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How Do I Increase VA Benefits Compensation?

How Do I Increase VA Benefits Compensation?

Many Veterans are dissatisfied with the disability compensation they receive from the VA because their current rating does not 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.

There are many ways to increase a disability rating. If you have a decision that is over a year old assigning your disability rating, you have to file a VA Form 21-526ez requesting an increased rating for one or more conditions. Once the 526ez 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.

If you have a decision within the last year you must appeal that decision either via a higher-level review or a Supplemental Claim with new evidence showing an increased rating.

Understand the Rating System

When you first applied for disability, after a medical exam the VA assigned a percentage to each health issue. The percentage represents how much the health issue affects you, in the VA’s opinion. A higher percentage means a more significant impact. If you have multiple health issues, the VA should combine all the percentages to come up with an overall rating. This is used to determine the benefits you receive each month.

Because we’re human, our health conditions will naturally change over time. Requesting a review to increase VA benefits compensation is a natural part of the process. You should not hesitate to let the VA know if your condition has gotten worse. You may need more compensation to help take care of your medical needs and to ensure that you have a good quality of life.

You have earned these benefits through your dedicated service to your country.

The Types of Disability Claims and When to File Them

  • Original claim – The VA refers to the first claim you file for disability as your original claim. If you are reading this article, you’ve likely already been through this part of the process. This was the claim you filed for your initial VA benefits compensation.
  • Increased claim – This is the process of filing a claim to increase your disability compensation for a condition that the VA has already determined to be service-related and has gotten worse.
  • New claim – This type of claim is filed to request additional benefits or other benefits for an existing service-connected disability.
  • Secondary service-connected claim – You can file a claim to receive benefits for a new disability that is related to a service disability you have already.
  • Special claim – This type of request is for special needs connected to your service-related disability. This might include things like a specially equipped vehicle or temporary or increased payments to cover additional hardships, like surgical recovery time.
  • Supplemental claim – You can file a claim appealing a denied disability claim, provided you did not file an appeal at the time of denial. You will need to provide new and relevant evidence of your disability.

A lawyer experienced in handling Veterans’ benefits is a valuable ally to help guide you through the claims process. Your attorney can evaluate your claim and determine the best time to file the type of claim that fits your unique situation. This can save taking steps in the wrong direction, which could waste time or muddle your claim.

Berry-Law_Team

Complete a DBQ

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 your behalf, 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 physicians, physicians’ assistants, or nurse practitioners. These medical professionals may not be specialists in the particular field related to your medical condition and may not be as informed of your 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.

Get a Medical Opinion

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 your file from the VA and any private medical records about your condition and may be able to indicate in his or her opinion that, based on these records, your condition has gotten worse or is consistent with a higher rating.

Get Statements from Friends and Family Members

Friends or family members are often aware of your condition and the symptoms it causes, so it can be a good idea to ask them to provide a statement on VA Form 21-10210. 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 your symptoms are a type that an average person could identify. These are also called “buddy statements” and have helped many Veterans appeal their claims.

Make an Argument Using Medical Records

One of the drawbacks of using a private physician is that it may cost money out of pocket. If you do not want the added expense, you can personally review medical records from the VA to find evidence that your 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 526ez form or included in an appeal  once a Rating Decision has been received.

File a Supplemental Claim

A Supplemental Claim form (VA 20-0995) can be filed by Veterans who disagree with the VA’s decision on their claim. This may be the right option for you if:

  • The VA decided your claim in the past.
  • Your claim is not contested.

This type of claim can be filed if you have new and relevant evidence to support your request to increase your disability claim. The VA defines new evidence as any information that was not submitted to the VA previously. This may also apply to information that was not flagged for the VA to collect as part of the initial claim. Relevant information is something that proves or disproves something included in your original claim.

PACT Act

You can also file a Supplemental Claim if you would like the VA to review the original claim because of a change in law. For example, the 2022 PACT Act expanded VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. The PACT Act provides for “presumptive” health conditions. These are illnesses that the VA “assumes” or “presumes” were caused by exposure to toxic substances.

There are different criteria to get benefits for Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veterans and Vietnam era Veterans. A lawyer experienced in working with Veterans on disability claims can help navigate how your claim may be eligible for a Supplemental Claim under the PACT Act.

Request a Board Appeal

Similar to the process for filing a Supplemental Claim, you could consider requesting a Board Appeal. However, this process will usually take longer. You can send a request to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by filling out a Decision Review Request: Board Appeal (Notice of Disagreement) using VA Form 10182. This form is available online or you can get it from a VA Regional Office.

When the VA receives your appeal request, someone from the agency will contact you to request additional information. You have three options for a Board Appeal:

  1. Request a direct appeal – A Veterans Law Judge will review your appeal based on the evidence you already submitted. No new evidence can be presented under this option, and there will be no hearing.
  2. Submit new evidence – You will have 90 days from the date the VA receives your request for appeal.
  3. Request a hearing – You can submit new and relevant evidence at a hearing or within 90 days after the hearing. A hearing can be conducted virtually from your home, in a videoconference at a VA location near you, or in person in Washington D.C.

Identifying Common Pain Points in VA Disability Evaluations

Many Veterans experience frustration with the disability rating they receive from the VA. You may feel that the VA has not given enough weight to the way your disability impacts your everyday life.

John S. Berry,

Here are some things we hear often from Veterans:

  • Failure to consider secondary conditions: Often, Veterans feel that the VA is taking a limited view of their condition. The VA may focus on only one area of disability rather than looking at the big picture of how the disability affects overall health and functionality. It’s important to show how a disability affects the whole body.
  • Failure to consider functional impairments: Going along with the above, Veterans may be dissatisfied when the VA does not see the big picture of how disabilities impact areas of life besides physical health. The VA evaluation should consider limitations in daily activities, employment, or social interactions caused by service-connected disabilities in weighing the score.
  • Discrepancies in ratings: Sometimes Veterans report that similar conditions are rated differently. This can cause confusion and frustration in figuring out the evaluation process and how the VA scores similar conditions.
  • Lack of recognition for mental health conditions: Mental health conditions like PTSD may not always receive the recognition they deserve in the VA scoring system. Mental health issues can have a significant impact on your daily functioning. The VA must accurately assess and compensate for these conditions.

The appeals process is complex and often causes a lot of frustration. It can take a long time to get your disability reassessed and your benefits adjusted. Sometimes it may also be difficult to get concise answers from the VA about why a claim may have been denied or to learn why your disability was rated the way it was.

This is where an experienced Veterans’ benefits lawyer can be a help. Our attorneys are dedicated advocates for Veterans from all branches of the armed services. We will join you in your fight for the benefits you have earned.

A lawyer with experience handling Veterans’ benefits claims can be a crucial ally in your fight for increased VA disability compensation. There are many options available in the appeals process. A skillful Veterans disability attorney can evaluate your claim and help you identify the most effective strategy for your appeal.

Your lawyer can also handle the often-extensive paperwork required by an appeals process. They can help you choose the correct forms, assist with filling them out and providing accompanying documentation, and ensure they are submitted on time.

Experienced Veterans’ benefits lawyers stay abreast of developments that may affect your claim. They can identify new areas of law that may provide you with a path for a successful appeal.

Veterans Serving Veterans

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. Call us at 888-883-2483 or fill out our online contact form. We represent Veterans in all 50 states and our legal team is available to you 24/7.

John S. Berry, , Lawyer for 
Military Sexual Trauma
John S. Berry, , Veterans Disability Lawyer
Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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