Many United States military veterans have injuries or diseases caused or aggravated by their time in service. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show that in 2018, there were over 4.75 million veterans with service-connected disabilities. In fact, the number of disabled veterans has increased dramatically since 1990 even though the total number of veterans has decreased over the same time period. The VA provides benefits to disabled veterans who can prove that their disability was caused or worsened by their military service.
If you think you may be entitled to benefits from a disability caused by your time in the military, the first step is to apply for benefits. If you’ve already applied and had your claim rejected, you can initiate an appeal. In many cases, claims are rejected due to application errors or missing documentation, not the applicant’s ineligibility. Applying for VA disability benefits is often challenging and frustrating, but an experienced disability attorney can simplify and expedite the process.
At The Law Offices of Michael Hartup, we have helped many Tennessee veterans get the benefits they deserve. Our team can explain the eligibility requirements, collect and submit all the paperwork, and work through the appeals process, if necessary. To schedule a consultation, contact our Jackson, Tennessee, office at (731) 424-5559. You can also use our online contact form.
Understanding the Eligibility Requirements for Veterans Disability Benefits
In order to receive Veterans disability benefits, you must meet the VA’s eligibility requirements. While the VA ultimately determines your eligibility based on your unique case, there are several basic requirements you must meet in order to qualify.
To qualify for VA disability, you need to have served in the U.S. military in one of these ways:
- On active duty
- On active duty for training purposes
- On inactive duty for training purposes
Your DD214 papers serve as proof of your military service.
In general, you will have an easier time applying for VA disability benefits if you were honorably discharged (as shown on your DD214). There are also ways to apply if you have an impending discharge.
- The Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program is for service members within 60 to 180 of their upcoming discharge.
- The BDD Quick Start process is for servicemembers with an impending discharge within 60 days.
It is harder to qualify for VA disability benefits without an honorable discharge. However, even if you received an other than honorable, dishonorable, or bad conduct discharge, there are two ways you may become eligible for VA disability payments:
- Apply for a discharge upgrade: You may be able to change your status if you can show that your discharge was due to issues such as PTSD, sexual assault during service, traumatic brain injuries, or sexual orientation.
- Apply for benefits through the Character of Discharge review process: You may request a review of your record to determine if your service qualifies as “honorable for VA purposes.”
Not all injuries or diseases qualify for VA disability benefits. To be eligible, you must prove that you have a “service-connected” condition:
- Inservice disability claim: You sustained an injury or sickness while serving.
- Preservice disability claim: You had an illness or injury prior to serving, and military service made this condition worse.
- Post-service disability claim: You have a disability (caused by military service) that didn’t manifest until after your service ended.
You must get a disability rating for your service-connected condition. The VA uses medical evidence to understand the severity of your condition and then calculates a rating. This rating determines how much money you can receive in monthly disability payments.
In some cases, the VA “presumes” your disability is service-connected, which can make your application faster to process. For example, illnesses caused by time spent as a POW or by contact with chemical weapons are presumed disabilities. Many chronic illnesses that appear within one year of discharge may also count as presumed disabilities.
Common Causes of Ineligibility
Sometimes VA disability applications are rejected due to errors in the paperwork or mistakes in the process, even though the applicant meets eligibility requirements. Rejected claims may be appealed. However, there are some circumstances that can make a veteran ineligible for disability benefits:
- The injury or condition was caused by the veteran’s misconduct (such as alcohol abuse)
- The injury occurred during incarceration due to a civil court felony or a military court-martial
- The injury occurred during a dereliction of duty (such as deserting or going AWOL)
Every case is different, so it can be hard to know for sure whether you qualify for benefits. An experienced disability attorney can review your case and help you understand your eligibility status.
Applying for VA Disability Benefits
If you’ve reviewed the eligibility requirements for Veterans disability benefits and believe you qualify, you can follow these steps to apply:
1. Collect Evidence and Documentation
Before you submit your claim, it’s important to make sure you have all the supporting documents you need. This may include private medical records and test results, a doctor’s diagnosis, treatment records, and mental health evaluations. You’ll need to include your DD214 and any other separation documents.
Depending on the details of your situation, you may need to supply other forms, such as those related to PTSD or unemployability. Additional paperwork is required to apply for spousal benefits.
Your application may need to include your military health and personnel records (especially if they are related to the cause of your disability) and your VA medical records. Other supporting documentation can include eyewitness accounts from fellow service members and testimony from family members, friends, and clergy members.
2. Complete the Application
To submit your application, fill out and file an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits form. You may mail the form to the VA or drop it off at a regional VA office. In some cases, you may be able to apply online. Submit all supporting documents with your application form.
Once your claim is filed, you must wait for a response. The VA may contact you to request additional documentation or to schedule a medical exam. According to the VA, it takes an average of 153 days to get a decision on a disability benefits claim.
3. File an Appeal
If your claim is denied, you may appeal the decision. There are three options:
- Supplemental Claim: Request a review of your case based on new evidence not included in your original application.
- Higher-Level Review: Request a new review from a senior-level individual.
- Board Appeal: Request a review and decision from a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
You may try any of these options if your claim is denied, and you can try a different appeal option if the first one doesn’t succeed.
Trust a Qualified Attorney With Your VA Disability Claim
Many veterans are injured in the line of duty or have their existing diseases or disabilities worsened by their military service. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers numerous programs to help disabled veterans and their families. However, the application and appeals processes are overwhelming, and many veterans have their claims rejected due to simple errors. The complexity of the process often discourages eligible veterans to apply in the first place.
At The Law Offices of Michael Hartup, we understand each step of the VA disability application process. Our team of expert disability attorneys is dedicated to helping Tennessee residents who served in the military get the benefits they’re entitled to. We are ready to help you with your initial application or appeal.
Schedule a free consultation with our team through our online contact form. If you prefer to talk directly to someone in our Jackson, Tennessee, office, call (731) 424-5559. To learn more about VA disability benefits, like our Facebook page.