Receiving Compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs disability provides monthly benefits to veterans in recognition of the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries received or aggravated during active military service. The program also provides monthly payments to surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents in recognition of the economic loss caused by a veteran’s death during military service or, after discharge from military service, as a result of a service-connected disability.  The following is a summary of the VA’s disability compensation programs.

Disability Compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. The benefit amount is graduated according to the degree of the veteran’s disability on a scale from 10 percent to 100 percent (in increments of 10 percent). Compensation may also be paid for disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. Generally, the degrees of disability specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free monetary benefit generally payable to a surviving spouse, child, or parent of Servicemembers who died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, or to survivors of veterans who died from their service-connected disabilities. Parents DIC is an income-based benefit for parents who were financially dependent on a servicemember or veteran who died from a service-related cause.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is an additional tax-free benefit that can be paid to Veterans, their spouses, surviving spouses and parents. For Veterans, Special Monthly Compensation is a higher rate of compensation paid due to special circumstances such as the need of aid and attendance by another person or by specific disability, such as loss of use of one hand or leg. For spouses and surviving spouses, this benefit is commonly referred to as aid and attendance and is paid based on the need of aid and attendance by another person.

Veterans may be eligible for other types of disability compensation once a disability has been determined to be service connected. Special VA disability compensation programs include: individual unemployability, automobile allowance, clothing allowance, prestabilization, hospitalization, convalescence, dental, and birth defects.  Each program has their own special circumstances.  For example, the VA may provide compensation for injuries incurred or aggravated while receiving care from VA, such as medical treatment or vocational rehabilitation.

Automobile Allowance is a program where the VA may provide veterans with a one-time allowance to purchase a new or used car to accommodate a service-connected disability. This benefit is available to Veterans with certain severe service-connected disabilities, such as loss of, or permanent loss of use of, a hand or foot. This benefit can also be used to purchase adaptive equipment. There is also a Clothing Allowance.  The VA may provide an annual clothing allowance to veterans, who use a prosthetic or orthopedic device (including a wheelchair) because of a service-connected disability, or has a service-connected skin condition and uses a medication that causes irreparable damage to outer garments.

Some of the many medical programs are the Birth Defects and Spina Bifida program, where the VA may provide a tax-free monetary allowance to children with Spina Bifida or certain birth defects born to women who served in the Republic of Vietnam or served in or near the demilitarization zone in Korea during certain time periods.  Dental benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) according to law. In some instances, VA is authorized to provide extensive dental care, while in other cases treatment may be limited.

VA may grant a temporary 100 percent disability compensation rating to recover from surgery or immobilization of a joint by a cast without surgery for a service-connected disability.  VA may also grant a temporary 100% disability compensation rating to a Veteran who is hospitalized for more than 21 days for a service-connected disability.

There are so many programs and compensations, each made specifically to meet the needs of the veterans who served our country.  Spread the word to others about the programs, so that veterans can receive compensation.

VA Proposes Changes to Rules On Accepting Disability Claims

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) exists to serve the needs of veterans and their families. But recent proposed changes to VA’s disability benefit system makes it seem as though the VA is more concerned with bureaucratic convenience instead of the department’s real purpose:  making the lives of veterans and their families easier.

For many decades, there have been a variety of options for submitting a disability claim that a veteran seeking disability benefits could use to start the process.  Even writing a handwritten note explaining the conditions and disabilities that the veteran contracted in service could serve to open the claims process.

The application process is known for being flexible in starting its claims, and for a couple of important reasons.  For example, the VA counts the first submission as the beginning of the claims process.  This is extremely important to veterans applying, because it can take months and years to actually adjudicate the disability application, and once the VA has awarded a claim, the veteran would receive all the money they would have received back to the date of initial submission.  Potentially, that could be thousands of needed dollars for the veteran and his or her family.

But now the VA is proposing to change the way they have been doing it, which is the fair and humane approach, to only allowing veterans to apply online or to complete a standardized form by hand.  Under this new rule, the “informal claims process,” as they call it, would give way to the “future.”

All in all, this may look like a positive step.  After all the debates and stories over the VA’s ability to run all of their programs, it seems the VA is taking steps toward greater efficiency in the claims process, which is what we want government agencies to do.  But what’s worrisome about what the VA is doing, is that they are adopting a highly selective form of efficiency that will shift heavier burdens on many of the most vulnerable veterans.

Veterans are a very diverse population with many at different places in their lives. For an older veteran who has been homeless, or a veteran who has been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, a handwritten disability claim may be the best that he or she could do.  The homeless veteran, for example, may lack the resources, like a computer and internet, or money to use the café.  They may not have the ability or opportunity to file online or to complete a detailed application form.

Under these new rules, the veterans who are suffering under these circumstances are likely to be severely penalized, since it would give the VA more power to delay the claims, or not accept the claims that they judge incomplete.  The new application system is being considered a victory for bureaucratic efficiency, but it hurts and isolates those veterans who are most in need of help from the VA.

This proposal should come as no surprise as you look at the recent, disturbing trend the VA is making.  The VA is becoming more complex and less user-friendly in all of its programs as it turns to “technology.”  Veterans who are trying to complete claims and forms for the VA are being forced to spend money and turn to outside veterans service officers, experts in navigating the bureaucratic minefield of the benefits process, for help.  Despite what the VA thinks, greater complexity will not make it easier to serve the needs of veterans and their families.

So if the VA wants to solve the problem of efficiency, where should it look?  Veterans are very fortunate to have a strong advocacy presence in the form of veterans service organizations (VSO).  These organizations work to represent the interests of military veterans and their families, and they would be more than willing to consult with the VA.  Many of the VSO community objected to the proposal and new rules, and have other ideas as to how to increase efficiency at the VA with the veterans in mind.  The VA should consult closely with the VSO community in making these decisions to determine a better way to handle the transition toward the standardized application, making sure that no veteran is left behind.

 

 

Veteran’s Disability Claims May Now Be Submitted Electronically

A problem that has been plaguing the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and Veterans alike is the time that it takes for Veteran’s disability claims to go through the system.  Many times, it takes longer than a year to get the papers through the system and an answer to the Veteran about whether he/she qualifies for any sort of benefits. But that problem is about to become history with the introduction of the new eBenefits.

The availability of the joint VA-Department of Defense Web portal eBenefits, which now integrates with the new internal Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) electronic claims processing system enables disability compensation claims to be processed faster in a more end-to-end electronic environment, and marks a huge milestone in the VA’s goal to change from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, and eliminate the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015. VBMS has now been fielded at all 56 Regional Offices across the country, ahead of schedule, and the VA is urging all Veterans and their Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representatives to make full use of its capabilities to receive speedier decisions and reduce the backlog of claims.

“There are so many advantages to making this move from paper to digital – for both Veterans and VA,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “Veterans can now file their claims online through eBenefits like they might do their taxes online.”

By filing electronically, any compensation benefits that are awarded will be effective back to the date the Veteran began entering their claim information in eBenefits.  Each Veteran has up to one year from the date they started entering their claim to gather all necessary records and hit “Submit” to preserve their original date of claim. eBenefits also allows Veterans to upload digital images of records and evidence to support their claim, bypassing the need to mail in personal records and wait for confirmation of receipt.

VA is advising Veterans to gather and submit all relevant medical records and file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) in eBenefits.  An FDC entails entering all available evidence at the time the Veteran submits his/her claim and verifying to the VA that they have no more evidence to submit.  Veterans who file an FDC will receive priority processing over traditional claims, and the VA can typically process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim.  Best of all is that there is no risk to Veterans filing an FDC. If VA finds that there is a piece of relevant evidence missing from the claim, but is needed for a rating decision (like private medical records), claims processors will work to obtain that evidence on the Veteran’s behalf and process the claim in the traditional way.

Once logged into eBenefits, Veterans can also choose to have an accredited VSO representative assist with their claim submission by filing an electronic power of attorney form. Then, with proper authorization in a companion portal, the chosen VSO representative will be able to see the contents of a Veteran’s claim, track its status, and add additional information when needed. A Veteran and VSO Representative can even work on the claim at the same time while both are logged into the system, creating the opportunity for the VSOs to assist more Veterans in their homes.

VA will still accept claims in paper form, though processing may take longer than an electronically-submitted claim would. As of the summer of 2013, VA scans all new paper claims and uploads them into VBMS so they too can be processed electronically, though without many of the benefits provided when Veterans initiate the process in eBenefits, such as guided questions that help ensure complete and accurate information, and an immediate receipt of information without having to wait for the scanning and processing of paper documents.  In addition to filing claims online, Veterans who register with eBenefits can track their claim status and access information on a variety of other benefits, like pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and other programs.

A free Premium eBenefits account is required to file claims electronically.  The quickest method of establishing a free premium eBenefits account is to complete the remote verification process through the eBenefits home page at www.ebenefits.co

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