Service members in the Armed Forces frequently incur tremendous risks in the defense of our nation – some of which result in debilitating disabilities and injuries. In order to honor the sacrifices of living and deceased veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides injured claimants financial compensation to assist them post-discharge.
Although VA disability benefits are of the utmost importance, accessing them can pose a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to veteran claimants. The appeals process can be convoluted and lengthy, and the quarterly list of backlogged claims is only likely to grow in upcoming months.
Consequently, contracting a veterans disability claims lawyer could prove critical in navigating the VA appeals process and acquiring the compensation you deserve. At Dolman Law Group, PA, our veteran disability attorneys are ready to help. For more information about the strength of your claim and the compensation to which you may be entitled, consider contacting us today at (727) 451-6900.
The Modern Landscape of VA Disability Benefits Law
Through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Department of Veterans Affairs provides crucial financial assistance to veterans who sustained injuries while in service. The benefits take many forms, encompassing:
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
- Dependence and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU)
- Housing Grants
- Specially Adapted Housing
Over the course of the past year, the VA disability benefits process has undergone tremendous changes in the aftermath of the ratification of the PACT Act in August 2022. Modernizing the contemporary procedures of the VBA and streamlining claimants’ ability to access benefits quickly, the PACT Act expanded lists of presumptive conditions and eligibility requirements for the victims of:
- Camp Lejeune
- Burn Pits
- Ionizing radiation
- Agent Orange
- Gulf War Syndrome
Backlogged VA Disability Claims
Nevertheless, claimants still contend with lengthy wait times at every phase of the claims process. For those who are suffering from terminal illnesses or in dire need of financial aid, waiting anywhere from 3 months to 3 years can be exasperating. The wait time for a VA disability benefits claim is usually contingent on the:
- Type of claim
- Number of claimed disabilities and/or injuries
- Complexity of claimed disability and/or injury
- VA evidentiary collection process
Although veterans can take steps to mitigate unnecessary wait times, the speed at which a claim is processed fluctuates from quarter to quarter. On the VA’s website, the weekly progress report for claims resolution provides updates on the rate at which the VBA handles claims.
As of October 2023, the department listed 1,098,487 active disability benefits claims, close to 30% of which are backlogged. The statistics are derived from a survey of active “compensation and pension rating bundles” which address:
- Disability compensation claims
- DIC compensation claims
- Pension benefits claims
Filing an Initial Veterans Disability Claim with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
In order to initiate the claims process, a veteran must submit VA Form 21-526EZ. The shortest of all VA disability benefits proceedings, initial claims are often decided within a period of 96 days.
As part of their submission, veterans must allege and establish a service connection, which refers to the correlation between their time in service and the disability or injury sustained. Although the VA does not require claimants to submit medical documentation and other evidence alongside their initial claim, it does request that they inform the department if and when they intend to do so.
A failure to submit compelling evidence or to request that the VA acquire relevant documentation itself could result in a premature or insufficient resolution of your claim. For preliminary proceedings and submissions, claimants can seek the assistance of a VA-accredited Veterans Service Officer (VSO).
The VA Disability Benefits Appeals Process
After an initial review, many veterans contend that they did not receive a disability rating commensurate to their injuries or financial need. Fortunately, claimants have recourse to the complex appeals bureaucracy embedded within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In contrast to the initial claim submission and resolution process, the appeals phase can take a substantially longer amount of time. It is neither straightforward nor linear, and a claimant has multiple options from which to select. Although the VA prohibits the use of veterans disability claims lawyers for the submission of initial claims, it permits claimants to contract them for the appeals process.
Average Wait Time for Supplemental Claims
One of the most common options in the VA disability benefits appeals process is the submission of a Supplemental Claim (SC). With an average wait time of 137 days, SCs enable veterans to submit additional evidence to substantiate their claims.
This is particularly useful if the VA has denied a claim on the grounds that it did not sufficiently establish a service connection. For claims that involve multiple service connections or request benefits like TDIU, additional documentation in the form of an Supplemental Claim could provide the VA with the evidence it needs to award the desired compensation.
Higher-Level Review Requests with the VA
The Department of Veterans Affairs states that its ideal wait time for a Higher-Level Review request is 125 days. Claimants can seek a Higher-Level Review if they believe that the resolution of an initial claim was either erroneous or insufficient.
However, requesting a Higher-Level Review precludes the submission of additional documentation and, instead, refers a preexisting claim and its evidentiary record to a higher authority in the VBA. Claimants reserve the right to request a Higher-Level Review after a decision for an initial claim or after the submission of a Supplemental Claim.
Appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA)
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) is the penultimate authority in the VA disability benefits appeals process. Oftentimes, claimants appeal to the BVA if Higher-Level Reviews and Supplemental Claims do not result in desirable disability ratings or successful resolutions.
Veterans have three options when appealing an earlier claim to the BVA, all of whose average waiting periods differ:
- Direct Review (365 days)
- Novel evidence submission (550 days)
- Hearing Request (730 days)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)
The body of the highest authority to which claimants can appeal is the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. In contrast to the other levels of the appeals hierarchy, veterans can only seek recourse through the CAVC upon the resolution of their claim by the BVA.
Although the VA prefers to resolve claims successfully at an earlier stage of the appeals process, the CAVC still contends with a high volume of requests. Consequently, its wait time is the longest of any phase of the disability claims proceedings at roughly 6 to 18 months.
Hiring a Veterans Disability Claims Lawyer
Working your way through the VA disability appeals process can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. When compounded with a serious disability or injury for which you are seeking compensation, the years-long ordeal often proves stressful.
Fortunately, claimants reserve the right to find a VA disability benefits attorney to advocate on their behalf. Alongside devising a successful appeals strategy, accredited claims lawyers can assist in:
- Collating medical records
- Acquiring DD-214s
- Preparing persuasive Supplemental Claims
- Submitting Higher-Level Review requests
- Appearing before the BVA or CAVC
Pursuant to VA-imposed standards, veterans disability lawyers are entitled only to 20% of the retroactive payment veterans receive after the successful resolution of their claims. This backpay is determined by the length of time between the submission of an initial claim and its final resolution and the amount in compensation a claimant would have received during that period.
Why You Should Choose Dolman Law Group for Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
With over 120 years of combined experience and the advantageous connections to prove it, Dolman Law Group, PA wants to help you acquire the disability benefits you deserve. Our talented team of qualified VA-accredited lawyers possesses extensive institutional knowledge and can deftly maneuver through the complex landscape of modern VA disability benefits law.
Whether you need assistance in compiling evidence or require more information about how best to proceed, we are prepared to offer you the individualized treatment of a small firm with the heft and resources of a national practice. Prioritizing expedience and diligence, Dolman Law Group will work as tirelessly for you as we have for over 40 thousand clients in the past.
If you have failed in acquiring the disability rating you deserve or have encountered trouble in establishing a service connection, consider contacting us today.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
Waiting years for the compensation you and your family need now can prove infuriating – especially if your injury or disability is life-altering or terminal. That is why Dolman Law’s veterans claims lawyers are on standby to provide guidance, assistance, and results.
In one of our free consultations for prospective clients, we can talk you through the complicated disability benefits appeals process and devise a strategy for success. Although acquiring the compensation you deserve from the VA may appear both arduous and endless, contacting us is an easy and brief step toward concluding a stressful process.
For more information about your eligibility and options, you can reach us at (727) 451-6900 or schedule an initial consultation at one of our local offices today.