Over the years we’ve met and helped many Veterans get the disability benefits they deserve. But the application process for VA disability benefits is rarely smooth and effortless. They always ask for more information and a plethora of evidence that proves that an injury or illness is related to the Veterans service.
Below we’ve outlined 5 common mistakes that we frequently see with regards to applications for VA disability benefits. These mistakes can cause the VA application process to take significantly longer, delaying the benefits and assistance that our Veterans need. We hope this article is helpful for Veterans who are currently applying for benefits and for those active service members who may need benefits one day.
#1 Waiting Too Long to File
There’s a age-old stigma that men and women in the military have to be tough and just fight through any injury they might suffer during combat or service. These men and women are expected to just “rub some dirt on it” and keep going. But you can’t do that if you ever expect to receive VA benefits for an injury or exposure during your service.
Throughout my years of serving Veterans, I’ve heard story after story where service members were injured and didn’t do anything about it. One guy I know was in a mortar accident where a mortar fragment hit him in the chest. Luckily he was wearing his flak vest, but it still blew him several feet from where he was standing. He was injured, but he chose not to report it.
30 years later he’s remembering that instance and thinking he should have said something or reported the injury. Injuries like these generally get worse with age. That’s why it’s important to document these injuries (minor or major) when they happen and get treatment. This will ensure these injuries and diagnoses are on your medical records and will significantly increase your chances of having your claim for VA disability benefits approved.
If you were exposed to agent orange or other toxic chemicals, you probably won’t show any signs of contact immediately. You might have gotten a little rash and didn’t think much of it. But those toxins get in your body and can modify your DNA over time. You might not have been affected then, but now your body starts to change and develop serious problems like cancer, diabetes, and more.
Did you know that 30% of Veterans submit claims for VA disability benefits 10 years or more after their service ends? That’s a large number. And the longer you wait, the worse your condition will get. Also, you’re losing a significant amount of time where you could be getting the treatment you need and having the VA pay for it.
Filing early helps you get access to services and benefits before your condition gets worse. If your condition changes or worsens after being approved for VA disability benefits, we can file a change in circumstance to help you receive even more benefits. If your currently disability rating is 40% but your condition is worsening, we can help you get your disability rating closer to 70% or 80%.
#2 Having an Incomplete Diagnosis or Treatment History
You know your health history better than anybody. But if you haven’t been diagnosed by a medical professional, your medical records are unclear or incomplete as far as your VA disability benefits application goes. Much like the individual I mentioned above that was injured by a mortar fragment, there’s no record of that accident happening.
Another one of our clients was in one of those Bradley fighting vehicles and the gunner was dragging some bullets across the metal of the vehicle. One of the bullets discharged, blew this guy out the turret, and knocked him unconscious for 4 to 5 minutes. 30 years later he’s having issues but there’s no medical record of the event. There was nothing in his service records, treatment records, or hospital records. I know it’s a pain to report these things while you’re in service, but it’s extremely important to document these things so they’re on paper.
If you’re claiming a service-connected disability, make sure your medical records accurately and clearly diagnose that injury that was manifested during your service. If you’re claiming service-connected PTSD, make sure that your medical records clearly diagnose your PTSD. Ensure that you have been to a licensed psychologist who is using the latest diagnostic criteria for PTSD — currently the DSM-5. If you’re having a heart attack, you don’t want to go see a foot doctor. So if you’re having PTSD symptoms, make sure you see the right medical professional.
If you’re claiming injury from toxic exposure, make sure that your medical records clearly and accurately diagnose your condition. Your records need to indicate that your injury is more than likely caused by your toxic exposure in Vietnam, Thailand, etc. If you have any questions, we can help guide you and your doctors to resolve any confusion.
#3 Not Showing a Clear Service Connection
A service-connected injury is one where there is a clear connection between your current health condition and your military service. This sounds simple but it’s a big problem we face every day with our Veteran clients. If there’s nothing in your medical records that show an injury or diagnosis, we’re going to have a hard time proving a service-connected injury. We need to provide the VA a clear explanation of what happened, when it happened, and how it happened.
There are many different ways to prove that an injury is service-connected. If it’s in your military records, that will greatly increase your chances of having your application approved. If it’s not in your military records, we then have to provide a clear explanation of what happened, where it happened, and how it links the incident to your condition. Recall that there are some presumptive conditions listed under the new PACT Act. These presumptive conditions makes things easier for us if you have on one of those listed presumptive conditions and served in the areas defined in the PACT Act.
Connecting your illness or injury to your service is critical when applying for VA disability benefits. It is extremely vital to your initial filing because it adds significant strength to your case. We want to have strength on our side when we apply for VA disability benefits for our clients. We want there to be no doubt that can be presented by the VA to deny your claim.
#4 Neglecting to File for Priority Review of Appeals
Did you know that the VA offers expedited appeals for Veterans who need help to receive their VA disability benefits faster? There’s a list of those available on the VA website. If you’re over the age of 75, homeless, or have a serious illness like terminal cancer, you may be eligible for expedited appeals. You just need to make sure you have a doctors note to submit with the appeal.
I have a client who is 82 years old and served in Vietnam as a radio operator. We asked for expedited review because of his age and we haven’t gotten any feedback from the VA. We called them and they said that we haven’t provided any proof that he is 82. We told them that they have a copy of his DD214 which includes his birthday. This is the kind of stuff we deal with daily. The VA likes to give Veterans the runaround over and over again, but we’re doing our best to get this client the VA disability benefits he deserves.
#5 Not Claiming Unemployability as a Result of Your Disability
In most cases a service-connected disability results in the inability to be gainfully employed. And while it may not prevent you from working all jobs, that disability certainly limits the type of job you can have. If you have knee or back problems, you are likely not able to bend, lift, or stand for long periods of time. This is why it is important to tell the VA that you can’t perform certain jobs due to your disability.
If you are unemployable, you are eligible for additional compensation and insurance on top of your VA disability benefits. Over half the Veterans we meet don’t really understand this component of VA disability benefits, and it’s unfortunate because they’ve missed these important benefits prior to meeting with us. But we try to file for unemployability benefits as soon as they meet with us. You don’t have to have a 100% disability rating to be approved. You just need to prove that you suffer from chronic symptoms that affect your employability.
Claiming unemployability doesn’t affect your current VA disability benefits, but it does provide a better support system than you would otherwise receive. These benefits can be obtained for a wide variety of conditions or chronic illnesses. You just have to prove that the condition prevents you from being active in the workforce.
Contact Us So We Can Help!
By avoiding these mistakes you can better manage your health with your service-earned and well-deserved VA disability benefits. You were out there keeping us free and you were injured or exposed to toxic chemicals. We thank you for your sacrifice.
If you are currently on active duty, be sure you have a basic understanding of VA disability benefits now because that will help to ensure that you are better equipped to navigate the process in the future if you ever need to apply. Just remember to always document everything. If you suffered an injury but didn’t go to a hospital, be sure to get the names of your comrades who were there to witness the event. That will help us be able to contact them in the future so they can help substantiate your claim.
There are thousands of service members who receive VA disability benefits for service-connected health conditions. We use our experience with Veterans who have gone through the process and our knowledge of the rules to help Veterans and their families receive the benefits they deserve. The spouses and families sacrificed while these men and women were fighting for our freedom, so they deserve consideration as well.
If you need assistance with VA disability benefits or have questions about your application, don’t hesitate to contact us. You can complete this form or give us a call at (229) 226-8183. You can also send us an email to [email protected].
If you’d like to see this blog in video format, you can watch it below. Please be sure to SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel and click the bell notification button so that you’re notified each time we publish a new video.