While veterans who sustain a disability should be eligible for disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), that’s unfortunately not always the case. There have been numerous reports from all over the country of errors at VA hospitals, sometimes involving veterans being denied the monthly income they deserve for war-related injuries. In some cases, disabled veterans have had to almost go through bankruptcy and sell everything that they have just to support their families, going without the monthly income they’ve earned.
Applying for Benefits
There are a number of conditions that qualify veterans to obtain disability benefits, including one of the most
common: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The VA requires that, in order for you to qualify for benefits, you must have a disability which has been medically diagnosed and which is a disease or injury linked to your service. Where an experienced veterans’ disability attorney can assist you is in establishing your service connection at the time of your application.
It is important to note that a large percentage of benefit claims are denied and/or reduced each year, many of them incorrectly/illegally. In addition, there is often too much delay associated with processing the claims, which can have serious repercussions on veterans and their families and which are discussed in more detail below. These are issues which, again, an experienced veterans’ disability attorney can help you address.
Life-Changing Errors for the Disabled
The VA uses a rating system to decide how much an injured vet is paid in monthly disability checks, and the appeals process can be grueling without an experienced veterans’ disability lawyer by your side. Some have reported it take three to five years for appeals to be resolved.
Some believe that this could be the result of too much pressure being placed on those processing the claims to get through them quickly, clear up backlogs, and get the vets what they need. However, processing claims too quickly could mean that claims’ specialists are missing key information or even misinterpreting the severity of a vet’s disability as they review medical paperwork to calculate payments.
Others are concerned about a lack of training, particularly when it comes to dealing with specialized claims, such as those related to traumatic brain injuries (TBI), as well as special compensation and ancillary benefits. In fact, due to just one TBI rating error, the VA office’s 2011 report found that one veteran had been underpaid by close to $32,000 for two years.
Proposed Benefit Cuts Could Hurt Many Disabled
Recently, the administration released a plan to cut financial support for aging and disabled vets; cuts that could lead to an estimated 225,000 vets losing their payments, 7,000 of which are over the age of 80.
The budget would first eliminate the Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit for those who served, sacrificed, and have reached the age where they use Social Security benefits. Currently, those veterans eligible for IU have a 60-100 percent disability rating and are paid at the 100 percent rate because they have a service-connected disability and are thus unable to work. The budget proposal would effectively cut these off once veterans becomes eligible to receive Social Security, allegedly in part to pay for an expansion of the Choice program, which allows veterans to obtain health care in the private sector. Overall, the White House Office of Management and Budget projected saving approximately $3.6 billion from these cuts.
The proposal has left many veterans angered over what appears to be a plan to take money from vets in order to give it to medical providers. Some are concerned that the administration is on its way to making the Choice Program mandatory, thereby eroding the VA health care system. And what about young veterans who were disabled at a young age, before they could pay into Social Security or a 401(k)? Or the dependents and eligible survivors of service members who died in the line of duty? Or veterans whose deaths resulted from a service-related injury or disease?
Important Supreme Court Case
Recently, an important case was decided concerning how military retirement pay may be divided up. Historically, disabled veterans have had to decide between their full retirement compensation from the Department of Defense or their VA disability benefit with a reduced retirement annuity (a penalty known as the “VA offset”).
In 2003-2004, Congress waived the offset in certain circumstances, allowing those with combat injuries and/or disability ratings of 50 percent or higher to concurrently receive both types of payments, leaving approximately 55 percent of the two million military retirees subject to the VA offset. However, for years, many veterans have argued that Congress should simply remove the VA offset and allow for full concurrent receipt of retirement and disability pay.
In May, the Supreme Court heard arguments implying that Congress had intended for veterans to keep their disability pay because it provides support where they will be unable to make that income in the future. This is because protecting a veteran’s pay is not temporal in nature. In addition, the attorney representing veterans’ rights argued that the court had already decided that state courts could not treat retirement pay that had been waived to receive veterans’ disability benefits as an entity that could be divided. The Supreme Court found in favor of this argument, ruling that state courts do not have the authority to take a veteran’s disability benefits.
Experienced Veterans’ Disability Lawyers Serving Louisiana
Applying for your disability benefits, or appealing your case, can be beyond challenging. If all of the details aren’t in order, it is easy for your application to be denied. In some circumstances it can also be difficult to ensure that you hold onto those benefits you have earned.
Fortunately, there is help. If you live in New Orleans or a surrounding area, our veterans’ disability attorneys can meet with you and answer any questions you might have concerning about eligibility and benefits. Contact us today for more information and a free consultation.