WINONA W. ZIMBERLIN AND RUSSELL D. ZIMBERLIN ARE ACCREDITED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
You’ve served our country. Now you’re disabled. Fighting the VA can be a daunting prospect. Claims can take years to navigate through the system. The two major VA disability benefits are service- connected compensation and needs based, non- service connected pension.
For service connected disability, a veteran is entitled to compensation for disabilities incurred in or aggravated during active military, naval or air service. When a claim is made, the VA will make three decisions:
1. Whether disability is service connected
2. The percentage of disability – from 0% to 100%
3. The effective date. This is the date from which benefits are paid; usually the date of the claim or back to the day after discharge
After a veteran makes a claim to the VA Regional Office, the Regional Office will make a decision. If you disagree with the VA’s decision, that can be appealed to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals, and then to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. This wasn’t always the case; before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was created in 1988 a veteran could not go to court at all.
Until recently, a veteran could not retain an attorney for the early stages of a claim; the veteran was required to wait until a final decision was reached by the Board of Veteran’s Appeals. A recent law changed that. Now, a veteran can hire an attorney after a Notice of Disagreement is filed, as long as the Notice of Disagreement is filed after June 22, 2007. This means that an attorney can be hired earlier in the process, before a Board decision. Hiring an attorney before a Board decision can prevent mistakes which could lead to an unfair denial.
Both mental and physical conditions can be compensated as a service connected disability.
PTSD: PTSD is Post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans can be compensated for this mental disorder which comes from exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to your physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate.
The VA was slow in recognizing that PTSD is legitimate and compensable. All veterans are now eligible to be compensated for PTSD if they meet VA’s requirements.