By Dan Griffiths
Of the many groups and resources available to support veterans with disabilities, Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest proponents. In support of veterans who became ill or injured during military service, VA offers a monthly, tax-free disability compensation. These benefits also extend to veterans whose service may have made an existing condition worse. Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) and Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) clients may qualify for these disability benefits and/or an increase in their benefits for conditions both physical and mental that developed before, during, or after service.
The VA’s disability benefits site, a good starting point when preparing to apply for disability benefits, explains how and when a veteran can first file a claim for service-connected benefits, what to do if a veteran wants to request more benefits, and how to submit new evidence to support a claim that the VA previously denied. The following provides a high-level overview of the different types of claims and the process associated with each.
Pre-discharge claims for transitioning veterans
Many veterans are unaware that they can file a claim for disability benefits as early as 180 to 90 days before finishing their military service. As a Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialist or case manager, you can help transitioning veterans who qualify for the VA’s disability benefits to file their claims sooner than later in an effort to speed up the claim decision process. This approach helps to reduce the risk that a veteran’s disability becomes a significant barrier to employment (SBE) since it shortens the gap between leaving military service and receiving disability benefits. The Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program outlines the process required to file a claim and what to do if a veteran client has less than 90 days left on active duty.
During the intake and triage process, DVOP specialists and case managers can assist veterans to identify their disability compensation status, needs, and any potential changes. This may result in facilitating the process through direct information and referrals if an increase is considered.
There are three different courses of action veteran clients can take when applying for an increase in disability benefits:
- Request compensation for a new disability;
- File for an increase to an existing disability because the condition has gotten worse; or,
- Disagree with the VA’s current disability rating decision. For this course of action, if a veteran wishes to dispute the VA’s decision on their disability as being too low or if it was denied, they can file a “Notice of Disagreement”, also known as an appeal. Veterans can file an appeal with any decision made by the VA, the initial rating, or any subsequent rating.
Before filing a claim, DVOP specialists and case managers should inform their veteran clients of the possible outcomes when requesting a disability rating increase so that they are prepared for the best- and worst-case scenarios.
When submitting a claim, there are two different approaches – one that can reduce the administrative burden on veteran clients and one that allows veterans to gather the claim documentation themselves:
- Standard disability claims – Submitting this type of claim will request the VA to take more responsibility and time for gathering the evidence they need to make a decision.
- VA Fully Developed Claims program – This program allows for a quicker decision on a veteran’s disability benefits claim because they take on the responsibility of building and submitting evidence along with their claim. Understandably, this requires more front-end work in which the client may need support in understanding the process and accessing military service and healthcare documentation, and medical examinations. If help is needed, it is a best practice for DVOP specialists and case managers to assist with identifying available supportive resources and to follow through with appropriate referrals.
The processes and resources presented in this article are intended to enhance JVSG and HVRP program staff’s understanding of how and when their veteran clients may request increases to their VA disability benefits. When our programs support veterans during this process, we help mitigate risks associated with veterans experiencing disabilities and the risk of those disabilities becoming significant barriers to employment.