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A Military Veterans Guide To Disability Compensation and Pension Benefits
A Compendium of Resources and Knowledge For The Disabled Veteran
By Jim Strickland
Knowledge is power. (Sir Francis Bacon, 1561 - 1626)
This knol is designed to teach the veteran the basic rules of eligibility for VA disability compensation benefits and the steps to take when applying for such benefits. Numerous "How To" instructions, templates and examples are provided.
This knol will be under endless construction with new topics added as often as we are able. Your suggestions are welcomed.
How To File A Claim
The C & P Exam
The Nexus Letter
How To Appeal
Fleeing Felons & Other Unusual Rules
The American military veteran hungers for knowledge.
I write regular question and answer columns for veterans who seek information about how to best handle their benefits claim. These articles, "Jim's Mailbag", are published at VAWatchdog and The Veterans Voice.
Editors Larry Scott at VAWatchdog and Clairice Still at The Veterans Voice have worked for years to provide veterans with an oasis of information on the often hostile and barren Internet. Those sites provide facts about benefits as well as other news of interest to the veteran community.
The veterans who write to us are active, intelligent citizens who have accomplished tasks often thought impossible as they served their country.
The veteran has earned certain benefits during the time of service. Those benefits are available only after the veteran works through a process that is often adversarial and sometimes incomprehensible. The laws, rules and regulations that govern the award of benefits that are associated with service connected disabilities are particularly perverse and worrisome.
This knol will attempt to provide the reader with some of the tools and the basic knowledge necessary to determine what benefits the veteran is eligible for.
Veterans visit those pages to learn. This knol is provided as an extension of the good work Larry and Clairice are doing.
The attorneys who have graciously agreed to co-author are each experts in disability law and have busy practices that focus on the needs of the veteran. Their contribution here isn't one that they're required to do but is given freely out of their personal commitment to America's warriors. In many ways, these lawyers are warriors themselves, prepared to stand up and fight for your rights.
This knol is always a work in progress, always unfinished. If it seems long and a bit unorganized at times, please use the provided search engine to find the topic you're looking for. If we haven't addressed it, leave a comment or email one of us directly. We have a lot of ground to cover and your suggestions as to how to best do that are appreciated.
This Knol is provided to you to describe general processes and procedures that occur during the application for disability compensation and pension and other benefits within the Department of Veterans Affairs System. Any author you find here is not providing you with legal advice. Any information provided by this Knol or any contributor to this Knol is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney to help answer specific questions regarding how VA laws apply to you and/or your situation. The summaries provided here are incomplete, and the DVA laws and regulations are subject to change. We do not guarantee and we are not liable for the accuracy or completeness of any of the information provided, or any results or outcome as a result of the use of this information.
American military veterans who apply for compensation and pension benefits often seem to be angry, dazed and confused.
The Department of Veterans Affairs uses as its motto a phrase coined from President Abraham Lincoln's March 4, 1865 2nd inaugural address; "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."
As the Civil War ended, President Lincoln recognized that the country had a responsibility to help those who were so badly damaged by the fighting. From that concept grew what today is our DVA.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration, is the second largest Cabinet department reporting to the executive branch of our government. Most of the DVA runs better than one might expect given the size and complexity of the organization.
Divided into 3 business units, the DVA is made up of the Veterans Health Administration, the National Cemetery Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration. Veterans health care is often lauded as the best available and the national cemeteries honor our service men, women and families remarkably well.
To reach into either of those business units of the DVA first requires that the veteran be validated by the Veterans Benefits Administration. The VBA is the gatekeeper of all services for veterans. At 57 Regional Offices VBA staff are charged with determining if the applicant for any veterans benefit is who he or she claims to be and then the level of benefit that they are entitled to receive. This is often as simple as setting up a loan to purchase a home or it may be as complex as a vague but disabling injury received during the course of military service.
Compensation and Pension
Within the Veterans Benefits Administration is found the Compensation and Pension services section. When a veteran believes that an injury or illness (known as a "condition" by the DVA) that was incurred during active duty military service (or if preexisting was aggravated by the service) has become disabling, the veteran may apply for a disability compensation benefit. In some situations, the veteran may receive a pension benefit instead.
Of those benefits, the disability compensation benefit is the one that is most often applied for by veterans and subsequently contested by the VBA. Most delays, disputes and appeals to higher and then higher yet authorities are centered on the validity of a claim for disability benefits.
Computing Division, Veterans Bureau, Washington DC, 1929.
Three dozen Burroughs adding machines were being used to compute veterans' benefits.
While the process is said to be largely administrative and the VBA is required to assist the veteran to develop the claim, it quickly becomes apparent that the system is adversarial and full of legalistic pitfalls. Rules of evidence can be as strict as any courtroom setting, rigid time lines are enforced upon the veteran and the much talked of "duty to assist" is usually a far away afterthought and performed perfunctorily, if at all.
To apply for a disability compensation is to begin a "claim" for a "condition". The veteran may file an informal claim by merely writing a letter or otherwise communicating the intent to the DVA or a formal claim may be initiated by completing a VA Form 21-526. If an informal claim is opened, the VBA will then usually ask that the 21-526 be completed within one year to formalize the claim.
Along with the claim the veteran must provide evidence that substantiates and proves that the veterans allegations are factual.
The process is explained by the VBA here. While this is an oversimplification, it gives a good overview of what happens as you seek the benefit you believe you deserve.
To fully appreciate what happens to a claim, one must dig a little deeper into how the system works. The GAO report, VBA-Problems and Challenges Facing Disability Claims Processing tells us that, "VBA’s problems with large backlogs and long waits for decisions have not yet improved, despite years of studying these problems." Please click the above link "VBA Problems and Challenges..." and scroll to page 12 of the report to view a series of graphics that illustrate the complex path your claim must follow through VBA.
Many veterans enter the system believing that they will complete a few forms and soon receive their earned benefits only to find themselves years later in an appeals court in Washington D.C.
The Veterans Benefits Administration is more concerned with the process than they are with any individual or an individual claim. The process of adjudicating a claim is rooted in law. The law that governs the VBA process has been enacted by Congress over decades and the VBA claims that it has no other choice but to follow the letter of that law...whether it makes sense or not.
If a veteran attempts to take a short-cut or to skip some details of the process, they will soon discover that their attempts to speed things up has slowed everything down.
While the VBA isn't always right in their decisions, they own the process of making the decisions. The smart veteran will understand that there is no way to avoid the process and that to play by the rules from the very beginning will ensure that the claim will at least move along, even if at a slow pace.
How To File A Claim
To learn how to file a claim, click here. This knol segment provides information to guide the veteran in filing a new claim, evidence requirements, increasing the rating percentage of an existing claim and representation to the VA by Veterans Service Organizations.
The C & P Exam
To learn about the Compensation and Pension exam, click here.
The Compensation and pension examination is an integral part of the process of rating the degree of disability of a claimed condition. This knol segment offers th veteran practical advice on how to conduct himself and how to prepare for the exam.
The Nexus Letter
To learn how to develop and write a nexus letter, click here.
A letter that provides an expert opinion to connect the veteran's current condition to a previous event may make the difference of an award or a denial if other evidence isn't able to confirm the alleged cause.
How To Appeal
To learn how to appeal, click here. This knol segment will provide you with information about your rights to appeal, the processes involved in an appeal, how the Board and the Court work and how to initiate a CUE claim.
Injuries or illnesses are called "conditions" in the VA scheme. To learn about each unique condition, click the provided link.
Agent Orange/Radiation/Gulf War Syndrome
Click here to learn more about the presumptive list of conditions associated to Agent Orange exposure as well as radiation exposure & Gulf War Syndrome
Click here to learn more about the condition of diabetes.
Click here to learn more about the condition of PTSD.
Click here to learn about hearing loss and related conditions.
Click here to learn more about conditions of the joints.
Click here to learn more about the condition of erectile dysfunction.
To learn more about how a condition is rated, click here.
Ratings are assigned according to complex schedules, methods of combining separate conditions, tables of various ratings, reviews of medical records and examinations by health care professionals. The veteran who is applying for a disability compensation benefit is wise to understand how a particular claimed disability may be rated.
Click here to learn about benefits that may be available secondary to VA disability compensation.
When VA disability compensation is awarded to a veteran, other benefits may come available to include enhanced VA health care benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance, various state benefits and dependents benefits.
Fleeing Felons & Other Unusual Rules
Click here to learn about fugitives, fiduciaries and other odd points of VA regulations.
An Index of Links
Click here to view a page of links to important sites.
The veteran or advocate who is researching to find relevant information about a condition or rules that may govern a particular case often spend hour searching for the right information. Here I'll provide links that I've found worthwhile.
Click here for a listing of topics to be discussed in the future.