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Articles Posted in Veteran Affairs

When a service member sustains injuries while on active duty and is judged by a physician that he or she does not meet retention standards, the injured service member is referred to the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), thus triggering the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). The purpose of IDES is to help injured veterans receive disability benefits more quickly by streamlining the process, allowing the DoD Disability and VA Disability programs to process simultaneously. However, the process contains multiple steps and can still be confusing. 

The IDES process

If you are referred to the MEB, your next step is to get a compensation and pension (C&P) exam. The physician then completes a Narrative Summary report (NARSUM), summarizing all your medical history from the beginning of service to the present, including the C&P exam. At this point, you may also submit a Commander’s Statement and a Personal Statement. Submitting the appropriate documentation at this point is critical, so the MEB has a full and accurate picture of your condition. 

The VA is required to consider all relevant information that supports your VA disability claim. This includes eyewitness accounts of the cause of your disability and/or its effects on you. The Statement in Support of Claim, also referred to as a “buddy letter” or “lay evidence,” can provide powerful evidence supporting your case. 

These personal statements can come from someone who served with you and witnessed the event, or from family and friends who are able to describe how the event has affected you. 

Military buddy statements are particularly powerful if the person is able to give an eyewitness account of the events, conditions, or situation that caused your disability. Often, things happen while on duty that aren’t written up in a report but may have had a significant impact on you. Other times, records get lost or destroyed. If you have a friend or fellow service member who was there and can corroborate your statement, the VA is required to apply “benefit of the doubt” when your claim has limited medical support. Without a buddy statement, it would be less likely this benefit of the doubt would be applied or it would possibly be applied and a lower rating given. 

Acid reflux, more formally known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common condition in which the muscle at the top of the stomach does not operate properly, allowing stomach acids and partially-digested food to enter the esophagus. 

The stomach has a thick lining designed to withstand the acids used to break down foods, but the esophagus, which is the tube that takes your food from your mouth to your stomach, has no such lining. If you have acid reflux, you are probably experiencing some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Burning in the chest or throat (heartburn)

Can you receive VA benefits if you are experiencing delayed PTSD? Yes, but it may be a challenge to prove. You may need the help of an experienced veterans’ attorney to build your case. 

In recent years, the VA has become more responsive to the growing evidence of what is called “delayed onset of PTSD,” defined as onset occurring at least six months after the traumatic event. However, it is not uncommon for veterans, especially combat veterans, to develop clear PTSD symptoms later in life, sometimes decades after the in-service stressors. 

PTSD onset in older veterans

There is an automatic 50% rating for PTSD – but it’s not for everyone, and it’s not permanent. Policy 38 CFR 4.129 states:

“When a mental disorder that develops in service as a result of a highly stressful event is severe enough to bring about the veteran’s release from active military service, the rating agency shall assign an evaluation of not less than 50% and schedule an examination within the six-month period following the veteran’s discharge to determine whether a change in evaluation is warranted” (Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1155).

Simply stated, if you are discharged from duty, specifically because PTSD from a known service-related event has made it difficult for you to function at full capacity, you will automatically receive at least a 50% rating for up to 6 months, without further evidence required. However, before the 6 months expire, the veteran will need to be evaluated by a medical professional who is qualified to make a diagnosis of PTSD and rate the level of social and occupational impairment. Though social impairment is a factor, the main criterion for the VA is occupational impairment: how well can you work and support yourself.

Filing with the VA for veterans’ disability benefits is usually a time-consuming process. Sometimes years can go by from the time of initial filing to when your case is settled. It may include requests for additional information, denial of benefits, appeals, and another review before you are granted a disability rating. Because the process can be quite cumbersome, time-consuming, and stressful, especially for a person struggling with a disability, veterans get the best and fastest resolution of their claims with the help of an experienced VA attorney.

Once you’re granted disability, you will begin to receive monthly installments. But what about all the time you waited? Fortunately, the award is retroactive and you will receive a lump sum of benefits when your benefits are awarded. This back pay is dated from the time of your original filing. For example, if you received a disability rating of 50% three years after you initially filed your claim, you will receive a lump sum of three years worth of disability payments at a 50% level. 

Exceptions to the Filing Start Date

The Veterans Administration (VA) allows veterans to hire an attorney to help them with their disability claims only after an initial claim has been denied, or after the VA has offered a benefits award that the veteran does not believe is sufficient. So whether you have been denied or you have received an award that you feel is too low, you are permitted to reach out to a lawyer for help. 

Why Should You Hire an Attorney to Help You With Your Disability Appeal?

If you are already fully versed in legal affairs, as I was when I appealed my own disability award, you may not need help from a lawyer. However, even for me, the process was long, grueling, and stressful. The good news is that retaining an experienced VA lawyer not only saves you that stress, but also improves your chance of success. 

Cancer can strike at any time, but it usually does not become active for years after the cause. Many veterans do not automatically make the connection between their time of service and their cancer diagnosis. But there are many exposures during military service that are presumed to cause cancer and others that can be proven to be either a direct cause or a secondary cause of cancer. If your service to our country caused cancer, you deserve compensation while you fight to defeat this enemy.

Proving Service Connection for Cancer

As with all disability claims, you must be able to demonstrate that you are a veteran of the U.S. military, that you have an honorable discharge, and that there is a connection to military service: a direct connection, an aggravation of an existing condition, a secondary connection, or a presumptive connection. 

Many of the most common ratable conditions that receive VA compensation occur regardless of the branch of the military in which you served – which is why they’re the most common. However, some conditions are seen more often in some branches than in others.                                 

Below is a list of the most common disabilities rated by the VA:

  • Tinnitus, hearing deterioration, or loss

The 100% disability rating is the highest level of disability the VA offers, providing monthly payments along with full medical care for service-related conditions. Other benefits and compensation are also available. This rating can be reached in a number of ways. 

Severe conditions

If you have an extremely severe service-connected condition that makes you unable to work and, in some cases, unable to provide yourself with personal care without help, this condition may be rated as 100% disabled. 

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