Any Veteran with a service-related disability should be able to get the financial support that they need and deserve. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) provides qualified Veterans with service-related disabilities a specific disability rating, which allows them to receive monthly, tax-free payments. If you have a disability, these benefits can help you take care of yourself and your loved ones. Monthly payments from the VA can be a game-changer for Veterans suffering from severe disabilities that make it hard for them to work and perform everyday tasks.
Sadly, not every claim filed with the VA gets approved, and the VA will deny a claim for a few different reasons. It is common for a claim to be denied because the VA might not be able to verify that a Veterans disability is connected to their military service – in most cases, the only way to qualify for benefits is by establishing a connection between your disability and your military service. The VA might also deny a claim if there is not enough medical evidence presented to support it.
If the VA has denied your claim, don’t give up on receiving the benefits you deserve. There are several ways that you can move forward and get a different decision from the VA. One of the most effective ways to potentially change the VA’s decision regarding your claim is to request a decision review, also known as appeal.
If the VA denied your claim for disability benefits, you can request that they reevaluate your application by conducting a decision review. You can also request an appeal if the VA approves your claim but does not give you a disability rating that is an accurate reflection of your disability (if they give you a rating that is too low).
One of the most common appeal lanes that Veterans can use when appealing a VA decision is the Supplemental Claim lane. To do this, a Veteran would simply need to file a supplemental claim. A supplemental claim is a form that you can submit to the VA that presents the Department with new evidence that can impact their decision regarding your claim. This additional evidence needs to be what the VA would describe as “new and relevant” in order to have an impact on their decision.
According to the VA, new and relevant evidence that can be submitted via a supplemental claim form is any information that was not included in your initial claim that could serve as confirmation that the VA should change their decision. If the VA has denied your claim based on lack of medical evidence, submitting a supplemental claim can involve presenting the VA with medical records or test results that could shed more light on the nature of your disability.
To file a supplemental claim as part of a VA decision review, you’ll need to fill out VA form 20-0995. This form is available online via the VA’s website. You can submit the form either by mail or in person at your regional VA office.
VA form 20-0995 is the application to file a supplemental claim. This form has three sections:
During a decision review, the VA is looking for any evidence that can impact the outcome of your claim. If the VA has denied your application to receive benefits, you can get a second opinion from a private doctor to contribute to your supplemental claim, known as getting an independent medical exam (IME). Every veteran has the right to get an IME and present the results to the VA as part of a decision review.
In an IME, a private doctor – one unaffiliated with the VA – will carefully review your military medical records and conduct any necessary tests to gather evidence to present to the VA. A private doctor can potentially also diagnose you with secondary conditions during an IME – physical or psychological problems stemming from your service-related disability. We often recommend Veterans get an IME from their primary care doctor as they typically have better knowledge of your conditions and how they have impacted your everyday life.
If you have secondary conditions that can be diagnosed during an IME, these problems can lead to a higher disability rating from the VA. Secondary conditions are often overlooked during the VA’s Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, the test that the VA runs on Veterans to help determine what disability rating they qualify for. A secondary condition can be any physical or psychological problem caused or worsened by your service-related disability.
Secondary conditions can lead to a higher disability rating because the impact of a secondary condition on your health can be compounded with the impact of your service-related disability in the eyes of the VA. Although secondary conditions may not be directly related to your military service, they can contribute to your disability rating because of their connection to your service-related disability. For example, if you have a back injury from your time in the military that later caused you to develop foot problems, your foot issues could be counted as a secondary condition, leading to a higher rating.
In addition to medical evidence, you can also submit testimonials from your fellow soldiers as part of your supplemental claim. These are known as “buddy statements” and can play a key role in convincing the VA that you deserve a different decision. Buddy statements are essentially eyewitness accounts from trusted individuals who have seen the connection between your disability and your military service.
If you are filing a supplementary claim to present additional evidence that connects your disability to your military service, buddy statements can play a key role in making a case for a better outcome from the VA. In addition, if you are going through the VA appeals process, your attorney may compile buddy statements from your fellow soldiers to use as evidence that your rating should be raised.
Once you have submitted your 20-0995 form to the VA, the Department will most likely need a few months to evaluate the form. During this time, you can check for updates to the status of your claim via the VA’s website.
If the VA approves your claim based on the evidence presented in your 20-0995 form, you will start receiving benefits when the next monthly payment date arrives. If the VA has raised your rating based on your supplemental claim, your disability status will be adjusted accordingly.
However, if the VA does not approve your supplemental claim, you can still dispute their decision with another appeal. An appeal can involve a hearing at your local VA office with an attorney representing you. The appeals process can then move to higher courts if necessary. In an appeal, your attorney will help you compile evidence and make a strong case to the VA that they should raise your rating or approve you for benefits.
If you need to appeal a VA decision, Berry Law can help. We can give you all the support you need to understand how the VA works and what they are looking for. We know how to make the VA’s rules and regulations work in favor of Veterans rather than against them and have been helping Veterans with their legal needs for over 50 years. As veterans ourselves, we know firsthand the struggles of living with a service-related disability. We want to make sure that none of our fellow Veterans are barred from receiving the benefits they need and deserve.
If you need assistance filing a Supplemental Claim, contact Berry Law. One of our disability lawyers is the perfect teammate to have at your side as you move through the appeals process. Call today to schedule a free case evaluation.
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