Frequently Asked Questions About VA Disability
Answers From Our SC Vet Advocates at Bluestein Attorneys
Whether you hire an attorney is a very personal decision. It can also be the most important decision you will make during your claim process. An experienced attorney does much more than tell your side of the story to the VA. First and foremost, an experienced attorney ensures that the VA follows the law when deciding your claim. An attorney also knows what evidence is needed to prove your claim, and can help you get that evidence. Finally, an attorney will work for you! Although the VA is charged with assisting the veteran, an attorney will provide personalized representation.
Although an attorney does submit letters to the VA in support of your claim, he does much more. He will also help you find the missing evidence, and may even help you pay for experts. Also, an attorney will become the primary point of contact with the VA. This means that you will no longer have to respond to every letter or request from the VA. Most importantly, an attorney brings to the fight knowledge and experience of the law. He ensures the VA follows the law in all decisions, and will be on the front lines fighting for you.
An attorney cannot guarantee you will be successful in you claims. If any attorney guarantees a win, walk away. Ultimately, the VA decides whether or not to grant your claims. All that an attorney can do is ensure you provide sufficient evidence to support your claim, and ensure the VA follows the law when making a decision. It is possible for the VA to deny your claim while following the law.Except under limited circumstances, an attorney cannot make the VA move any faster on your claim. There are certain laws and procedures which give some veterans higher priority when deciding their claims. Normally this is for extreme circumstances like advanced age, terminal illness, or homelessness.However, where you have a long standing claim, and the VA refuses to act, an attorney may be able to help you obtain a court order mandating the VA to process your claim. An attorney can also maneuver your claim through the right procedural route to obtain the quickest decision.
An attorney fee, or the amount an attorney charges for his representation at the VA, is controlled by federal law. To start, the law says all fees must be reasonable. Whether or not a fee is reasonable depends on the type of claim, the amount of work done toward winning the claim, and a multitude of other factors. However, an attorney cannot charge for any work done unless certain criteria have been met. The VA makes a decision whether or not a fee is allowed, and if that fee is reasonable. You will have an opportunity to appeal any fee awarded. Although attorneys can charge an hourly rate or a flat fee, most attorneys charge a contingent fee. This means that the attorney only gets paid if the veteran gets past due benefits. This also means that if an attorney agrees to help you, he has motivation to get you the largest amount of back pay that he can.
An attorney certified to represent veterans at the VA can represent any veteran at any Regional Office anywhere in the world. Our attorneys also represent veteran at the Court of Appeal for Veterans Claims.
Once the VA denies your claim, or does not give you the full benefits you think belong to you, you have one year to appeal. You have 120 days to appeal a final board decision. If you are thinking about hiring an attorney the sooner you get one involved the better he can help you.The type of appeal you choose (Decision Review Officer vs. Traditional Appeal Process) will determine how long you wait for another decision. An attorney can help you choose the best route for the best result. Also, an attorney will generally need to see all of your VA records before he will know if he can help. As with everything at the VA, this takes time.
Usually, a veteran is denied service connection for one of two reasons. Either he cannot prove an in-service injury or event or he cannot show a nexus between his service and claimed disability. Sometimes, a veteran is denied because he cannot show a current disability. Veterans are also infrequently denied for other reasons.Regardless of the reason for your denial, an attorney can help you figure out exactly why you were denied, find the missing evidence, and present that evidence to the VA – all the while explaining to the VA how the law supports your claims.
Rating disabilities can be very complicated. An attorney can advise you on the proper rating you should receive, and help you obtain and explain the evidence to get the maximum rating possible. This is especially true when your disabilities prevent you from working or are otherwise extremely disabling.Based on our experience brain injuries; mental health disorders like PTSD and depression; and orthopedic disabilities are routinely rated too low.
When a veteran has been fighting with the VA for years and decades trying to get service connection, she may feel that the back pay should go all the way back to when she first asked for benefits. Generally speaking, the effective date is the date you filed your most recent claim. However, the rules for when a claim was filed, and when a prior claim is final are very complex.
Losing a spouse is a life changing, difficult time in one’s life. Having to fight the VA for benefits, while trying to mourn and adjust to your loss can sometimes be overwhelming. Although a claim for survivor benefits can be filed at any time, a surviving spouse has one year from the date of death to file a claim in order to receive the full benefits available.If your veteran spouse died from a condition related to his active service you may be entitled to a monthly compensation benefit. If you have dependent children they may be entitled to education benefits. This is true even if your spouse was not getting any benefits from the VA, or was not getting any benefits for the cause of death.Although an attorney normally does not represent claimants when filing a claim, a surviving spouse may be able to continue a claim or appeal from the veteran’s lifetime. The sooner you contact an attorney, the better he can advise you of your rights.
Ultimately, you must decide when you want to stop fighting. Although the VA has denied you repeatedly for many years, you may still have a valid claim. An attorney can help you figure out what evidence is missing, obtain that evidence, and present it to the VA.
The attorney will need to see certain information before he can make a decision about helping. At a minimum, he will need the latest rating decision, appeal, statement of the case, or Board decision. He will also need a copy of your DD214, and any other information that you think is important. The more information you give up front, the better the attorney will be able to help. This is especially true when you have a short deadline coming up like a hearing or appeal deadline.After you have provided your records, the attorney will review them and contact you. He will usually ask for more information (e.g. your VA claims file or medical records). At some point the attorney will talk to you about what he can and cannot do for you. If he determines that he can help you he will also discuss the specifics of representation. You will then decide if you want to hire the attorney. To hire an attorney the veteran must sign a contract that outlines the representation. Ensure you understand every item in the contract, and are comfortable with the terms.
Generally, we will need at a minimum a copy of your DD214 or other discharge document. We will also need a copy of the latest decision or communication from the VA. Finally, any additional records that you can provide will be helpful. The more information we have up front, the better we can decide if we can help. Eventually, we will need a copy of your VA claims file. You can obtain this from the VA. Visit the VA Privacy website for information on how to obtain your claims file. Bluestein Attorneys staff is also happy to help you obtain your records.
The Bluestein Attorneys SC Veterans’ Advocates Team is Here to Help
Whether you’re looking for legal representation before filing your first claim or you’ve been denied more than once, Bluestein Attorneys is here to help. Our SC Vet Advocates team would be happy to speak with you regarding your unique situation and ensure that your rights as a former or current servicemember are protected.
Give us a call at (803) 779-7599 or contact us online for more information or to request your FREE consultation.