In personal injury cases, disability is a critical factor in the outcome of your case. A disability may prevent you from continuing to perform at your current job, or it might keep you from enjoying the daily activities that you undertook before sustaining an injury.
Within the military, current and former members may receive payment from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, also known as the VA. If you or a loved one think you may be eligible for disabled veteran benefits, it is essential to understand your eligibility, as well as the processes for receiving and adjusting your funds.
What Is the VA Disability Rating
The VA disability rating results from a calculated percentage, which measures the extent of your disability. A higher number tends to mean that your condition is severe, whereas a lower one suggests that it is mild. Your medical practitioner measures your disability and assigns a rating by using the VA’s published guidelines for disabilities.
What Do Disabled Veteran Benefits Include
Disabled veteran benefits are a tax-free award that is either paid to you or a family member. These benefits are meant to compensate for disease or injury, whether mental or physical, that was sustained or aggravated during military service.
Four types of compensation are available from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:
- Disability Compensation: This allowance is paid directly to you, as a veteran. It covers primary, as well as secondary disabilities resulting from military service.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Your surviving child, parent or spouse receive this compensation if you suffer fatal injuries while on active duty, as well as inactive and active duty training. If you pass away due to a disability caused by military service, after leaving the military, your surviving family may also receive DIC.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC): This is an additional disabled veteran benefit that can be combined with your disability compensation, as well as DIC. It includes a higher VA disability rating if your spouse or parent requires aid and attendance by a caretaker.
- Claims Based on Special Circumstances: Through this type of compensation, the VA offers other funds for hospitalization, clothing, automobiles, unemployment, dental, congenital disabilities, convalescence and prestabilization. This benefit is available after your application for military disability pay receives approval.
If you are unsure which type of compensation you may qualify for, you can always speak to a trusted lawyer.
What to Know About the VA Disability Rating
Your VA disability rating and pay rate will depend on your degree of disability, which your physician, specialist and any other practitioners will determine. The VA has a set scale to determine your percentage of disability based on your injury or disease.
This scale breaks down your physician’s diagnosis by categorizing the parts of the body. Within 38 CFR Book C, which contains the VA’s disability rating guidelines, you can see how the VA defines the regions of the body.
Areas of the body include:
- Respiratory system
- Endocrine system
- Dental and oral conditions
- Musculoskeletal system
- Impairment of auditory acuity
- Mental disorders
- Digestive system
- Genitourinary system
- Cardiovascular system
- Neurological conditions
- Convulsive disorders
- Organs of special sense
- Hemic system
- Lymphatic system
Within each of these systems, disorders or conditions, the VA has assigned each diagnosis a code, which coordinates with the VA’s guidelines for military disability rates and payments. Disability rates range from 10 to 100 percent and increase in increments of 10 percent.
Under “Impairment of Auditory System,” for example, peripheral vestibular disorders, inner ear and nerve disturbances, are listed as code 6204. There are then degrees of disability with this diagnosis. If you experience occasional dizziness, for instance, that is registered as a 10 percent disability. That rate increases to 30 percent if you also have staggering as a symptom.
Understanding the VA Disability Pay Chart
The disability pay chart simplifies and standardizes disabled veteran benefits as much as possible. Within the table, rates include three different classes:
- With children
- Without children
- No dependents
If you are without children, a few factors can increase your military disability pay and include:
- Living with a spouse
- Living with a spouse and one or two parents
- Living with one or two parents
- Living with a spouse that requires aid and assistance
With children, the following factors affect your military disability pay rates:
- Living with a spouse and child
- Living with a child
- Living with a spouse, child and one or two parents
- Living with a child and one or two parents
- Living with a spouse that requires attendance and assistance
For every child, you will receive additional funds, which increase if your kids are over 18 and in school.
Calculating Your Military Disability Pay
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs makes estimating your military disability pay a simple process, though you will need your military disability rate or percentage from a qualified physician to receive an accurate estimate.
The process for measuring your pay includes:
- Choose the applicable rate table, such as 30 to 60 percent with children.
- Pick the appropriate row, such as Veteran with child, under the “Dependent Status” heading.
- Scan across the row to the coordinating column for your rate, such as 30 percent.
- Receive your estimated rate calculation.
With a 10 to 20 percent disability diagnosis, you will receive the same rate as those with or without dependents. Above a 20 percent disability, the rates are divided by whether children are involved. The presence of a spouse and one or two parents are also variables that affect your rate of military disability pay.
The military disability rate for a veteran with a spouse and one child depends on the percentage of the disability. Additional amounts are added for each child under 18. A separate rate is applied if your children over the age of 18 and are attending school.
Should your spouse require aid and attendance, you will receive an additional stipend. Your disability pay rate also increases if your partner is housebound or needs assistance from a caretaker. If you care for a parent, you are entitled to an additional stipend too, which goes up if you are assisting two parents.
Adjusting Your Military Disability Rates
If you receive approval from the VA to receive military disability pay, you may request changes to your military disability rates due to life changes, worsening symptoms or new conditions that have developed because of your time in the military.
A few considerations to plan for future adjustments include:
- Track your symptoms: Even once you have documented your disability conditions, it is essential to keep track of them. Regular follow-up medical care may discover a worsening of your condition that increases your percentage of disability. If your illness worsens, you may be entitled to additional benefits.
- Update your number of dependents: The number of dependents you have affects your benefit amount. As your family grows, whether by taking in a parent or having a child, make sure you update your military records with the VA. You will also want to notify them once your kids turn 18, or if your spouse requires live-in care.
If you develop multiple disabilities, you will need to use the combined ratings table.
Calculating Combined Military Disability Rates
With multiple disabilities, you cannot add their unique military disability rates together to receive your new rate. Instead, the combined ratings table will provide you with your overall disability rating, which will help you determine your updated disabled veteran benefits. The result of a combination of two scores is found using both axes of the table.
An example of combining ratings is a 30 percent disability for one injury and a 50 percent disability for another. By finding 30 percent and 50 percent on each side of the table, and following the column and row to where they meet, you will see that the combined rating is 65 percent. The table utses a formula the VA developed to make combining multiple disabilities reasonable and fairly applied to all.
If you have a physical and mental disability, both would be combined to determine your VA disability rating. Since the area of the body sets disability percentages, a leg injury and a hearing loss would represent two separate disabilities. They would need to be combined to determine your new military disability pay rate.
Applying for Disabled Veteran Benefits
To begin your application for disabled veteran benefits, you will need to provide the following materials:
The VA requires medical evidence of your injury or disease. Medical records must be submitted to document your condition, the treatment you have received and the loss that is believed to be permanent. In the case of amputations, the permanence of the damage is evident. With other types of injuries, especially soft tissue, it can take some time to demonstrate its longevity.
In the case of soft tissue injuries or injuries resulting in a loss of mobility, the extent of the damage is not immediate. Various treatments, including physical therapy, may help you regain some of the function or movement of your shoulder or leg, for instance. It is only after several months when the recovery qualifies as complete that a physician can adequately assess your disability.
Proof of Relation
The other piece of evidence required when applying for VA disabilities is a connection between your injury and your military service. Injuries sustained in combat, training or other authorized and supervised activities are more straightforward to certify. In the case of a disease that does not present all at once, like cancer, or as a result of sudden trauma, crediting the loss to military service is more difficult.
You may rely on medical opinions to provide evidence that your disease is related to your military service. Certain conditions presumed to be related to your military service include:
- Former prisoners of war
- Tropical or chronic diseases that arise within a specific timeframe after discharge
- Mustard gas, Lewisite or ionizing radiation exposure during military service
- Service in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War
Your disability does not need to present itself while you are still in the military for you to qualify for disability benefits. If you sustained your initial injury during your service, you are entitled to benefits to compensate you for any resulting disability, even if it does not occur until months or even years following your discharge.
The final piece of your case for receiving military disability pay includes your application, which is VA Form 21-526EZ. If you are applying for disabled veteran benefits on behalf of a dependent or yourself following the loss of a family member in the military, you will use a different form, VA Form 21-534EZ, as well as complete a separate application process.
Some of the information you will provide as a veteran within your application include:
- Social security number
- Forwarding address
- Service number
- Service information
- Direct deposit information
If you need assistance filing your claim, a knowledgeable disabled veteran benefits lawyer can help.
Should your VA disability claim be denied, you may appeal it within one year of denial. Having a lawyer’s assistance at this point is often recommended as it can improve your chances of receiving the outcome you prefer, as a disability claim appeal needs to be filed promptly and include new evidence.
Advice for Preparing Your VA Disability Case
Whether you are appealing or preparing your VA disability case, consider these recommendations:
Documentation is critical when applying for VA disability benefits. As soon as you begin to suspect you may have a disability, document everything. Keep a journal of your symptoms, when you experience them, what they feel like, how long they last and how they impact your daily routine. Obtain copies of your medical records every time you seek treatment for this or a related condition.
Do not leave it to the doctors to document your disability. The records you keep about how the injury affects your daily life can be just as crucial as medical records. The dates and times when you experience pain or other symptoms will be critical in building a timeline that connects your injury to your military service. Your symptom journal will also help in assigning a percentage to your injuries.
Ask Friends for Testimony
Your family and friends may also be able to help you claim your disability benefits. Statements from your fellow service-members can document your station history within the military and what conditions you experienced when official records are lost or not accessible. Your family could submit testimony based on what they knew of your physical or mental injuries from emails or other communications sent at the time.
Determine Type of Claim
The VA reviews several different types of claims for disabled military benefits, which include:
Your physician, as well as medical documentation and statements from friends and family, will often note whether the disability developed before, during or after service. In the instance of pre-discharge disabilities, you are applying for disabled veterans benefits before retiring from service.
Request Professional Assistance
Do not be afraid to ask for help when applying for VA disability benefits. Your friends and family can offer assistance, but you may also need a legal advocate who knows the system. The disability rating chart can be difficult to navigate, especially when you have a disability.
Receive Your Military Disability Pay With KBG Injury Law
Serving in the armed forces is a dangerous job, even when you are not in a combat zone. A short tour in the military can result in a physical or mental disability that affects the rest of your life. You should at least get the benefits you deserve after serving your country.
At KBG Injury Law, we have extensive experience helping retired military personnel get the benefits they deserve. Our attorneys can explain the VA disability rating process to you and help you know what to expect from your disability claim.
For help with a VA disability claim or appeal, schedule a free consultation with KBG Injury Law today.
The personal injury attorneys at KBG Injury Law are all experienced litigators. Almost all of them represented insurance companies prior to becoming advocates for injured people, which provides them with a unique perspective and insight into how these companies operate. They also offer extensive courtroom experience if going to trial is the best legal alternative for the client.