Veterans

VA Disability Claims Advocates

Veterans put it all on the line for our country, therefore, we must ensure that they and their families are taken care of in the event of injury or illness.

Many assistance and benefit programs are available through the Veterans’ Administration (VA) to meet the needs of and enhance the quality of life of our country’s heroes. Unfortunately, the process for obtaining disability benefits is too complex and time-consuming for most veterans to manage. Many times claims are denied, and veterans don’t receive all of their entitled benefits. However, this does not have to be the case. Professional advocates are helping veterans every day to receive the full benefits they need and deserve.

The Role of a Professional Advocate

A professional advocate is an attorney or non-attorney professional expert who advocates on behalf of veterans. They help them obtain and understand what is needed for a claim and answer all claim-related questions. In addition, advocates analyze VA claim history and determine the most efficient way for veterans to receive all the benefits they deserve. Advocates will also assist in the appeals process and help provide sworn testimonies.

Limitations of The Disability Claims Process

Thousands of US veterans apply for disability benefits and compensation every year. Unfortunately, about 40% of disability claims are denied the first time. In addition to high denial rates, the Department of Veteran Affairs is unable to keep up with the demand for disability benefits. Veterans are competing with one another for limited resources. The system is backlogged, and the disability claims approval process can take months or even years.

Even without the stress of denials and long wait times, the process can still be very overwhelming. Many forms need to be fully understood and filled out carefully. Significant evidence and relevant medical records must also be properly submitted with a claim.

While this process can be incredibly frustrating, a professional advocate can help simplify it. They guide the veteran through each form, provide necessary evidence by consulting with medical providers, and can file an appeal if a claim is denied.

Inadequate Disability Benefits

Sometimes a veteran is approved for disability benefits but receives less than the entitled amount. This usually happens when a disability rating is too low.

Disability benefits are directly dependent on a veteran’s disability rating. The disability rating assigns a percentage to determine the severity of the disability. The scale measures from 0% to 100% and is based on a thorough health review. Many times veterans feel their rating is insufficient. Fortunately, in these circumstances, a supplemental claim appeal can be filed with new evidence and medical documentation. However, this process may take several appeals, and a small error could be the reason a case is thrown out. For the best outcome, an experienced advocate is highly recommended.

Obtaining the Maximum Benefit with a Professional Advocate

Disability assistance and benefits are meant to be utilized. Unfortunately, the system is not perfect, leaving many veterans with insufficient benefits or none at all. Professional advocates work to relieve this burden on veterans and their families. With an experienced advocate, the claims process is much more efficient, and an appeal is much more likely to be approved. According to the VA’s 2020 annual report- 40.9% of veteran appeals are approved with an attorney advocate. In contrast, only 26.2% of veteran appeals are approved without representation.

Professional advocates are essential when navigating the VA disability claims and appeals process. An experienced advocate will very carefully analyze the situation, identify and complete the correct forms, and determine the best way to obtain the maximum benefits owed.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Veterans

An Act to Protect Veterans Becomes Law

It is the largest expansion in healthcare and benefits for veterans for more than thirty years since the Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was passed on August 10, 2022. The cumbersome name stems from the story of SFC Heath Robinson, who died from a rare form of lung cancer due to toxic exposures after serving as a combat medic. This bill honors his name and the memory of all those lost to toxic exposure during service. The law comprehensively addresses the risk of toxins impacting the health of veterans, their families, and caregivers. 

Often, it can take years for these illnesses to manifest due to the increased health risks military servicemembers assume in locations all over the world. This time lag between exposure and disease can make it difficult to establish a direct connection between a veteran’s service and resulting illnesses and disabilities from multiple military environments. The PACT Act charter will bring about the following changes:

  • Expand and extend veteran eligibility for VA health care due to toxic exposure during the Vietnam, Gulf War, and other post-9/11 eras
  • The addition of more than twenty new “presumptive conditions” as they relate to military burn pits and other toxic exposures
  • The addition of more presumptive-exposure locations for radiation and Agent Orange
  • Requirements for the VA to provide toxic exposure screenings to every veteran receiving care in the VA healthcare system
  • Increase funding for and improve research efforts, staff education, and treatment as it relates to toxic exposures

Presumptive Conditions

What exactly is a “presumptive condition” due to toxic exposure? A VA disability rating typically connects your military service with proof that your service is directly responsible for your condition to qualify for benefits. However, in some situations, there is now an automatic presumption that your service is responsible for your condition. Laws or regulations determine whether a condition is considered presumptive. Under these circumstances, there is no need to prove your service is responsible. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

The eras and wars in which a veteran served and their associated benefits eligibility are detailed on this US Department of Veterans Affairs PACT Act resource link. The website also outlines claim filing processes to receive these benefits. If the VA previously denied your claim but now considers your condition falls into the presumptive category, you can submit a supplemental claim for VA review under the PACT Act.

Extended Healthcare Enrollment Periods

In particular, for post-9/11 combat veterans, the PACT Act extends the time period to enroll in VA health care from five to ten years post-honorable discharge. Additionally, there is a one-year open enrollment period for those combat veterans who do not fall within this window of time. These enrollment changes increase the number of veterans able to participate in VA PACT Act benefits without demonstrating a direct service-connected disability. By establishing presumptive conditions and expanding the list of other illnesses, the VA greatly reduces the paperwork and need for medical exams to qualify for and grant access to health care and disability compensation. These changes streamline the process of receiving earned benefits when the timing of this help is everything due to a debilitating illness(es).

VA Secretary Denis McDonough encourages those veterans who think they may be eligible for these benefits to learn more about the PACT Act by visiting this VA resource link or phoning 1-800-MY-VA-411. Benefits associated with the PACT Act became effective on August 10, 2022, when the bill was signed into law.

Claiming Your VA Benefits

Like many VA benefits claims, the process can be daunting even though this law seeks to simplify its approach while increasing the pool of eligible veterans. Correctly filing out and filing forms is crucial to initial application success. Retaining the services of an attorney specializing in veterans’ benefits can help ensure you submit your claim accurately, streamlining receipt of your benefits. This law will deliver much-needed benefits to millions of veterans and their survivors. Upon reviewing the information in the VA links provided, if you are a veteran that falls within these timeframes of war and other post-9/11 combat services, talk to a veterans attorney today.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Veterans

Plan for Long-Term Care With VA Benefits

Can veteran’s benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs be used to help subsidize the cost of long-term care? The answer is, as with most governmental things, complicated. A much-underused pension benefit known as Aid and Attendance can provide some money to cover costs for assistance performing everyday tasks. Aid and Attendance benefits may even be available to veterans with incomes above the eligibility limit if they have a large enough medical expense(s) for which they receive no reimbursement.

VA benefits also pay for those veterans without service-related disabilities but who cannot pay the cost of necessary care if their income level does not exceed eligibility requirements. Aid and Attendance as a pension benefit are available to those veterans who served a minimum of ninety days with at least one day during wartime. However, the veteran did not have to see actual combat. Find out about eligibility requirements here at the va.gov website. All VA benefits have a service requirement to qualify for long-term care, and the veteran applicant must have an honorable or general discharge to qualify for these benefits.

Typically, long-term care services occur in veterans’ home settings as care in facilities is limited due to availability, staffing issues, and an overall failure of the US long-term care marketplace to provide quality long-term facility care at reasonable prices. At-home care has two programs that help veterans.

What are Veteran Aid and Attendance Benefits?

The first, as mentioned, is Aid and Attendance Benefits (A&A Benefits) coupled with Housebound allowance. This program provides cash to eligible veterans with disabilities and their surviving spouses to purchase at-home and community-based services. These services include caregiver assistance and personal care. The cash is a supplement to existing eligible veterans’ pension benefits.

What is the Veteran Directed Care Program?

The second is the Veteran Directed Care Program, providing veterans with a flexible budget for purchasing services like counseling or other support provided by the Aging Network in partnership with the VA. The program is available to veterans of all ages who need at-home and community-based services in a consumer-directed way and provide help with daily living activities and more.

While not all long-term care provision is in a home setting, many veterans are most comfortable receiving aid in their own homes, mainly if a spouse or other family member is available for ad hoc caregiving.  For those veterans who live alone, a nursing home, assisted living center, adult health center, or private homes where caregivers support a small group of veterans may be a better solution. Some of these facilities will be run directly by the VA, while others are VA-approved state or community organizations.

Long-term care services for qualifying sick or disabled veterans include:

  • 24/7 nursing and medical care
  • Help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, personal care, dressing, taking medications, and making meals
  • Pain management and comfort care
  • Caregiver support

Planning for long-term care through VA benefits is a complex set of tasks. The most comprehensive and best solutions generally come from elder law attorneys who specialize in VA benefits. In addition to VA long-term care benefits, your attorney may be able to ensure additional services not covered by the VA but may be available through Medicare, Medicaid, or a private insurance policy. Your attorney also understands techniques of transferring wealth, including the three-year look-back rule and how it affects a veteran’s eligibility for VA long-term care benefits.

The Importance of Long-term Care Planning for Veterans

According to Forbes, many veterans miss out on long-term care benefits with a mere five percent application rate for the assistance funds because veterans are unaware of the programs. Knowing about the programs and if you qualify, locating the necessary paperwork, filling it out, and filing applications can be daunting. Incorrectly filed applications can delay the process of receiving benefits. VeteranAid.org is an online free resource for veterans and their surviving spouses and families. The website details A&A Pension Benefits and how to apply.

If you are a veteran or have a loved one who is a veteran, it is imperative to maximize all long-term care benefits due to them for their military service. The sooner you can identify what is available to you, the quicker you can fill out the applications and get the process of receiving VA long-term care benefits moving forward. As with all long-term planning, you will typically have a better outcome if you address the situation early. We hope you found this article helpful. Contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 today and find out about the assistance funds that may be due to you for long-term care.