefits. Showing up for the exam is not optional — it is mandatory. The biggest mistake you can make (and one that unfortunately is all too common) is missing the exam. You must report to your C&P exam at the day and time it is scheduled unless you have “good cause” for missing it. If you skip your C&P exam, the VA Rater may make a rating decision based on your submitted evidence without hearing what you have to say or the rater might just flat out deny your claim. The VA is actually pretty accepting of almost any reason offered as “good cause” for a failure to report for an exam. If you’re not able to be there for the exam at the scheduled time be sure to inform the VA right away and reschedule it

8. Just Giving Up

Given the difficult nature of the claims process is any wonder that some Veterans just throw in the towel and give up.

Congress intended the Veterans Administration (now called the Veterans Affairs Department) to be a Veteran-friendly benefits system. Unfortunately, the reality is likely to be far different. Veterans and their beneficiaries know that all too often the VA is uncaring and indifferent. Many initial claims for VA disability benefits are denied and many just give up in frustration.

Veterans, who have proudly served and defended their country, need and deserve better. As one disabled Veteran said, “we are not asking for anything we didn’t earn.”

But here is some encouraging news. Statistics show that if you are represented by an attorney for your appeal you are more likely to win your disability case.

Because we focus exclusively on disability benefits, we know how to prepare your case and fight for your rights so you have the very best opportunity to win. Contact our VA disability attorneys for a free evaluation of your situation.

Don’t be one of those who gives up!

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska