The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has many different kinds of programs to benefit the more than 18 million American military veterans living in the United States. Among others, these include assistance with health, education, and home loans. But surprisingly, VA disability payments are one of the most common entitlements veterans overlook – even though they are often one of the most essential to their well-being.

Among the reasons that veterans miss out on VA disability benefits are the following:

  • Confusion about the types of benefit programs and how to qualify
  • Complexity of the application process
  • Previous claim denial

Understanding How to Qualify as a Disabled Veteran

One misconception is that combat operations involvement is a requirement to be eligible. To qualify for VA compensation or disability, a veteran does not need to have seen combat. They also do not have to have an orthopedic condition such as missing limbs or damaged muscles.

Any veteran with and Honorable Discharge from active-duty military service meets the service criteria to qualify for VA disability benefits. Reservists and National Guardsmen mobilized or activated for service may also qualify.

You may currently cope with a condition or an illness that affects your mind or body and links back to your military service. In that case, you may have criteria qualifying you to receive a VA Disability Rating. Even common conditions like back or knee pain, GERD, PTSD, and more may relate to your military service.

Your service may cause problems that develop years later, like exposure to environmental toxins or Agent Orange. Even without active-duty medical records, these medical conditions can be service-connected by your physician and attorney. Whether your military service directly caused or only aggravated your disability, it is worth determining whether you merit service-connected disability benefits.

Claims Process

In Pennsylvania, most if not all Counties provide free assistance to veterans through a veterans’ service officer. But undergoing the claims process for VA disability or any other VA benefits can be lengthy and daunting. Applications can be denied for the smallest of mistakes. Moreover, the administrative appeals process can be both difficult and lengthy. Sadly, many veterans give up. Turning for assistance to an attorney with specialized knowledge and experience with veterans’ benefits is sometimes necessary.

Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam

After overcoming complex claims paperwork and submitting all requirements, veterans may face another hurdle. The VA may schedule a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination.

The VA may require a veteran seeking disability benefits to have this medical exam, which assesses the severity of the veteran’s condition. The VA can deny a veteran’s application if they do not attend the evaluations. Results of the C&P Examination become part of your file, and attendance is crucial for claim approval.

Don’t Confuse with Other Similar Disability Benefits

VA disability benefits do not prohibit employment. Veterans may confuse disability benefits with a VA program called Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). To qualify for TDIU, a veteran must be unable to keep or obtain a job. Veterans with a VA rating for a disability can receive benefits and still maintain employment without limitation.

Often a veteran will confuse Social Security Disability benefits with VA service-connected disability benefits. These are two separate programs, and you can be eligible for both. Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits will not automatically make a veteran eligible for VA disability benefits, and vice versa.

Mental health claims and treatment can also create confusing issues for veterans regarding their legal rights. A VA mental health rating and mental incompetence are not the same things. A VA rating for mental health will not put a veteran at risk of losing constitutionally protected rights. There are instances where an individual can be mentally incompetent without the presence of depression, anxiety related to chronic pain, or PTSD.

Mental health benefit claims are as important and valid as physical claims. Before you discount these powerful claims, consult with your attorney. They can help you understand your situation and protect benefits that may be due to you.

Filing VA claims can be stressful, particularly when you have a limited understanding of the forms, procedures, and deadlines. Other complex legal issues can also lead to benefits claim denials. Be sure to take a practical approach to processing applications that maximizes your ability to qualify and secure approval. US military veterans seeking VA disability have a much better chance at success with the guidance of an attorney.

What About Aid & Attendance Benefits?

Veterans whose incapacity is not service-connected but who require costly long-term care either at home or in a facility can qualify for a VA pension benefit to offset the cost of that care. This is commonly referred to as “Aid & Attendance”.  Most veterans will meet the service criteria for this program, which include active-duty service during wartime (which is defined to cover longer periods than one would imagine). But there are stringent financial eligibility criteria similar to those applicable to Medicaid. In such situations you will need the assistance of an elder law attorney knowledgeable and experienced with both VA Aid & Attendance and Medicaid. Planning measures can be quite complex when seeking to coordinate application for Veterans’ Aid & Attendance benefits with the ability to qualify for Medicaid if needed in the future.  Finally, note that veterans who qualify for multiple VA benefits, such as VA Disability and also VA Aid & Attendance will retain eligibility for the higher-paying benefit but lose the other.

The lawyers at Vasiliadis Pappas Associates have assisted many veterans with their estate planning. Contact us today, we can help!