VA disability compensation pay can provide injured veterans with a monthly benefit payment to defray the cost of their living expenses. If a veteran was injured during their service, or developed a chronic injury or condition because of their service, they can collect VA benefits. Unfortunately, the application process for these benefits can be difficult. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire a VA disability lawyer.
7 Ways a VA Disability Lawyer Can Help
- Assist with the Application
- Case Review
- Collect Evidence
- Gather Documentation
- File appeals
- Schedule medical Appointments
- Represent You in Court
The amount of VA benefits veterans may receive is determined by their disability rating. Disability ratings start at 10% and go up to 100%, reflecting the severity of the disability. If a veteran has multiple disabilities, the VA will use something called a combined ratings table. Your VA benefits may increase if you have severe disabilities like a loss of limbs, you have dependents, or your spouse is also disabled.
Each year, the VA makes a cost of living adjustment (COLA) which will make sure that inflation does not outpace your benefits. After all, VA benefits are meant to make sure that injured veterans can keep on paying their bills, paying their rent or mortgage, and shopping for groceries. VA benefits can range from $133 to $3,400 per month, depending on your rating and other factors. That’s why, if you want to maximize your benefit payment, you should consider working with a VA disability attorney.
You might be thinking that a VA disability lawyer is too expensive, even if the VA benefits application process is difficult and potentially frustrating. How much a disability attorney costs will depend on what they are doing for you. If they are conducting a disability benefits appeal, they can charge between 20% and 33.5% of your past due benefits (that is, benefits you would have received if your desired outcome had been achieved in your initial application). If you were dishonorably discharged and would like a discharge upgrade to become eligible for benefits or to increase the size of your monthly benefit payment, the VA attorney is allowed to set their own schedule of fees. And if a VA lawyer is helping you through the application process ab initio (that is, from the get-go), they can also charge whatever fees they set.
There are pro bono VA lawyers who can assist veterans with navigating the VA benefits process. The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program are two such examples of these organizations and specialize in the denial of VA disability benefits. GI Hotline and Outserve SLDN are two other groups specializing in discharge upgrades, the latter group focusing on LGBTQ servicemembers. There are also other local organizations such as Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco. You might also consider calling your local law school to see if any law student supervised by a lawyer or paralegal could assist you in navigating the application process for free.
You may not think it’s necessary to hire a VA lawyer to help you unless you need a discharge upgrade, to conduct an appeal of denied benefits, or change your disability rating. But a VA disability lawyer can be of greater benefit in helping you avoid these problems in the first place by helping you put your application together. A veterans disability lawyer familiar with navigating veterans claims can also review your application and help you see if you could also collect Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), which one can indeed collect simultaneously.
However, if you are collecting veterans benefits, your SSDI benefits may be reduced. Either way, a lawyer familiar with the process of making a VA disability claim can make sure you are crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s when you fill out your application before you send it to the VA.
A case review by a VA disability lawyer will assist to make sure that you have a valid case to present in terms of securing your desired benefit amount, and that you will have all the right evidence to collect for it. If you have already applied for VA benefits and are even already receiving benefits, they can also see if your disability rating accurately reflects your condition, and if not, whether you should receive back pay.
Generally speaking, it takes the Department of Veterans Affairs around 135 days to make a decision about your VA compensation. If you end up disagreeing with the outcome and want to make a veterans appeal, that process could take an additional 125 days. By the time all that happens, an entire year could have gone by without receiving benefits. For this reason alone, it’s good to hire a lawyer familiar with VA disability law, so you can set up your case the right way from the get go.
The types of evidence required for VA disability claims include medical evidence of a current physical or mental disability, like a letter from a doctor or specialist. You will also need to furnish proof that the source of this injury or illness or chronic condition occurred during service. And you will also need to connect the two, which might require further explanation from medical professionals. This last piece is called service connection. Some of the paperwork needed to collect veterans disability benefits will be your separation documents and/or specifically your DD124 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Service treatment records from when you were on active duty will be helpful, as will any medical tests like X-rays, bloodwork, or other tests).
A VA lawyer can assist you in gathering the right documentation to corroborate your evidence, like doctors’ letters, prescriptions, hospital bills, and anything else that would paint a complete and convincing picture of a certain condition. For certain types of service connections, additional documentation may be needed.
For instance, a presumptive service connection establishes a link between service and a seemingly unrelated injury or illness, such as those relating to Agent Orange, the Gulf War, and Camp Lejeune. In these cases, where a VA claim for personal injury to collect benefits will be made, additional documentation may be required. In a related thought, a VA disability lawyer will also be up to date on things like the PACT Act, which expanded the number of presumptive conditions and made it more possible for injured veterans to file claims.
It’s hard enough to file an application in the first place. But if you’re facing a VA benefit appeal, you might feel totally lost about how to put your case together. The VA might decide you did not present convincing evidence of any injury, or that your injury was not connected to your service. Or, they might agree that you were injured, but not sufficiently enough to obtain a VA disability rating.
Whatever the reason may be, a VA lawyer can help you file an appeal in a timely manner, in such a way that addresses the cause for the benefit denial. A disabled veteran, especially one facing a medical condition of total injury, should not shoulder the extra stress of appealing a VA benefits claim. Instead, a former service member can have a lawyer shoulder that burden.
If you are filing an appeal, the VA may require you to obtain an independent medical examination (IME) if your claim is denied. Unlike a C&P exam, the IME is conducted by a medical professional with no link to the VA. However, the doctor who conducts this exam should be familiar with VA verbiage and protocols so your appeal will move quickly through the process. VA lawyers will have a network of medical professionals who can meet these standards.
If you rely on your own doctor, or search for a specialist on your own, you can actually impede the progress of your disability claim if said medical professional is not adept at phrasing their language toward the end of a VA claim. This medical professional will also need to use the right form when they are assisting in your case (usually VA Form 21-2680).
If you need to go before the Board of Veterans Appeals, a VA lawyer can accompany you or do it for you, where they can present your evidence to appeal the denied claim. They will be able to put forth convincing arguments about your case using persuasive language and legal strategies that may not be at your disposal. Knowing the ins and outs of Veterans disability law, they will be able to provide you with the best shot of turning your medical condition into one with a disability rating for VA benefits.
If your service connection relates to malpractice injury at a VA hospital (either through creating a new condition or aggravating an existing one, even if unrelated to service) you can also pursue damages via the Federal Tort Claims Act, in a court of law – where a lawyer will certainly be more equipped to navigate the procedures and present the most convincing argument in your favor.
Hiring a disability lawyer may seem like something you only do once you need to file an appeal. But actually, you’ll find it best to hire one before you even apply. The disability lawyer can help you navigate the application process, as explained in some of the points above. This is especially important because the application vetting process itself is so long, that by the time you get your results, it will be a real headache obtaining back pay if you don’t like them, or even just moving the appeals process forward. But even better than appealing is the fact that personal, tailored legal aid may mean that you don’t have to file any appeals at all, since your application will be done the right way, up front.
Look for VA lawyers in your local area. Most lawyers offer a free consultation where they will take a brief review of your case and lay out their fees and the scope of their services. Many of these lawyers have already assisted a significant number of veterans in applying for benefits. Some of them may even be veterans themselves. By finding an experienced, dedicated attorney, you can enjoy the legal assistance and advice of someone who can treat your application process with the dignity, care, and attention you deserve.