As a veteran, you’ve faced extraordinary challenges and been exposed to life-threatening events that tested your mental and emotional courage while putting you at risk for personal injury. After serving your country and living through extreme combat situations, it’s possible that you returned stateside with a service-connected medical condition, injury, or illness that made it impossible to work and required you to apply for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, what you likely discovered is that obtaining these benefits is a frustrating, confusing, and time-consuming process.
Types of Medical Conditions That Qualify for VA Benefits
If you were injured or got sick during your military service, and you're able to prove your condition is service-connected, or if an existing illness or injury was exacerbated by your military service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. There are many medical conditions that qualify for compensation, including:
- Agent Orange Exposure
- Back and Neck Pain
- Back Problems
- Bipolar Disorder
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Gulf War Syndrome
- Heart Disease
- Individual Unemployability
- Medical Conditions Related to Camp Lejeune
- Military Sexual Abuse/Trauma
- Muscle Injuries
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Respiratory Illnesses
- Sleep Apnea
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
Why So Many VA Disability Claims Are Denied
Statistics show that approximately one-third of all initial VA benefits claims are denied. While the VA acknowledges making mistakes on approximately 14 percent of claims, the Center for Investigative Reporting found the number to be much higher, especially in cases involving traumatic brain injuries and illnesses associated with Agent Orange.
There are many reasons the VA initially denies disability claims. While some of these denials may be due to processing errors by the VA, some might also be because of mistakes veterans make on their applications, as well as other factors, including:
- You don’t provide enough medical evidence. It's critical to include all medical records with your application, as well as the results of X-rays, CT scans, and any other medical tests. Additionally, it's essential to provide a medical opinion from your treating doctor to help substantiate your claim.
- Your disability isn’t service related. If your disability was a pre-existing condition or not aggravated by your service in the military, the VA will likely deny your claim. You must show a direct link between your disability and your military service.
- Your symptoms aren’t serious enough to receive a disability rating. The VA may acknowledge you’re experiencing symptoms from a service-connected disability. However, it might not recognize the symptoms as severe enough to warrant a rating or compensation.
- You missed your compensation and pension (C&P) exam. The C&P exam, which allows the VA to assess the claimed disability, is mandatory for receiving VA disability benefits. If you miss this exam, your claim could be denied.
Eligibility Requirements for VA Disability Compensation Benefits
There are many physical and mental conditions that potentially qualify for compensation from the VA. A full list of compensable conditions is cited on the VA Benefits website. However, there is other important information you need to know about benefit eligibility, including:
- Service. VA compensation benefits are available to any veteran of any branch of the United States Armed Forces who's currently suffering from a disease or a disability caused during service.
- Qualifications. To show that your currently-diagnosed disease or disability is directly connected to your military service, you must usually cite an event during active service that caused the injury, as well as prove the connection between the event and the resulting disability.
- Percentage. If you're approved for disability benefits, the VA determines how much you are eligible to receive each month. It assigns a disability rating from 10 to 100%. The higher your rating, the more compensation you'll receive.
3 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Filing an Application
The attorneys at Cuddigan Law understand that filing a VA claim isn't an easy process. There's a great deal of paperwork and lengthy delays, and putting together the right type of medical evidence can be overwhelming, especially when you're living with a disabling condition. Here are three mistakes to avoid when filing your claim:
- Failing to file right away. If you have a service-connected disability, you may wait before filing a claim to see if your symptoms improve, or you might not feel your symptoms are severe enough to qualify for benefits. However, veterans should file their claims right away, as there's no time limit for completing this part of the process. If you delay filing, you could lose a great deal of time and money. If you obtain an award from the VA after you submit a claim or on appeal, it’s possible to receive benefits from your initial claim date.
- Failing to understand how the VA makes decisions. Filing a VA claim is much more than simply filling out a form and sending it in. It’s important that you understand how the VA will make a determination on your claim. Most first-time claims are denied because veterans fail to provide the right kind of proof to show their eligibility for disability benefits. When you file your first claim, you must provide evidence that proves you have a disability, and the disability is due to an incident that occurred during service. Additionally, you need to provide medical reports, test results, and a medical opinion that establish the severity of your medical condition.
- Failing to provide a medical opinion. Including a medical opinion with your VA benefits claim can greatly increase your chances of getting an approval. Often, the VA denies claims because they don’t show the link between the veteran’s military service and their disability. However, a doctor’s statement can help. If you provide a written statement from your treating doctor or medical expert linking your disability to an event or incident that occurred during your time in the military, it can significantly influence the outcome of your claim.
What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied
If your initial VA benefits claim is denied, you can appeal the decision up to one year from the date of the denial letter. An appeal requires that you submit a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to the VA regional office that denied your claim. Using the Statement in Support of Claim form to write your NOD, you should:
- Explain why you disagree with the denial decision and are appealing.
- Cite the date of the denial letter.
- Use the words Notice of Disagreement on the form, and be sure these words are visible on the form.
- State that you disagree with the rating and all the decisions made in the denial letter.
Our Nebraska-Based Attorneys Help Veterans Nationwide
If you need help with your service-connected disability claim, have questions about the necessary medical records for the application, need assistance handling a claims denial, or have any other issues pertaining to your VA disability claim, contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We can examine your application to determine if there are any errors or omissions, and we can also assist in gathering the necessary medical evidence to give you a better chance of a successful claim. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.