A common question many veterans have is whether it is possible to increase their service-connected disability rating. Our Los Angeles veterans pension benefits lawyer understands that this could potentially affect your pension benefits, so seeking legal advice on this issue is a good idea.
Filing for an increase in veterans disability rating
The Veterans Administration permits requests to increase certain disability ratings because the majority of injuries and illnesses have a tendency to worsen. However, the Veterans Administration will not automatically adjust your benefits simply because your condition may have worsened. Instead, veterans are expected to file for an increase and go through the required process. Our Los Angeles veterans pension benefits lawyer can help you make that request.
Changes in disability status can be expected
The reality is that disabling conditions rarely stay exactly the same. Injuries and illnesses that result in disability tend to either improve, worsen, or change completely. If your condition worsens like, for example, a traumatic brain injury, then you may need to have your disability rating adjusted. Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, can result in future memory loss or seizures that may not have been seen or diagnosed early on. In those cases, it is important to file a claim for a disability rating increase.
Two options for formal claims
As our Los Angeles veterans pension benefits lawyer can explain, there are essentially two options. You can file for either Veteran’s Supplemental Claim for Compensation (VA Form 21-526b) or Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ). These forms can be submitted as a formal claim for increasing a veteran’s disability rating.
Other claim forms to consider
The Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation based on Unemployability (VA Form 21-8940) is used for submitting a formal claim for a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (“TDIU”). However, this type of claim does not actually increase your disability rating but instead can increase the rate of pay in situations where a disabling condition has resulted in the veteran’s inability to find or maintain gainful employment.
Another option to consider is filing an Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC (“Intent to File”- VA Form 21-0966). The purpose of this filing is to establish the effective date of these claims as long as one of the forms was submitted within one year of the Intent to File form. It is important to establish an effective date for these types of claims.
The importance of the effective date for increase of disability rating
Generally speaking, the effective date is the date from which your VA benefits will be paid or the date of your entitlement to a higher disability rating. The primary reason the effective date is so important is that, if your claim is successful, then your retroactive benefits (i.e. back pay) will date back to the established effective date. In other words, the earlier your effective date is established, the more back pay you may be entitled to.
With claims to increase your disability rating, the effective date is typically the date your condition worsened sufficiently to trigger an increase in your rating. This is true regardless of whether your claim was filed later, as long as that Intent to File form is filed within a year.
How to establish a worsened condition
Usually, veterans can establish that their disability has worsened through hospital records or records from a health care provider. The date of those particular records would serve as the effective date. There are a few other methods as well, including lay statements from individuals who have witnessed a worsening of your condition in a verifiable way. In some case, a lay statement may be sufficient to demonstrate that your condition has worsened enough to warrant a higher disability rating. Speak to our Los Angeles veterans pension benefits lawyer to discuss all of your options.
Statements from treating physicians are the best evidence
Although lay statements may suffice in some situations, our Los Angeles veterans pension benefits lawyer will tell you that statements from your treating physician or other health care provider are the best evidence of a worsening disability. Even a statement from a health care provider asked to provide an independent medical opinion (“IMO”) is a good option. Remember, though, when you request a statement from a health care provider, you should provide them with a copy of the relevant VA regulations and rating chart for the specific condition or injury at issue. That way, your health care provider can include the proper language.
If you have questions regarding veterans pension benefits, estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696, and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.
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