Intro

Ready to MAXIMIZE your military disability? You've come to the right place!

Through our blog, we jump deep into Military Disability topics, concerns, upcoming changes, etc. For a complete overview of the veteran's disability systems, ratings, and benefits, check out our website, www.MilitaryDisabilityMadeEasy.com. It has an immense amount of information, and should be able to address the majority of your questions very well.

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Monday, September 19, 2022

What does my VA Disability Rating mean?

VA Disability Ratings can be confusing and complex.  

After submitting your VA Disability Claim and waiting months for the results, you get your Rating Decision only to find different ratings for each of your conditions and a Total Combined Rating that doesn’t seem to relate to the other ratings at all. 

 

So what do these VA Disability Ratings really mean? Let’s break it down by first discussing what VA Disability Ratings are, then we’ll discuss the individual condition ratings, followed by the Total Combined Rating, and finish with how the ratings translate into VA Disability Benefits. 

 

What are VA Disability Ratings?

 

VA Disability Ratings are percentages assigned to each service-connected condition claimed for VA Disability

 

The percentage is intended to reflect the severity of the condition—how significantly the condition interferes with the veteran’s ability to work, function in daily life, etc. 

 

A 0% rating indicates that the condition affects the veteran’s functioning very little if at all. The VA Disability Ratings then increase in 10% increments (10%, 20%, 30%, etc.) until they reach 100%. A 100% rating means that the condition makes the veteran entirely unable to work or properly care for themselves. 

 

VA Disability Ratings are determined by the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (the VASRD), a federal regulation that assigns detailed requirements for the rating levels for each condition based on how the condition presumably limits your earning capacity.

 

After you submit your claim, the VA adjudicator will use the VASRD and the information from the medical records and other evidence you submitted to assign each of your service-connected conditions a VA Disability Rating. 

 

VA Disability Ratings for Conditions

 

VA Disability Ratings are given for every service-connected condition you have. 

 

After determining which of the conditions on your claim qualify as service-connected, the VA adjudicator will assign a rating based on the rules of the VASRD

 

Every condition will receive its own rating as long as the Pyramiding Principle is obeyed. The Pyramiding Principle states that no disability can be rated more than once, so if two different conditions cause the same symptoms, then they cannot be rated separately. 

 

The VASRD has various other circumstantial rules that limit whether conditions can be rated separately as well as a few exceptions to the Pyramiding Principle. These can all be found throughout our discussion of the ratings for each condition on our site

 

When deciding the VA Disability Rating for a condition, the adjudicator will compare the details of your condition found in the evidence you submit along with your claim to the rating requirements for that condition.

 

Every condition is rated differently. Some are rated on current symptoms, others on symptoms over time, others on treatments, others on current test results, etc. 

 

When preparing your claim, it is very important that you get and submit the exact evidence necessary to properly rate your conditions. If you submit test results for a condition, but that condition is actually rated on a different test, then it isn’t going to be rated correctly.

 

You can Find Your Condition on our site to see the current rating requirements for your condition. Once you understand how it is rated, you will be able to ensure that the correct evidence needed to rate your condition is submitted along with your claim. 

 

Once you receive your Rating Decision, you will find a list of your conditions, their service-connected status, and the ratings the VA adjudicator assigned for each one. If you disagree with any of the decisions, you can submit an appeal

 

VA Disability Ratings can change over time, so if your conditions worsen and now qualify for higher ratings, you can apply for an increased evaluation. The VA will also call you in for periodic examinations to track the progress of your conditions and may adjust your ratings accordingly if your conditions have changed. 

 

You now understand the individual VA Disability Ratings, but there is one more percentage on your Rating Decision that you need to understand:  the Total Combined Rating. 

 

What is the Total Combined Rating?

 

After each of your service-connected conditions are assigned a VA Disability Rating, the ratings are combined using VA Math to get the Total Combined Rating

 

VA Math is rather confusing, so check out our VA Math page to get a full understanding of how it works. Just know that the ratings are not added together, they are combined. Thus 30% combined with 30% does not equal 60%, but 50%.

 

The Total Combined Rating is used to determine the amount of monthly benefits you will receive. You can find all of the current amounts for each Total Combined Rating in our VA Disability Chart

 

What benefits will I receive for my VA Disability Rating?

 

The VA pays monthly benefits based on your Total Combined Rating.

 

For a 10% and 20% rating, there is a set monthly amount you will receive regardless of how many dependents you have. 

 

For a 30%-100% rating, the amount changes based on the number of dependents you have. For example, currently a 30% with no dependents receives $467.39. With one child, however, the amount increases to $504.39.


You can find all of the current rates on our VA Disability Chart

 

In addition to the monthly payment, each of your rated conditions is eligible for full medical care from the VA. 

 

But what if your condition will only be rated 0%? Should you even bother to submit a claim?

 

If you have a Total Combined Rating of 0%, then you will not receive a monthly payment. A 0% rating does, however, mean that the VA acknowledges that the condition is service-connected, and as long as a condition is service-connected, it will qualify for medical care. 

 

So even without a monthly payment, a 0% rating is far better than no rating at all. With it, the condition will receive full medical care, and it will be simpler for the VA to increase the rating if your condition worsens in the future. 

 

In the end, our advice is to always claim your conditions, even if you know they will only rate 0% right now. It’ll make life much easier in the future. 
 

Friday, July 15, 2022

VSOs vs. Claims Agents vs. Attorneys - Getting Help with Your VA Disability Claim

The purpose of Military Disability Made Easy is to give you all the knowledge and tools you need to successfully submit and appeal your VA Disability Claim yourself.  

However, we understand that sometimes your case may be extra complicated or you may feel like you simply do not have the time to research and prepare the claim or appeal alone. 

 

In these cases, there are qualified people you can turn to that can help you submit your claim or appeal. These are claims agents, veteran service officers (VSOs), and attorneys. 

 

But of all the options out there, how do you know which are legitimate and which are the best for your particular case? 

 

Here are things you can do to ensure that your case is in good hands.

 

1. Check for VA Accreditation

 

First and foremost, if someone is helping you submit your claim or appeal, then they are acting as your representative before the VA, and in order to legally do this, they must be accredited by the VA. 

 

To be accredited, the individual must pass an exam and a background check, and take regular continuing-education courses to keep up to date on the latest from the VA. All accredited representatives agree to abide by standards of conduct that ensure that they act honestly, diligently, legally, and competently in all their dealings with both the veteran and the VA.

 

Accredited individuals fall into three categories:  VSOs, claims agents, and attorneys. 

 

2. Decide Between a VSO, Claims Agent, or Attorney

 

So how do you know which one is right for the job? 

 

Let’s discuss the difference between VSOs, claims agents, and attorneys. 

 

VSOs

 

Veterans Service Officers (VSOs, a.k.a. “veterans service representatives”) are individuals employed by a government office (like a county or state office) or by a Veterans Service Organization (also called a “VSO”—we know, not at all confusing). 

 

Veterans Service Organizations are non-profits authorized by the VA to employ VSOs to assist veterans with their claims. Not all Veterans Service Organizations can help with claims, but many can, including AMVETS, the DAV, The American Legion, VFW, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and more. 

 

Since VSOs are employed by an entity, they represent veterans for free and cannot charge for any of their services, which means that they can assist on all types of claims, from initial claims to advanced appeals. This also means, though, that they often have too many cases and not enough time. It’s most common for VSOs to work primarily on initial claims and basic appeals.

 

Claims Agents

 

Claims agents are basically VSOs, but they function independently and are not usually associated with an authorized organization. 

 

Since they are not employed by an organization, they usually charge a fee for their services. This means that claims agents can choose to take on smaller case-loads and spend more focused time on each case.

 

The VA does not allow anyone to charge for services provided before an initial claim is processed (we’ll discuss this more below), so claims agents usually only assist veterans with appeals, supplemental claims, etc., though they can choose to take on initial claims pro bono if they want to.

 

Attorneys

 

Attorneys can provide similar service as claims agents and VSOs, but usually specialize in appeals and other higher-level dealings before the VA, the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), or other US Courts. Like claims agents, they also charge a fee, and so do not usually work on initial claims. 

 

Because of their legal expertise, attorneys are the best option when trying to fight a complicated case or get a decision made that is contrary to the current laws/regulations. If you are appealing to courts beyond the BVA, it’s often a good idea to have an attorney.

 

Unlike VSOs and claims agents, attorneys do not have to take an examination to be accredited by the VA, but they do have to show that they are in good standing with their State bar. Because of this, it is important to make sure your attorney has sufficient experience working in veterans disability law to ensure your claim is satisfactorily represented by someone versed in these complicated laws. 

 

3. Find a Representative

 

Once you know whether you are looking for a VSO, claims agent, or attorney, you can search in the VA’s database of Accredited Representatives. It can be accessed through VA.gov or eBenefits

 

It’s ideal to find someone who practices within your Regional VA district so they can more easily assist you with local services (transportation to appointments, etc.), but location is not a requirement for representation. 

 

Depending on the demand in your area, you may need to contact multiple representatives until you find one that has the time to take on your case and has sufficient experience with the similar cases.

 

4. Sign a Fee Agreement

 

Accredited representatives cannot charge you for any services they provide before your initial claim is decided. They can only charge a fee for services provided (notice of disagreements, appeals, supplemental claims, etc.) after the VA makes a decision on your initial claim. Because of this, VSOs are usually the only representatives to help with an initial claim since they will get paid their salary from their organization regardless of the type of claim. Most initial claims, however, are submitted without the assistance of a representative.

 

Once fees are allowed, they are usually charged on a contingent basis, meaning that you only pay your representative after you win your claim/appeal. Your representative could also choose to charge you an hourly or flat-rate fee, but this is rare. 

 

The amount of the fees depends on the complexity of your case, but the VA considers up to 20% of your back pay (the amount you are given for the time between your effective date and the date of the Rating Decision) a reasonable fee for most claims. Anything over 33.3%, even for most complex cases, is considered unreasonable. 

 

You must sign a Fee Agreement with your representative in advance in order for them to charge you. The representative will then officially file the Fee Agreement once you register them as your representative. 

 

5. Register Your Representative

 

In order to represent you, the representative must be officially registered as your legal representative with the VA. To appoint your representative, you need to submit VA Form 21-22 (for reps from Veterans Service Organizations) or VA Form 21-22a (for all others) to your Regional VA Office. You can also appoint them through your online VA.gov or eBenefits account. 

 

By registering them, you are giving your representative the Power of Attorney to act on your behalf before the VA in matters relating to your claims and benefits. You can choose to remove or change your representative at any time as long as you officially register the change with the VA. 

 

Once your representative is registered, they can begin working on getting you the benefits you deserve, helping you prepare and submit your claim/appeal, and keeping you updated throughout the process.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act)—The Facts


Almost a year ago, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021 (known as “Honoring our PACT Act of 2021”) was first introduced to the House of Representatives. The House passed the PACT Act with a strong majority in March of this year, and the Act was read into the Senate at the end of May. 

 

The purpose of the PACT Act is “to improve health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances, and for other purposes.” But what really does that mean? What are the “other purposes”? And what can we expect to see happen if the Senate passes the Act and the President signs it into law?

 

Well, the Honoring our PACT Act will make changes in 7 key areas. Below, I’ve discussed the facts of the 7 areas and provided my personal thoughts on each. The Senate can still propose amendments, so things may be adjusted between now and the final law. 

 

Title I:  Expansion of Health Care Eligibility. This Title grants: 

1.     Eligibility for mammography screenings for veterans who served in locations where burn pits were used. 

2.     An extended deadline for health care enrollment from 5 to 10 years for combat veterans. This includes a 1-year open enrollment period for those who missed their 10-year window. 

3.     Eligibility for full medical care, including nursing home care, for any illness for toxic-exposed veterans. To qualify, the veterans must have been discharged between August 2, 1990 and December 31, 2018, and either

a.     served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the United Arab Emirates on or after August 2, 1990

b.     served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, or the Philippines on or after September 11, 2001

c.     deployed in support of a contingency operation (Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Resolute Support Mission); or

d.     participated in an activity that risked toxic exposure. The activity must have been officially recorded or be on a list that the VA is currently compiling.

 

Thoughts: This will give access to VA health care to many veterans who do not currently qualify, so great news all around. The only vague area that could be troublesome is the toxic exposure activity qualification. If a veteran has to have participated in an activity that was officially recorded or on a list, this could end up excluding many instances of exposure. Now, to give the VA and DoD credit, they are working to improve the exposure reporting system for current service members and to go back and record historic exposures of which they have evidence, but we already know that the DoD was notoriously awful at recording exposures, so the likelihood of them catching all instances is low. It’ll be interesting to see how comprehensive the list is that the VA is currently compiling. Regardless, this is great news for many veterans. 

 

Title II:  Toxic Exposure Presumption Process. This Title makes multiple changes that are focused on improving the toxic exposure presumption process. It will:

1.     Establish a Formal Advisory Committee on Toxic Exposure. This Committee will compile and review all available evidence regarding toxic exposures, including scientific research, known cases, news, veteran’s statistics, etc. Based on this review, the Committee will then:

a.     Identify new and emerging exposures

b.     Recommend formal studies of the health effects of certain exposures if it seems that these studies could change the current understanding of the health outcomes of such exposures

c.     Recommend ways to fix the exposure recording system 

d.     Recommend which previous veterans’ cases of toxic exposure should be re-reviewed

e.     Recommend how the Presumptive List should be adjusted based on the evidence

2.     Require the VA Secretary within 2 years to create a list that details likely exposures to substances, chemicals, and airborne hazards for veterans who served during specific times in various key locations. This list will be broader and more comprehensive than any current list.

3.     Require the VA Secretary to conduct official research based on the Committee’s recommendations. Based on the results of such research, the Secretary will then update the Presumptive Lists accordingly. If this results in the removal of a current presumptive illness, the veterans already awarded for that illness will continue receiving those benefits.

4.     Allow veterans whose toxic exposure claims have previously been denied to elect to re-open their claim. If awarded benefits under the new lists, they will be compensated back to the original effective date of their claim.

 

Thoughts:  Yes, this is an essential step to getting toxic-exposed veterans their deserved benefits. There is currently little official research regarding the health effects of various toxic exposures, so by performing this research, creating new lists, and re-opening claims, the likelihood is that thousands of veterans will finally start receiving their benefits. Great news all around.

 

Title III:  Improving the VA’s Service-Connection Process for Toxic Exposure. This Title will: 

1.     Require the VA to conduct exams specifically meant to determine if there is a likelihood that a veteran’s condition was caused by toxic exposure when the veteran does not have sufficient evidence to prove toxic exposure. 

2.     Establish that veterans will be presumed to have been exposed to substances, chemicals, and airborne hazards (burn pits) if they: 

a.     served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the United Arab Emirates on or after August 2, 1990

b.     served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, or the Philippines on or after September 11, 2001

 

Thoughts:  Again, no complaints here. This will expand the number of veterans eligible for the Burn Pit Presumptive List, which is great. Requiring the VA to conduct exams for those veterans who do not have enough evidence is also a really good thing. Instead of just denying the claim, they must get a qualified medical opinion that could end up granting service-connection for the veteran if the physician feels that the condition is “at least as likely as not” caused by the exposure. 

 

Title IV:  Presumptions of Service-Connection. This Title will make the following changes to the current Presumptive Lists:

1.     For Radiation Exposure, veterans who participated in cleanup activities or nuclear responses in Palomares, Spain (between January 17, 1966 and March 31, 1967), Thule, Greenland (between January 21, 1968 and September 25, 1968), and Enewetak Atoll (between January 1, 1977 and December 31, 1980) will be added to the list.

2.     For Agent Orange Exposure, veterans who served in Thailand on a US or Royal Thai base (between January 9, 1962 and June 30, 1976), Laos (between December 1, 1965 and September 30, 1969), Cambodia at Mimot or Krek (between April 16, 1969 and April 30, 1969), Johnston Atoll (between January 1, 1972 and September 30, 1977), or Guam or American Samoa (between January 9, 1962 and July 31, 1980) will be added to the list. The end date for service in Vietnam will also be extended to May 7, 1975. Finally, two conditions will be added to the Agent Orange List:  hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.

3.     For Persian Gulf veterans, veterans who served in Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, or Jordan will be added to the list. The conditions will also no longer be required to manifest to a certain severity within a certain time frame. It will be “to any degree at any time.” The VA will also be required to have their medical examiners use a new Gulf War Illness DBQ to ensure that the veteran is properly examined to consider the effects of service in the Persian Gulf.

4.     For Burn Pit Exposure, 24 conditions will be added to the list, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, glioblastoma, head cancer, neck cancer, respiratory cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, reproductive cancer, lymphoma cancer, lymphomatic cancer, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer.

 

Thoughts:  These changes will allow thousands of veterans to have their conditions service-connected, so this is great. With all the research the earlier Titles will require, these types of changes will become more frequent in the future. 

 

Title VResearch Matters. This Title will:

1.     Implement measures to improve data collection between the VA and DoD by creating an interagency working group to facilitate collaboration in toxic exposure research.

2.     Commission studies and various types of data collection to understand health trends of Post 9/11 veterans, health trends of toxic exposure, health effects of the Manhattan Project, health effects of jet fuels, incidents of cancer among the veteran population, and to determine whether it is feasible to provide healthcare to the dependents of veterans. 

 

Thoughts:  There definitely needs to be more research and data sharing. No question. The issue is that besides creating this work group, there are no other clear instructions on how to make this happen. The VA and the DoD have been trying to implement new strategies to share data for years now, but it clearly is still not enough since they need to create another work group. I’m a bit sceptical on how effective this will be, but hopeful that the work group will at least be able to come up with some successful data-sharing techniques. With modern tech, it really shouldn’t be as hard as the VA and DoD seem to have made it.

 

Title VI:  Resources and Training for Toxic Exposure. This Title will:

1.     Require the VA to create a training program for all employees dealing with toxic exposure claims to ensure proper medical examinations and claims processing. This includes a toxic-exposure questionnaire for physicians.

2.     Require the VA to provide resources to veterans who have or may have been exposed to toxics.

3.     Require the DoD and VA to create guidelines to use in active duty training to educate service members of the risks and prevention of exposures.

 

Thoughts:  Definitely necessary if these changes are going to be implemented seamlessly into the system. Employees need to know what’s up and veterans deserve to know what they are entitled to.

 

Title VII:  Registries, Records, and Other Matters. This Title will:

1.     Create a registry for AFFF/PFAS exposure

2.     Create a health registry for service at Fort McClellan

3.     Update and fix errors in the Burn Pit Registry

4.     Update and fix errors in exposure records

5.     Allow Camp Lejeune toxic water veterans to file tort claims. Tort claims are filed against the Unites States for a negligent or wrongful act. 

 

Thoughts:  Any way that the VA can get organized and collect the data they need to properly compensate disabled veterans is a good thing. 

 

 

That’s it. If passed into law, the PACT Act of 2021 will definitely make amazing improvements within the VA and DoD for toxic-exposed veterans, allowing many to finally receive the benefits they deserve. 

 

As of June 8th, a few Senators proposed minor amendments so hopefully it’ll be passed quickly and head to the President’s desk.