For the past couple years, ABS has participated in several area Stand Down events for homeless veterans. We provide free consultation about the VA disability claims process as well as answer general questions about individual claims. We also provide reusable grocery bags and information about how veterans can contact us if they need further assistance with their claims.
These events are simultaneously inspiring and sobering. And while we never cease to be saddened by the unfortunate circumstances that so many of our honorable veterans have found themselves in, we are often even more disturbed by the misinformation that many veterans and their family members receive about the VA disability benefits system.
First of all, it is always important to understand that, in order to receive an award of service-connected disability benefits, you must suffer from a disability which is related to your active military service. This means that it either began while you were in service, or that it was caused by something that you experienced during service. And in most cases, whether or not your disability is related to service is a question that must be answered by a medical treatment provider.
A couple of situations that are often a source of confusion are claims for non-service-connected pension and whether VA can take away benefits you have been awarded if you file an appeal.
If you are still waiting for your claim for service-connected benefits to be awarded, and you served during a period of war, you may be entitled to an award of non-service connected pension (NSP). You can apply for both at the same time. If you are awarded NSP, you can still pursue a claim for service-connected benefits. If you are a totally disabled veteran who served during a period of war, you should always ask for NSP at the same time you ask for service-connected benefits. If you are awarded NSP, this will at least get you some initial monthly income. And, as we all know, something is better than nothing.
And, if you are awarded VA disability benefits, but you are not given a disability rating that accurately reflects the severity of your condition, you have the right to appeal that decision. Contrary to what many veterans are told, VA cannot take your benefits away, or reduce your disability rating, just because you file an appeal. VA cannot penalize you just because you exercise your right to disagree with its decision. If someone tells you otherwise, they are wrong. The only instance in which you should not appeal your claim is when no additional benefits are available. For instance, if you have been given the highest disability rating under the law, or you been awarded the earliest effective date for your award of benefits. Unless there is no legal basis or evidence that supports a higher rating or an earlier effective date, you have every right to disagree with VA’s decision and request an appeal to either the Board of Veterans Appeals or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The only caveat is that this is the best time to find an attorney to help you. This is the point at which you will need someone who knows what the law says, and who can review your file to determine whether VA complied with its obligation and that it correctly applied the law to the facts of your case. Whether you use ABS or someone else, you should look for an attorney who has experience with the VA disability benefits system, and how it works.