The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) grants monthly tax-free benefits to Veterans who qualify based on service-related disabilities. A service-related disability can be any physical injury or psychological problem that was caused by a Veteran’s service in the military.
In order for a Veteran to qualify for disability benefits from the VA, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will first have to evaluate the Veteran’s claim. If you file a claim with the VA for disability benefits, you can print it out from the VA website and mail it in, drop it off in person at your regional VA office, or file online through the VA’s eBenefits portal. After the VA has your claim, they will start looking through your evidence to make a decision regarding your disability rating.
If the VA approves your claim and you are granted monthly disability benefits, they will give you a disability rating that qualifies you for a certain level of monthly compensation. The higher your rating, the higher your monthly disability payment. The VA decides your disability rating based on several factors:
All of these factors can come into play in the VA’s decision-making process. Once the VA has given you a specific rating, this rating will determine how much money you will receive each month as compensation for your service-related disability.
Sometimes, you will need to provide additional evidence to the VA to help them accurately assess your condition(s). It can be beneficial to submit testimonials from battle buddies, friends, or family to help prove your condition is service connected. If this is the case, you will need to file VA form-21-4138, also known as a Statement in Support of Claim. This form is also sometimes referred to as a buddy statement or buddy letter as it is typically written by a ‘buddy’ in the armed forces. However, a Statement in Support of Claim can be written by any person who has knowledge of a Veterans disability. The VA can then use this additional evidence to provide a more accurate disability rating.
The VA also gets information about a Veteran’s disability status by having each Veteran come in for a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam. The C&P exam involves a VA physician or psychologist carefully evaluating a Veteran’s symptoms and medical records in order to determine the disability rating that accurately reflects their disabilities.
Once the VA has all the information they need from you, they will be able to make an informed decision regarding your disability rating. However, if you are not satisfied with the rating that the VA gives you, you can appeal the decision (ask for a decision review). A decision review usually involves presenting additional medical evidence to the VA that can influence the disability rating they give you. If you need to provide additional evidence through statements from friends, family members, or fellow servicemembers, you should file them through VA , form 21-4138
VA form 21-4138, also known as a Statement in Support of Claim, is a form that can play a crucial role in the VA’s assessment of your disability claim. When you fill out a Statement in Support of Claim, the VA will request some specific pieces of personal information from you. To fill out form 21-4138, be prepared to provide the VA with the following:
The VA will use this information to identify you and keep your claim organized. If the VA is missing any of this info, they may not be able to proceed with reviewing your claim. However, even if you provide the VA with all the relevant information they need, it could still take over 6 months to receive a decision on your appeal.
A VA 21-4138 form also has an additional section for the person writing the claim to add any remarks supporting your claim. This is the main section of this form. In this section, you can provide the VA with any information that you think might be beneficial to them throughout the remainder of the process of reviewing your claim. For example, if a fellow servicemember noticed you began snoring in service, they could add that as evidence in their statement to help prove you developed sleep apnea while serving. Or, if your spouse noticed a change in your behavior, that could be related to the onset of a mental health condition.
The final section on a VA 21-4138 form is the declaration of intent. In this section of the form, you’ll provide a signature and verify that you have filled out the form truthfully. To timestamp the form, you’ll also provide a date.
Once you have successfully filled out a Statement in Support of Claim, you can either drop it off in person at your regional VA office or send it to the VA by mail. Once the VA has your information, they will be able to proceed with the decision-making process.
After the VA gets any additional information that they need from you, they will likely take several months to reach a decision regarding your claim. According to the VA website, the average time between when a Veteran files a claim and when they get their decision from the VA is 131.5 days. While you wait to get your claim results, you can check the VA’s website to make sure they do not need any additional information from you. In addition, from the VA’s claim status page, you can see any updates from the VA regarding your claim.
If the VA gets back to you and denies your claim, it doesn’t mean game over. In fact, this is quite common. This doesn’t mean your battle for disability benefits is over. You always have the right to appeal the VA’s decision. You can take several different appeal routes to receive a new decision from the VA, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.
In a decision review, you can submit additional evidence and information to the VA that can impact the outcome of your claim. During the decision review process, you can also submit the results of an independent medical examination (IME), which can provide a second opinion for the VA to compare to the results of your C&P exam. An IME is an examination that you get from a doctor who is unaffiliated with the VA. This doctor will review your military medical records, run tests and perform a checkup similar to the VA’s C&P exam. However, if a private doctor can find conclusive evidence that supports you getting approved for disability benefits, the VA may consider this and change their decision.
At times, the VA neither approves nor denies a Veteran’s application to receive disability benefits. In this case, the claim has been deferred. If the VA defers your claim, it likely means they still need additional information from you to reach a conclusive decision regarding your claim.
If your VA disability claim has been deferred, it might mean that some information is missing from the 21-4138 form that you submitted in support of your claim. Or, if you did not take a C&P exam, your claim might be deferred as well. The VA will give you an explanation of why your claim has been deferred and will let you know what steps you can take to get the decision-making process up and running again.
If the VA approves your disability claim but gives you a lower rating than you deserve, that doesn’t mean you are stuck with their decision. Even if your claim is approved, you can still request a decision review or make an appeal.
When you don’t get the best possible outcome from the VA, it is definitely worth fighting for the benefits you deserve. Even if that means going to court with the support of an attorney, it’s worth the time and effort to get the disability benefits you earned through your military service.
You can appeal any VA decision – whether that is a denial of benefits or a rating that is too low. The appeals process often involves hiring an attorney and having them support you throughout any hearings. Depending on how you appeal your claim, your first hearing could take place at your regional VA office, where your attorney will make a case that the VA should change their decision regarding your claim. If the case is still not settled on the regional level, it can move up to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, based in Washington, D.C.
If you need help appealing a VA decision, Berry Law has your back. We have attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get all the disability benefits they deserve. We are Veterans serving Veterans, and we’re here to walk you through the appeals process and help you get a great outcome that will leave you with all the disability compensation you deserve.
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