Since President Biden signed the Pledge to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. (opens in a new tab) as of August 2022, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has already received over 100,000 (opens in a new tab) new applications for disability compensation. With more veterans entering the system every day, it’s important that they understand how to approach the filing process with confidence and avoid the mistakes veterans make with disability benefits.
As veterans try to get their full earned benefits as quickly as possible, there are some key mistakes to avoid and resources like Allsup’s Veterans Disability Appeal Services. (opens in a new tab) – can make a world of difference.
Mistake #1: Waiting too long to file
When injured in the line of duty, a member’s first impulse may be to try to walk through it. However, even if they are able to clench their teeth at first, the injury or exposure can get worse with age, especially if left untreated. According to Allsup’s VA Disability Benefits Survey (opens in a new tab), the second largest group of veterans applying for benefits (29%) file claims 10 or more years after separation. But the VA approval process doesn’t happen overnight. On average, the VA takes 127 days (opens in a new tab) to process a disability claim, and this time frame can quickly extend when complications and appeals are added to the equation.
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Filing claims now ensures veterans have quick access to all services and benefits before their condition becomes serious.
Mistake #2: Having an incomplete diagnosis or treatment history
Although veterans themselves know their health history and conditions, if they have not been diagnosed by a doctor, their medical records may be unclear or incomplete. Also, if a veteran has seen civilian doctors for treatment, the medical history that the VA needs to make an accurate assessment of disability classification may be fragmentary.
However, when veterans know their options and have a VA-accredited claims agent to guide them, this problem is easy to solve. Veterans can upload their records through the eBenefits system (opens in a new tab) or rely on the VA’s “duty of assistance.” (opens in a new tab),” whereby the VA tracks missing or incomplete medical records from civilian providers.
Mistake #3: Not showing a clear connection
The lack of a clear connection between health status and a service-related injury or exposure is a common problem. To receive adequate benefits, veterans need a full account of the circumstances surrounding their injury or exposure. For example, a person with cancer filing an exposure claim must provide a clear explanation of what, where, how, and why the incident relates to their condition.
This link is even more crucial after the historic PACT Act (opens in a new tab), which accepts more claims for service-related illnesses such as respiratory illnesses, cancer and radiation-related illnesses for veterans who were exposed to burns, Agent Orange or other toxic substances. Being able to outline this connection is not only important for the initial filing, but specific and consistent claims strengthen a veteran’s case if they must appeal.
Mistake #4: Neglecting to file for priority review of appeals
The VA offers an expedited appeals review process for veterans who need it to help them receive earned benefits faster. Veterans age 75 and older automatically submit their appeals for Advanced on Docket status (opens in a new tab), but veterans can request priority review if they have a serious illness, are in financial hardship, or have other sufficient cause for an expedited appeal review. Moving your appeal to the forefront is a simple process that can help veterans get their benefits quickly.
Mistake #5: Not claiming unemployment as a result of disability
If a veteran’s service-connected disability impairs their ability to work, they may be eligible for Individual Unemployment (IU) (opens in a new tab), making them eligible for additional compensation and insurance in addition to their VA disability benefits. However, our survey shows that nearly half of veterans don’t understand their disability benefits and are therefore missing out on the resources they deserve.
IU recognizes that even without a 100% disability rate, veterans may experience chronic symptoms that severely affect their employability. Veterans can file this claim without affecting their permanent VA disability benefits, and it can give them a more substantial support system than they would otherwise receive.
By avoiding these mistakes, veterans can manage their health with their service-earned benefits. For active duty military, a basic understanding of VA disability benefits now can help ensure they are better equipped to navigate the process if they ever need to apply.
Thousands of service members receive VA benefits for service-connected health conditions. Consulting veterans who have been through the process before and Allsup’s VA-accredited claims agents for guidance can help veterans access their rightful benefits with ease.
This article was written by and represents the views of our contributing advisor, not the Kiplinger editorial team. You can check the advisers’ records with the SEC (opens in a new tab) or with FINRA (opens in a new tab).