The Law of Veterans Disability is very complex and a full discussion of it is way beyond the scope of this brief overview.
There are 2 basic types of Disability Benefits- 1) Service Connected Compensation and 2) Non-Service connected Pension.
Benefits can be for Physical or Mental Disability or for both.
1) Service Connected Compensation basically means the veteran is awarded monthly monetary ( and sometimes non monetary benefits such as a special vehicle for veterans without the use of their legs ) benefits for disabilities that were connected ( related ) to their time in the armed services. ( the most obvious example is that the veteran is wounded in war and his wound causes a disability, however a not so obvious example can be manifestation of symptoms of a disease or condition many months or years after contracting it in service.
In order to establish a service connected disability the veteran ( usually through a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) of a Veterans Service Agency such as The Disabled American Veterans, or other Agency ) must show that he has a current disability that was either caused by or aggravated ( in the case of a pre-existing condition-a condition the veteran had before entering service ) by service. This is usually done through service medical records, military records, and civilian medical records.
If a veteran is able to establish a service connected disability, the next step is for the VA to assign a percentage of disability ( in 10% increments ) under the VA rating system with corresponding dollar amounts for a monthly benefit amount. A veteran can file for an increased rating if he can show his disability should be rated higher now or in the future if his disability worsened.
With Service connected compensation the veteran is allowed to be employed and have substantial assets. It does not matter how much the veteran earns or how substantial his assets are, he can still collect service connected compensation.
2) Non Service Connected Pension.
The details of non service connected pension are too numerous and complicated to discuss in this brief article. However the basic idea is that unlike with service connected compensation, the veteran’ income and assets do matter. If the veteran is otherwise entitled to non service connected pension but his income exceeds the maximum monthly dollar amount for non service connected pension he will not be eligible for benefits. If his income is less than the maximum monthly pension amount, then the veteran will receive the difference between the pension amount and his monthly income amount as his benefit.
The details of the Application for VA benefits and the Appeal of a denial of benefits and the strategy involved are too numerous and complex for a full discussion in this article but the basic procedure is as follows: First the veteran files an application for benefits with the local VA Regional Office (VARO) ( for NY veterans there is a VARO on Houston Street in Manhattan and one in Buffalo ). If the application is denied the veteran, among other options, can request review ( including a hearing ) by the VARO or can appeal to The Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA) by filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VARO’s decision within one year of the decision. The BVA can deny the appeal or grant it or grant it and remand it back to the VARO for a determination of benefits. If the BVA denies the veteran’s appeal the veteran , among other options, can reopen the case at the VARO ( by submitting new evidence ) , make a motion for the BVA to reconsider its decision, appeal to the U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims which was created around 1990 by The Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of Nov 18, 1988.
Legal Fee Restrictions
The previous severe restrictions on legal representation and attorney fees which had resulted in there not being many attorneys practicing Veterans Law, have been changed so that veterans now are able to hire attorneys more easily, although as of now there are still not that many attorneys practicing Veterans Law, however, the number is increasing.
Watch for future articles on Criminal and Civil Law..