Archive for the ‘Veterans' Disability’ Category

Department of Veterans Affairs Updates Disability Claims Application

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

New regulations that become effective in March 2015 will standardize the disability claims form in order to make the disability benefit application process simpler and uniform for all veterans, families and survivors. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the uniformed disability claims form on September 24 and officials say the new forms will make it easier to clearly state the benefits the applicant is seeking.

Other improvements to the form include clarified instructions on providing the information necessary for processing initial claims and appeals. In the past, there was no standard form for veterans to seek compensation or other VA benefits. This resulted in many forms with too little or too much information and contributed to a substantial claims backlog.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald has high hopes for the uniform disability claims forms, saying, “Our Veterans and survivors will know, at the outset of the claims process, what is needed, which removes subjective interpretation from the process. We want to eliminate any barriers that make it difficult for our Veterans or survivors to receive benefits to which they are entitled.”

Veterans who are seeking disability benefits can bypass the confusion and difficulty of preparing and filing a VA disability claim by working with a disabled veterans representative. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. is committed to helping veterans with their disability appeals and getting them the benefits to which they are entitled. This requires providing adequate documentation to support your claim to prevent an avoidable denial of benefits.

Contact our veterans’ disability rights firm today to inquire about your eligibility for veterans’ disability benefits. Call us at 1-888-234-5758 to speak with a claims representative at our firm.

Veterans Benefits Administration Processes One Millionth Claim

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reason to celebrate this month as its Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) marks its one millionth processed claim. Officials say that within the next five months they are on track to process another 1.3 million claims. If they meet that goal, the total number of claims processed by the end of fiscal year 2014 will be 200,000 greater than the number of claims processed in fiscal year 2013.

Over the past three years, the VBA has been undergoing an extreme transformation in order to expedite the claims process while simultaneously reducing the margin of error in claim decisions. The long-term goal for the VBA is to process all veterans’ disability claims within 125 days at a 98 percent accuracy level by 2015. The VBA is currently processing new claims within 128 days at a 91 percent accuracy rate.

Since the initiative to improve veterans disability claims began in 2011, the VBA has processed over one million claims each year. Officials at the VA are encouraged that they have hit the one million mark in early July, and are optimistic that they will surpass the two million mark this year. The increase in efficiency and accuracy is thanks to several actions implemented by the VBA including:

  • automated online dependency claims;
  • contracted assistance for entering data from paper-based dependency claims;
  • up-front income verification for pension applications for instant eligibility decisions;
  • automatic payment of one-time burial allowances;
  • automation of drill pay adjustments;
  • employees at the National Call Centers now processing dependency claims; and
  • hiring 200 temporary employees.

Even with the VA improving claim processing, there is still room for errors that can slow down or disrupt the benefit award process. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. is here to help disabled veterans address unfair claim decisions and correct their files as necessary to ensure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled. To find out more about our veterans’ disability services, contact our firm today 1-888-234-5758.

Disability from Combat-related Brain Injuries Similar Whether from a Blast or Other Cause

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

A new study finds that active military personnel with brain injuries experience similar outcomes whether the injury was the result of a blast or other type of trauma. The study included servicemembers deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Of those deployed, about 20 percent sustained a head injury. Approximately 83 percent suffered a concussion. And of those who did, close to 80 percent experienced moderate to severe disability within a year.

Researchers evaluated a total of 178 military personnel injured while serving. This included 53 injured in a blast and 29 by other causes. Also, two control groups comprised of active duty personnel exposed to blasts with no brain injury and 69 treated for injuries without blast exposure or brain trauma.

They saw little difference in the overall level of disability for those who experienced a concussion after a blast (77 percent) compared to other causes (79 percent). The same was true when it comes to severity of headache, post-traumatic stress disorder, scores on mental skills tests and depression.

However, there was a difference in disability between the control groups and those with concussions. Rates of moderate to severe disability for military personnel with blast exposure and no brain injury was 41 percent. But it was 59 percent for those who suffered a concussion whether from a blast or other causes.

Researchers point out that the blast was accompanied by another type of impact, such as an object hitting the head or the head striking something (inside of a vehicle, ground, etc.). Another important discovery is that when compared to civilians who suffer concussions, the outcome is often worse for active duty servicemembers. But they point out that it may be the injuries are just more severe.

If you are a veteran who suffered a severe brain injury while serving, you may qualify for disability benefits. To learn more, contact an attorney who handles veterans’ disability cases. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. we can help. Contact us today at 888-234-5758.

Mental Health Disorders Increasing in Military Service Members

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Treatment of mental health disorders in military men and women has gone up. In 2012, approximately 3.5 percent of our servicemembers received care for depression, PTSD, anxiety and other conditions.

Experts attribute the increase to the following factors:

  • more servicemembers seeking treatment;
  • an actual increase in mental health disorders since 9/11; and
  • effects from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Greater recognition of mental health disorders among our military men and women is a step in the right direction. But although there’s less stigma attached to mental health problems, there are still many others out there who aren’t receiving necessary care.

Also, in the past many of our military men and women received just one course of treatment. But that has changed since 2012, with many undergoing more intensive treatment. In fact, between 2000 and 2012, those numbers went up nearly six times.

The concerns for ensuring our servicemembers get proper help isn’t just because treatment is important to improve quality of life. It’s also based on the number of suicides, with many cases of suicide having nothing to do with combat. Even those never deployed are at risk. Suicide rates in the military have increased. In 2005, it was about 10 to 11 service members per 100,000 active duty troops. But in 2009, that increased to 18 per 100,000.

It’s so important that our military men and women get the help they need for mental health issues. Further, vets with a mental illness may qualify to receive disability compensation. This depends on if it’s service-connected and falls under one of Social Security Administration’s listing of impairments. Learn more about eligibility to recover benefits or get help appealing a denied claim; contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. at 888-234-5758.

Military Personnel Files Destroyed Decades Ago Still Causing Challenges for Vets Seeking Disability

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Current troubles facing Veterans Administration (VA) has cast a shadow over a much older problem. More than 40 years ago, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center destroyed between 16 and 18 million military personnel files. The effects are still felt today, reports Fox News, with many vets struggling to get the benefits they deserve.

Because electronic record keeping didn’t exist, the VA has been unable to reconstruct some of those files. As a result, some vets who sustained injuries in previous wars have had trouble collecting disability benefits.

The National Archives reports that the fire destroyed 75 percent of Air Force personnel discharged between September 25, 1947 and January 1, 1964, and 80 percent of Army personnel discharged between November 1, 1912 and January 1, 1960, according to the Fox News article.

Record keeping has apparently been an issue that’s plagued the VA for decades. They didn’t create indexes for the files, microfilm copies or duplicates.

However, archivists have been able to recover some of those records. In fact, their efforts to restore them continues today. As a result, some vets have finally received approval for benefits. This includes those who served during WWII and Vietnam.

In light of the VA’s current problems involving secret waiting lists and poor scheduling, it’s clear the VA still has a major problem with record keeping and serving vets. Fraud and improper claims handling are a couple of the biggest issues faced today, but so is waiting. Today’s vets may not have had to wait as long as those whose files were destroyed in a fire four decades ago to get benefits, but it’s still an ongoing issue as the VA works to address the claims backlog.

Qualifying for disability benefits is just the first step. Next is to file the paperwork and submit the appropriate type of evidence. Because of the backlog of claims, it’s important to do this correctly the first time. For help filing an initial claim, or to appeal a denied claim, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. at 888-234-5758 or via our online contact form.

Lost and Misplaced Records a Problem at St. Petersburg Veterans Regional Office

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

An investigation of the Veterans Benefits Administration Office in St. Petersburg reveals a chaotic and disorganized system. This may account for some of the more than 21,000 disability claims pending at this particular office.

Conducted by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General in March, the investigation found an assortment of problems with paperwork and files. Some of the issues included misfiled and lost records, along with files stacked in piles.

The mailroom was just one of the areas experiencing difficulties. This included delays in sorting and preparing evidence mail that helps claim processors make decisions on a claim. According to employees, it’s about a three-week delay.

Failure to stamp certain records was another problem. This included copies of Official Military Personnel and Service Treatment Records files. Without identifying this documentation, it’s difficult to process a claim.

The file room was another source of disarray. Some claims had to be rebuilt because of lost documents. The office was keeping a log of these files but some of the records were mistakenly overwritten by an employee.

Officials from Veterans Benefits Administration acknowledge the St. Petersburg office has resolved two of three recommendations. They are still working on the other. It’s also reported that since March 2013, the number of backlogged claims (those older than 125 days) has dropped by 41 percent. Yet, the numbers still show a significant problem exists. Of the 36,622 rating claims pending at the St. Petersburg office, 21,222 have been pending longer than 125 days.

Eliminating paper files will address many of the issues found in this (and other) regional offices. But that effort is still in the works, with about 87 percent of the VA’s files now available electronically.

Veterans can help reduce delays by submitting paperwork on time and making sure it’s completed properly and including the appropriate documentation, such as evidence of military service or disability. For help with filing an initial claim or appealing a denied claim, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.

Veterans Sue Government for Failing to Act on Petition to Reduce Burden of Proof for PTSD Caused by Sexual Assault

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Veterans’ disability compensation may be available for those who have suffered military sexual trauma. One of the factors that determines eligibility is proving that sexual assault caused post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But now veterans are suing the U.S. government for failing to act on a petition filed months ago. The petition seeks a reduction in the burden of proof for PTSD stemming from sexual assault.

In general, veterans must show their disabling mental and/or physical injuries are service-related. Certain conditions don’t require this proof, though, such as injuries related to exposure to Agent Orange.

For a victim of sexual assault to receive disability payments, it requires a generous amount of evidence. But veterans would like to see nothing more than testimony from a healthcare provider that a veteran suffers from PTSD.

Currently, evidence must include proof of both the sexual trauma and that it caused changes in behavior. This is oftentimes difficult to establish, not to mention that claims for military sexual trauma deal with an especially sensitive issue.

It’s a bigger problem than many people think. According to a VA national screening program, one in four women experience sexual assault while serving. But they aren’t the only victims; one in every 100 men experience the sexual assault while in the service.

It’s not uncommon to receive a denial for this type of disability claim. As if the trauma itself wasn’t enough to deal with, a victim may have to do provide ample proof that it happened. It’s important to consult with an attorney who can help file an appeal. Don’t hesitate to contact The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. for assistance: 888-234-5758.

Study: Distress Greater for Male Victims of Military Sexual Harassment

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Results from a new study found that the adverse effects of sexual harassment in the military may be worse for men than women. The research involved 19,000 servicemembers, more than 9,000 of which were men. Of all the servicemembers, more than 6,300 men and women experienced sexual harassment in the past year.

Of these 6,300 service members, 28 percent were men. And in 52 percent of the cases for men, sexual harassment involved another man. For women, 86 percent of the sexual harassment involved a man.

The participants answered questions about the incident through a survey. One of the topics addressed was how frightened he/she was by the experience and its impact afterward. Women described feeling frightened more often than men. But the men felt more distress, which affected job performance and caused physical and/or emotional problems.

For both genders, when sexual harassment involved a higher-ranking officer it caused the most distress. This was the situation for women in 68 percent of the cases and in 46 percent for men.

Researchers suggest two reasons that men may have more difficulty dealing with sexual harassment. One is that it’s not expected to happen, which could trigger an intense reaction. The other is that women know the possibility of sexual harassment exists. As a result, they are better prepared for it when it does occur.

The VA defines Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as repetitive, threatening sexual harassment or sexual assault. Disability benefits aren’t available for the trauma itself. But they could be if it results in a serious health problem. Anxiety disorders, substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders are examples.

Contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. to learn about eligibility. We can assist with gathering evidence that proves injuries or can assist with filing an appeal for a denied claim.

Caregivers of Post-9/11 Vets Could Be Putting Their Own Health at Risk

Monday, April 21st, 2014

A new study from RAND Corp found more than 1.1 million people in the United States are serving as caregivers for a disabled or injured post-9/11 veterans. And many of them are doing it without help from a formal program.

This is important because one of the findings from the study is that many of the caregivers are younger. These include spouses, friends and parents. Any programs offered to military caregivers tend to gear toward older caregivers. Even then, the majority of programs focus on the veteran and not those who take care of them.

Other key findings are that caregivers often care for vets with emotional and/or behavioral problems. And they have jobs outside the home. The benefit is that they save the nation billions of dollars in costs for long-term care. But they could be putting their own health at risk.

For instance, depression is four times higher for caregivers of post-9/11 veterans than non-caregivers. And with 30 percent of caregivers lacking health insurance, they may not receive treatment. Also, caregivers deal with more work problems and strained family relationships than non-caregivers.

The amount of time spent taking care of a vet is another issue. About 10 percent of pre-9/11 caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week giving care. But 12 percent of post-9/11 caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week providing care.

Some caregiving tasks may include:

  • making medical appointments;
  • assisting with bathing and eating;
  • caring for children; and
  • managing finances.

Post-9/11 caregivers miss an average of 3.5 days of work every month. These lost earnings only add to the stress and struggle they may experience.

In the decades ahead, it’s expected that the number of people caring for a disabled or injured vet will grow. Help may be available through disability benefits or other government programs. To learn about qualifying for disability benefits for a disabled vet, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.

Veterans Disability Claims Backlog Reduced By 44 Percent Since 2013

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was proud to announce that his department had effectively reduced the claims backlog by 44 percent since March 2013. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which handles veterans’ disability claim processing, had been under a backlog of more than 600,000 claims last year.

Thanks to new processing initiatives, mandatory overtime, and encouraging Fully Developed Claims (FDC), the VA has reduced its queue of claims to be process down to 344,000, a reduction of 267,000 claims in a single year. During this period, accuracy of claim processing also improved, reducing the average wait time for a claim decision by 119 days.

The claim backlog is created when veterans have to wait more than 125 days for a decision on their disability benefits claim. The backlog was created in large part from the need to reevaluate 150,000 previously decided cases from Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. In addition to these reevaluated cases, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and certain leukemias were added to the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, adding a new batch of Vietnam veterans to apply for service-connected disability.

In 2010 the VA established a goal of eliminating the backlog and reaching a 98 percent accuracy rate by 2015. This would mean that all new claims would have a decision within 125 days of submission and there would be little need for reevaluation or appeal of decisions due to errors. The current processing methods have improved in the last few years with a new sorting procedure helping separate Fully Developed Claims (FDC) from claims that need additional documentation and information to be processed.

As the VA prioritizes the FDCs and claims from veterans in need such as homeless or terminally ill veterans, claim processors are able to issue decisions on claims faster than before. This is partially thanks to the new paperless systems that have replaced traditional paper filing, reducing waste and making file transmission almost instantaneous. The VA has also increased the amount of staff processing claims and implemented mandatory overtime with priority given to the oldest claims in the queue.

The best way to help prevent your claim from falling into the backlog is to have it fully developed the first time you submit your files. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. is here to help disabled veterans fully develop their claims and appeal an unfavorable decision should their claim be denied or under-funded. Contact us today for more information about how we can help 1-888-234-5758.