At some point you will likely need to return to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase your disability rating. Many times your rating is too low from the start. Also, your condition will probably worsen over time, either because it is a degenerative illness, or simply due to age or secondary illness.
Your VA disability rating determines your monthly veterans’ disability benefit. Any time there is a significant change in your medical condition, you should seek an increase in your VA disability rating.
For 2017 basic disability compensation with no dependents, the difference between the benefit for a 10 percent disability rating ($133.57) and 20 percent ($264.02) is $1,565.40 a year.
The Berry Law Firm helps disabled veterans seek higher disability ratings to increase their VA benefits. It is supposed to be simple to request a change, but it is often a lengthy, complex and confusing process. A veteran unfamiliar with the VA system or unable to deal with the VA bureaucracy can easily be short-changed.
Since 1965, two generations of military veterans at the Berry Law Firm have helped thousands of veterans obtain the disability benefits they have earned. We know the way forward. We can help you gather or develop evidence required to raise your VA disability rating.
We Are Veterans Serving Veterans
Veterans who help veterans obtain VA disability benefits make up the Berry Law Firm. Founding attorney John S. Berry Sr. served in Vietnam and began his veterans’ law practice by representing fellow Vietnam veterans in court who suffered from PTSD. Attorney John S. Berry Jr. is a former Army Ranger who was a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployed to Bosnia during Operation Joint Forge.
The Berry Law Firm handles appeals of VA disability claims and disability ratings before VA Regional Offices nationwide and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, as well as before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and higher courts when necessary.
We want disabled veterans to have the full benefits they have earned by their service and sacrifice. And we know the way forward.
Is Your VA Disability Rating Up to Date?
The VA pays monthly disability benefits according to the severity of an eligible veteran’s service-connected injury or illness. Based on evidence in the veteran’s claim, including service and medical records, a VA claims evaluator assigns a disability rating in 10 percent increments (10%, 20%, 30% etc.). A 100% disability rating indicates total disability and the highest amount of basic monthly compensation paid to disabled veterans.
The VA can call for reevaluation of your claim at any point, and should do so every two to five years, depending on your stated medical conditions. The original Ratings Decision letter from the VA Regional Office should state when the VA will reevaluate your claim.
Reevaluation of a disability rating requires the veteran to undergo a new Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. You may also submit your own doctor’s opinion, what the VA calls an Independent Medical Examination (IME).
However, many disabled veterans never hear from the VA about a rating reevaluation. Many veterans must request a reevaluation when they and their doctors recognize that their condition has grown significantly worse.
Too many disabled veterans who receive VA benefits receive less money than they should because their VA disability rating is too low. For some, their rating and benefit have always been lower than they should be.
Our experience at the Berry Law Firm has shown us that a veterans’ VA disability rating is more likely to be too low for claims regarding:
- Mental health issues, including but not limited to:
- Bipolar disorder
- Gulf War Syndrome
- Ischemic heart disease
- Agent Orange-related disabilities:
- Prostate cancer
- Coronary artery disease
- Orthopedic injuries:
- Knees (particularly as a secondary to foot-related disabilities).
Seek an Increase in Your VA Disability Rating
A disabled veteran who is receiving benefits may ask the VA for a review of their disability rating at any time. However, the timing of the request is important.
If it has been more than a year since the VA has granted disability benefits, the veteran may make a standard request for reevaluation. The veteran can make the request with a single form authorizing the VA to obtain the vet’s medical records, either:
- Form 21-526b filed by a veteran treated by a VA or military health care facility, or
- Form 21-4142 filed by a veteran treated by a civilian doctor.
If it has been less than a year since the VA has granted disability benefits, the request for a new disability rating becomes an appeal of your claim, which is a much more complex process.
The VA must consider medical records from a VA or military hospital that reflect treatment or hospitalization, or records from private or public medical facilities to be valid evidence if they indicate that the veteran’s condition has grown worse.
However, if the VA directs you to undergo a C&P medical exam, you must submit to it or all progress with your claim will come to a halt.
Can the VA Lower My Disability Rating?
One reason the VA schedules future reevaluations of disability claims is that it expects some conditions get better over time. This is true of mental health issues and curable cancers, for example. The impact is that the VA may lower a veteran’s disability rating and, thus, the amount of their monthly benefit, if it determines that a veteran’s medical condition has improved.
To do so, the VA conducts a full review of the veteran’s claim file and gives the veteran a chance to respond to the decision before it takes effect. At this point, the veteran may submit evidence of the current medical condition that indicates the condition is not significantly better than previously reported to the VA.
You are more likely to undergo such an evaluation and reduction if your VA disability rating is “unprotected,” meaning it is less than 100 percent and has been in effect for fewer than five years.
For veterans with “stabilized” or “protected” disability ratings, which have been in effect for at least five years, the VA’s burden is higher. To reduce a protected disability rating, the VA’s review must demonstrate sustained improvement in the veteran’s condition.
Ratings in effect for 10 years and 20 years, ratings of 100 percent disability, or Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), have additional protections that reduce the reasons the VA could lower them.
However, VA law does address and allow reductions in veterans’ disability ratings. In some cases the VA can rescind its ruling that a veteran’s disability is service connected.
It is important for veterans to attend all medical appointments made by the VA or their VA or private doctors. Particularly if a veteran is undergoing physical or psychological therapy, or has been prescribed medication, evidence that he or she no longer “needs” treatment can be construed as evidence their condition has improved.
It is also important for a disabled veteran to get experienced legal help if the VA notifies them of its intention to lower their disability rating.
We’ll Work to Maximize and Protect Your VA Disability Rating
The Berry Law Firm can help you seek the highest disability rating available for your service-connected disability and keep your claim and benefit accurate over time. We can help ensure your medical records are up-to-date and that they portray your physical or mental disability as VA claims examiners expect and understand.
Our attorneys have extensive experience helping veterans appeal claims decisions or seek reevaluations that increase disability ratings. We know how to make VA rules and regulations for establishing disability ratings work for veterans, not against them.
We are veterans helping veterans. Contact us today for a free review of your claim with no strings attached. We do not charge disable veterans for legal work until we recover money for them.
Get help from our VA disability ratings lawyers today.