For VA Disability, What Do “Duty to Maximize”, “Benefit of Doubt” and “Reasonably Raised” Mean?

By regulation, the VA has certain obligations in judging applications for disability benefits.  Three important responsibilities of the VA are a “duty to maximize”, give veterans the “benefit of the doubt” and to consider disabilities which are “reasonably raised”. Let’s explore what those terms mean to you.

Duty to maximize means that the VA is obligated to grant veterans every benefit that can be legally supported. The courts have ruled that VA must assess all of a claimant's service-connected disabilities. This becomes especially critical when evaluating combinations disabilities to determine if you are eligible for special monthly compensation.

Hand-in-hand with a duty to maximize, is the VA’s obligation to give veterans the benefit of doubt. The VA regulation on benefit of doubt says that when there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the VA must give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant. A way to think of  this rule is with a  baseball analogy--the tie goes to the runner.

Finally, the VA is not only required to adjudicate the disability compensation claims a veteran specifically raises but is also required to adjudicate any claims reasonably raised by the record. For example, if a veteran is applying for compensation for hearing loss and through a hearing examination the VA discovers that the veteran is also suffering from tinnitus, by regulation the VA has to consider this as a claim and properly rule on that additional disability.

However, the same regulation that provides for duty to maximize also states that the VA must also protect the interests of the Government. And there is where conflicts arise. In our experience it is rare for the VA to automatically maximize a veteran’s benefits under these three rules. That is why it is so important for veterans and their representatives to understand these duties and hold the VA to their obligations.

We are here to fight for your rights. Call us at Cuddigan Law for a free, no-obligation appointment to evaluate your situation.

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