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Advice on Obtaining VA Benefits

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By Debbie Gregory.

Most veterans know that if they experience a disabling event while they are serving, they are entitled to VA disability compensation. But the process may be a little more involved than they might first anticipate. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

The VA will require you to prove you have the condition you are claiming, and that this occurred or was first experienced during service. This can usually be accomplished through a physician’s diagnosis and service records. If the problem wasn’t reported, a buddy or witness statement may suffice.

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Gather as much evidence as you can to support the claim. While the VA will assist you, it’s in your best interest to do the legwork on your own, since no one your case better than you do. Make sure you have a copy of your Official Military Personnel File, and if you don’t, request it from the National Personnel Records Center.

Double check what forms you need to fill out. This is a great time to ask the VA or your Veteran Service Officer for assistance. Their expertise will prevent you from wasting time filling out the wrong forms, and making sure you fill out the ones you need. Stay on top of deadlines and requests for additional information.

If the VA schedules a Compensation and Pension exam for you to meet with a VA examiner, you must show up for the appointment. Failure to do so may cost you your claim.

Don’t underestimate the value of your Veteran Service Officer. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate the system. They can also help you file appeals for denied claims. In addition to State Veteran Affairs Offices, the following organizations also have Veteran Service Officers nationwide:

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

House Considers Trimming Years off VA Appeal Process

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By Debbie Gregory.

Of the hundreds of thousands veterans who file disability claims each year, approximately 10% of them will appeal the decision made on their claim, either because they disagree with the decision, don’t understand it, or are simply exercising their right to do so.

A large percentage of appeals are filed by veterans who are already receiving VA disability compensation, but are seeking either a higher level of compensation or payment from an earlier effective date.

This has caused veterans who are in the appeal process waiting an average of five years for their decision.

VA officials have repeatedly said that without changes in the law governing how often veterans can restart the appeals process, they can only make small improvements.

There are nearly half a million pending appeals cases. In an effort to fix this clearly broken process, members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have debated draft legislation to overhaul the process.

“VA’s current appeals system is slow, cumbersome and just doesn’t serve veterans well,” said Phil Roe, (R-TN). “We have to do better … Congress has to make some changes to give VA the tools it needs to ensure that veterans receive a fair and timely decision on their appeals.”

New options on how veterans could have their cases appealed include waiving the chance to submit new evidence or official hearings in favor of quicker resolutions, or retaining those rights, but facing stricter timelines for submissions and responses. The Open Record, which allows veterans to add evidence at any time in the process to provide extra clarity or strength to their case, seems like a great idea, but if the veteran does submit new evidence, the claims review process starts all over again.

But the Vietnam Veterans of America released a statement calling the proposed legislation problematic, saying it “ignores the need for legal precedent in the VA claims process, limits due process protections, and compromises the non-adversarial, pro-veteran claims system at the convenience of VA.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva

disabled VetsA congressional auditor’s report found that close to 60,000 Veterans are receiving benefits from three separate government entities … and they are within their legal rights.

The Government Accountability Office report found that these “triple dippers” drew around $3.5 billion between military retirement pay, disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security disability compensation.

Most of the recipients received combined benefits of $59,000 per year or less. But approximately 2,300 of these Veterans were in receipt of combined totals of $100,000 or more. The highest payment in 2013 was $208,757 in total benefits!

The permitting of “triple dipping” has caused multiple law makers to call for better coordination among government programs. While not taking away anything that Veterans deserved or have earned through faithful service to their country, they want to find a way to streamline programs.

But those who side with Veterans claim that Veterans are entitled to these payments and concurrent benefits. The argument made is that the Veterans’ retirement pay was earned through years of service in the military, while disability payments are compensation for service-related injuries and wounds; and the two and their compensation should have no effect on the other. In most of these rare cases of “triple dipping,” the Veterans are severely disabled. Approximately four in five Veterans who got triple concurrent payments had a disability rating of at least 50%. And around half of the Veterans receiving triple payments were at least 60% disabled.

Many Americans would find it hard to understand how someone making $86,000 a year in tax-exempt VA income could qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, when civilian workers are disqualified from the program if they make $13,000 a year. And while politicians and the judging-public zoom in on the $59,000 and $100,000 facts, there is one fact that gets forgotten. With these Veterans being mostly 50% or more disabled, their cost of living goes up tremendously. Even with VA healthcare, there are other lifestyle accommodations that need to be made including modifying their homes and vehicles for their disability.

It wasn’t until after the Sept. 11th attacks that Veterans were allowed to concurrently receive both military retirement pay and Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability benefits. Before that, a Civil War-era statute allowed the Pentagon to dock retirement pay dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of disability benefits from the VA.

Congress changed that law in 2002, restoring military retirement pay to Veterans who were also drawing disability benefits from the VA.  When the bill was being debated, then-Senator John Warner from Virginia presented two questions to his fellow senators:

“How can we ask the men and women who have so faithfully served to sacrifice a portion of their retirement because they are also receiving compensation for an injury suffered while serving their country?”

At the time, Sen. Warner acknowledged that allowing Veterans to receive concurrent benefits would have “significant cost,” but Warner also asked; “Is the cost too high? I think not.”

It appears that twelve and a half years later, all of which was spent at war, politicians and the American public might need to reconsider these questions for our now-disabled Veterans.

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Military Connection: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva