Generally, a combination of a medical diagnosis, the disability’s symptoms, and its effect on the Veteran’s everyday life determines the amount of benefits the disabled Veteran receives. A change in any one of these areas could significantly, and positively, affect your VA disability rating. The amount of monthly financial benefits depends primarily on the disability rating. Free VA medical care, an equally-important benefit, is typically available to all disabled Veterans, regardless of the extent of disability.
Evidence on all these points is relatively easy to obtain. But different kinds of evidence are more effective in different situations. The most important are medical exams and your own statements. Additionally, presentation is important. An ordinary dinner looks much more appetizing when a professional chef arranges it on a plate. In the VA disability context, the professional you need is an experienced VA disability lawyer.
Lay statements have to be competent. That means they have to be something a non-expert would know. Usually, this means you or a friend can describe what symptoms you experience and when they started but not what your medical condition is. Even after you have a diagnosis, watch out any time you find yourself saying your condition caused your symptoms. That usually needs a doctor to say it.
Where lay statements shine is in describing your condition. Imagine you have service-connected arthritis. Without lay statements, VA would rate this based on medical evidence about how far you can bend the joints. But if a family member sends in a statement saying that the pain stops you from climbing stairs, that shows functional loss that might entitle you to a higher rating. Make sure VA has a complete description of your symptoms and of what it means for your daily life.
In most C&P-based claims, the Veterans themselves provide all the information related to their physical symptoms. That is allowed, but is usually a bad idea. Nobody likes the idea of depending on government benefits, so many Veterans subconsciously downplay their own symptoms. There could be a medical reason, as well. The brain sometimes conceals its own injuries. Therefore, many Veterans, especially those with brain injuries, do not know how badly they are hurt.
Statements from friends, family, colleagues, and other individuals are often very valuable in these situations. These people are not medical or legal professionals, and that is the point. They simply relate what they see about how a disability affects a Veteran.
Independent Medical Examination
VA disability claims often feature a Compensation & Pension (C&P) medical examination. A VA doctor examines the petitioner, focusing on the complained-of areas, and assesses the applicant’s medical condition. Frequently, this examination provides enough medical evidence to make a decision one way or the other. Claims Examiners and Administrative Law Judges usually trust C&P results and take them at face value. There are some exceptions. For example, the C&P doctor might focus on a certain disability area. A physician who focuses on head injuries might be unfamiliar with back problems. Or the C&P examination might happen on a good day, when the Veteran’s disability is not as severe. Usually, Veterans have no choice as to the doctor or appointment time. They just get what they get. If that happens, you should make sure VA knows the exam does not accurately reflect your disability. Your attorney can help you determine how to tell VA this.
If the C&P exam falls short for any reason, attorneys usually order independent medical exams. An independent doctor reviews the Veteran’s medical history, conducts a physical examination, and prepares a report. Veterans have complete control over who performs this examination and when they do it. IMEs usually cost nothing upfront. These providers usually agree to defer billing until the claim is resolved. As a bonus, IME physicians are not one-trick ponies. If they see other health red flags, they know how to handle them.
Sometimes, the best way to increase financial benefits is not to increase the rating, but to optimize the existing ratings. Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability allows partially-disabled Veterans to receive 100% disability benefits. Generally, Veterans are eligible for TDIU if they have a single 60% disability, or a combination of conditions which add up to a 70% disability, and they cannot find substantial, gainful employment in an unsheltered environment. How it adds up is complicated — for instance, a 30% rating and a 40% rating combine to 60%, not 70%. You can learn more about VA math here.
The important question is whether your disabilities make it impossible for you to hold substantially gainful employment. That can be true even if they don’t have ratings that look high enough. “Substantial, gainful employment” usually means a job which lifts the Veteran and any dependents above the poverty line. If you have SGE outside of a sheltered environment, you are not eligible for TDIU. Sheltered environments include family businesses which give Veterans accommodations that are unavailable elsewhere.
Contact Dedicated Attorneys
The initial VA disability rating is not set in stone. For a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box to your right. We are here to represent Veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.