Millions of Veterans have returned home from service with injuries or illnesses in the past and continue to do so now. Many are entitled to VA disability benefits for their injuries and illnesses. They have earned these benefits through service to their country.
However, obtaining the benefits they deserve can often be a difficult and frustrating process. The key is to be persistent and where necessary aggressively assert your rights to benefits. It may take some time and effort, but it will pay off and could quite literally be life-changing once you begin to receive your benefits.
Collins & Collins, P.C. has focused primarily on homeless veterans. Due to limited staff and resources, we can unfortunately take only a small and select number of claims. Instead, we have turned our focus to the degree resources permit to supporting other organizations working on behalf of veterans.
Eligibility Criteria for VA Disability Benefits
There are basically 3 seemingly simple eligibility criteria for VA disability benefits. Like anything with the law and government, the devil is in the details and what may appear simple is often far from it.
First, a Veteran must have a current disability. This means that the Veteran is currently suffering from an illness or injury. Previous illness or injury from which there has been full recovery does not quality.
Suffered During Service
Second, the injury or illness must have been suffered during military service. This can and often is disputed by the VA. On the other hand, there are many injuries and illnesses that occur during service that quality for which many veterans do not think to apply.
A couple of good examples include injuries suffered during service but independent of service such as car accidents and workout injuries. In short, you should think very broadly to include any illness or injury that occurred during your time of service.
Link Between Current Disability and Military Service
Finally, there must be a link between the current disability and military service. There are number of ways to link the two. The criteria for linkage can create challenges by way of VA dispute but also offer opportunities to the Veteran who has fully and completely developed his or her claim.
There are 4 ways to connect service to an injury or illness:
1. Direct Service Connection: This simply means the illness occurred during service. Again, this is rather simplistic and it can get quite complicated with many possibilities for dispute by the VA.
2. Aggravation by Service: This relates to aggravation of prior injuries or illness that existed upon enlistment during service. A good example would be a bad knee getting much worse during service. There are countless other possibilities.
3. Secondary Service Connection: This relates to the situation where one injury or illness causes other injuries or illness. By no means exhaustive, think knee injury causes hip or back injuries, or one injured kidney or lung causes stress on the other (paired organs).
4. VA Medical Negligence: You can also get service connection for VA medical negligence. In fact, you may have a claim for VA disability or medical malpractice. These are quite complex on the medical negligence claims, the VA disability claims by service connection and the offsets between the two different claims.
Long, Complex and Frustrating Process: Don’t Give Up!
The process for filing and winning a disability claim is long, complex and frustrating. The claims are routinely denied at the first stage requiring the Veteran to appeal. The appeals process can take years to work through. However, if you are entitled to benefits, your persistence will pay off in the end and the results can be life-changing.
Keep in mind that the benefits will go back to the date of your original claim. In short, if the claim takes years and you finally prevail, you will be receiving what could be a very large check in the mail not to mention the monthly payments moving forward.
Don’t give up. It seems that the process is designed so that most veterans will simply give up. Don’t take the bait. You have earned your benefits and you should seek them, aggressively if that is what it takes.
Seek Experienced Guidance
It is highly advisable for a Veteran to seek the guidance of an accredited attorney or veteran service representative.
The problem is that many Veterans do it on their own and do it without full preparation and development of their claims. This generally meets with failure. Even in the event that you win some benefits, failure to properly develop your claim may mean leaving most of your benefits on the table. In fact, there are often benefits of which you were not aware and for which you did not apply that may greatly exceed those awarded.
Seek experienced guidance to help develop and file your claim. You have earned your benefits. There is no reason you should not seek them. More importantly, if you are going to go after your benefits, then do right and do it right the first time.