Many veterans are dissatisfied with the disability compensation they receive from the VA because the money doesn’t fully compensate for the severity of their illnesses or injuries. Veterans have the right to appeal VA rating decisions to increase compensation, but the process can be overwhelming and discouraging.
To increase a disability rating, a veteran must first file a claim on VA Form 21-526b requesting an increased rating for one or more conditions. Once the 526b is filed, veterans can wait and see whether the VA grants increased ratings for their claim(s), or they can be proactive about it by gathering evidence or hiring representation.
One of the best things a veteran can do while waiting for a decision is to complete a VA Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ), which is available online. The VA offers specific DBQ forms that are related to different conditions (for an increased rating for a knee condition, there is a knee DBQ).
A physician can complete the form on behalf of the veteran, and if he or she checks the boxes indicating symptoms that meet the requirement for an increased rating, the VA is more likely to grant the increase.
However, even with the form submitted, the VA might still schedule an examination with one of its own physicians, physicians’ assistants, or nurse practitioners. These medical professionals may not be specialists in the particular field related to the veteran’s medical condition and may not be as informed of the patient’s medical history as a personal physician. Utilizing a physician who specializes in a relevant field to the injury can increase the chances that a DBQ will result in an increased rating. For example, veterans looking for a PTSD rating increase can take their DBQ to a psychiatrist or psychologist, while veterans with knee conditions may instead seek the help of an orthopedic doctor.
Veterans can also get a medical opinion from a physician indicating that their symptoms are more consistent with those granted higher ratings. The physician can review a copy of the veteran’s file from the VA and any private medical records pertaining to his or her condition, and may be able to indicate in his or her opinion that, based on these records, the veteran’s condition has gotten worse or is consistent with a higher rating.
Friends or family members are often aware of a veteran’s condition and the symptoms it causes, so it can be a good idea to ask them to provide a statement on VA Form 21-4138. This can be a notarized affidavit, but it doesn’t have to be. Lay statements from friends and family members are considered competent evidence when a veteran’s symptoms are a type that an average person could identify. These are also referred to as “buddy statements” and have helped many veterans with appealing their claims.
One of the drawbacks of using a private physician is that it may cost money out of pocket. If a veteran does not want the added expense, he or she can personally review medical records from the VA to find evidence that his or her condition meets the requirements for a higher rating. Treatment records may contain evidence that a condition is more severe than the initial VA rating decision accounted for. Supporting material can be sent in a letter to the VA after a claim has been submitted on a 526b form or included in an appeal (Notice of Disagreement on VA Form 21-0958) once a Rating Decision has been received.
Berry Law was founded in 1965 by John Stevens Berry Sr., Vietnam War veteran and trial attorney. We are proud to have many military veterans among our attorneys and staff who understand what it means to serve and know firsthand the struggles many of our clients face every day.
If your disability rating does not reflect the severity of your medical conditions, please contact Berry Law today. We may be able to assist you.
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