Archive for the ‘Veterans' Disability’ Category
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.
Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
The effects of the last government shutdown have some in Congress taking steps to protect veterans in the event of another one. During the last shutdown, there were looming fears that vets wouldn’t receive their disability checks.
Recently, members of a House committee requested full funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) discretionary budget a year in advance. At this time, the only VA department that receives advanced funding is healthcare services.
There is a lot of support from both sides of the aisle and numerous outside agencies in making sure that should another shutdown occur, benefit payments for veterans won’t stop. However, these efforts have stalled.
Meanwhile, the secretary of the VA indicates advanced funding won’t necessarily eliminate all problems if there is another government shutdown. The VA may still have to validate threshold income levels through the IRS and other disability payments through Social Security.
But government shutdowns aren’t the only concerns regarding veterans receiving a disability paycheck. Even the initial request for benefits could be met with some challenges, shutdown or not.
Many disability claims are denied or the process is delayed for simple mistakes made on the application or when submitting evidence. For instance, there could be missing information or documentation. Or the paperwork wasn’t submitted in a timely manner. It could also be that the VA is arguing the medical condition isn’t service-connected. Even if disability benefits are approved, there could be other complications that arise—such as a dispute regarding the disability rating.
Wherever someone is in the process, beginning the process or appealing a VA disability claim that has been denied, it might be in the vet’s best interest to secure legal counsel. For assistance, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.
Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
Three new studies show there are significant numbers of U.S. soldiers suffering from some type of mental health disorder, and may be at greater risk of suicide. In both areas, the rates are higher amongst soldiers than in the general population.
Researchers at Harvard found that major depression is five times higher for soldiers than civilians and intermittent explosive (anger) disorder is six times higher. Rates were significantly higher when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with soldiers nearly 15 times more likely to suffer than civilians.
One study focusing on those enlisted in the Army found that 25 percent of active duty, non-deployed soldiers tested positive for at least one psychiatric disorder. And 11 percent had signs of more than one mental illness. But many of these psychiatric conditions existed before enlisting, including panic disorder, PTSD, major depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, alcohol/drug abuse and intermittent explosive disorder.
In a second study, there was evidence linking mental illness prior to enlistment and suicide. In nearly 60 percent of the cases involving a suicide attempt, the soldiers had pre-existing mental disorders.
A third study looked at risk factors for suicide. Those at highest risk were white males, soldiers recently demoted and those with a junior enlisted rank (private, private 2nd class, private 3rd class and army specialist).
While these studies highlighted issues surrounding soldiers enlisting with prior mental health disorders, it continues to be a problem for those who have served—particularly those who are deployed. It’s important to note that if a physical or mental disability is connected to service, servicemembers may be entitled to veterans disability benefits.
If there are concerns about your right to benefits, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. for assistance. Call us today at 888-234-5758.
Friday, March 14th, 2014
New research suggests a possible link between brain changes and sleep problems in Gulf War vets. Previous studies have shown connections between poor sleep and structural changes in certain regions of the frontal lobe, the study authors note. In these findings, there was reduced gray matter throughout the entire frontal lobe. This part of the brain is involved in several different functions—such as impulse control, planning, higher level thinking, reasoning and memory.
The study found the link existed even after considering other potential factors like Gulf War illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, medication to treat mental illness and depression.
Researchers analyzed 144 Gulf War vets using sleep quality assessments and MRI scans. Vets who experienced sleep problems had less gray matter. However, the study doesn’t show if one causes the other. It only suggests a potential link. More research will need to be conducted in order to learn if treatment for sleep disturbances improves functioning in the brain.
VA Disability Benefits for Disabled Vets
Gulf War vets sometimes face challenges establishing a service-connected disability. But one way they may be eligible to receive disability benefits is through what’s called presumptive service connection. There are certain requirements that must be met, which includes proof of being a Gulf War veteran, having a qualifying chronic disability (rated at least 10 percent) and that it arose while in service or afterwards.
Those who served in the Gulf War are just one example of vets who could be entitled to disability compensation. Any veteran who has been diagnosed with a disabling condition connected to military service may be eligible. It’s important to understand the specific requirements that could apply—including location while on active duty and the nature of one’s illness or injury. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. assists veterans who are filing an initial claim or taking the next step to appeal a denied claim. Call us at 888-234-5758 or contact us online.
Monday, February 17th, 2014
Roadside bombs are a serious problem for servicemembers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and now researchers are seeking to better understand the long-term effects these attacks can have on veterans.
According to military records, the U.S. has lost 3,589 soldiers to roadside bombs and another 32,556 have been wounded, reports Stars and Stripes. These numbers come from the 2.6 million troops that have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the past decade.
Brain damage is one of the most common long-term injuries caused by roadside bombs. Approximately 32,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with brain damage, according to VA data reported by Stars and Stripes, which can occur without any physical impact to the servicemembers’ head. In some cases, just being in the proximity of a roadside bomb detonation can be forceful enough to cause head trauma leading to brain damage.
The long-term consequences of brain damage are not completely understood, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is looking for better sources of research on the condition. The IOM have requested that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) develop a database to report cases of servicemembers injured by roadside bombs and the long-term complications they experience after the attack.
The VA already keeps detailed records of Agent Orange exposure and of Gulf War veterans who experience service-connected illnesses. The development of a roadside bomb injury database could help doctors better understand the various disabling conditions that can persist after an attack.
With continuing research and treatment of veterans injured by roadside blasts, doctors are constantly finding new ailments connected to brain damage. A roadside bomb can cause a number of service-connected disabilities which may qualify a veteran for veterans’ disability benefits.
If you or a loved one were injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq or Afghanistan and are disabled because of it, contact The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. to speak to a veterans disability claims specialist: 1-888-234-5758.
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) group doesn’t believe the government is doing enough to reduce the backlog of disability claims. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been working toward a goal of eliminating backlogged claims by 2015. Some of its efforts have included working older cases first, mandatory overtime and the implementation of an automated processing system.
As of the end of last year, delayed claims were dropping. But then in January they increased to approximately 400,000. The veteran’s group wants to see more done to work toward a solution, which means getting to the root of the problem.
The IAVA compiled a 36-page report which outlines a number of recommendations, some of which include:
- passage of more laws by Congress to ensure claims processing is done quickly;
- improved training for claims processors, leading to greater accuracy and efficiency;
- ensuring faster turnaround to obtain necessary documentation, such as medical records; and
- requiring vets file for disability using an electronic claim form.
The group would also like to see the VA do a better job of tracking the success of its efforts and anticipating how future decisions may impact the system.
The group’s ideas for moving the process forward at a quicker rate are in large part already supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, some are opposed by other vet groups, according to a USA Today report. One particular issue is that some veterans may not have access to a computer or the skills necessary to be successful in completing an online application.
Of course, there are steps vets can take to reduce unnecessary delays. Whether you need help filing an initial claim or an appeal, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. for assistance. Call 888-234-5758 or contact us online.
Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Disabled vets are expected to be spared from some of the anticipated military pension cuts. Last month, Congress decided to reduce cost-of-living raises for military retirees by one percentage point, set to begin in 2015. This will save approximately $6.3 billion.
However, vets who are disabled will still be entitled to full benefits. The budget deal “carves out $600 million” to make sure disabled vets still receive their full benefits, Rep. Hal Rogers, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said in a statement. Of course, that still means a significant number of veterans will lose some of their pension benefits.
This could mean a substantial loss, as many of the men and women who enter the service do so starting anywhere from 18 years old through their 20s. Most retire while in their 40s, but some do remain until reaching age 62. A loss of one percentage point each year could quickly add up.
Those who make a career out of the military and retire in 20 years, could expect a loss in retiree pensions of more than 20 percent. While efforts are being made to protect disabled vets from experiencing these cuts, many say it’s not enough, according to a CNN report.
Get Help Filing for Disability Benefits
Of course, it’s important to remember that although battles wage over cuts, one type of benefit that remains available to all who qualify is disability compensation. Any veteran whose physical or psychological disability is connected to service could be entitled to monthly payments.
The amount depends on the disability rating assigned. The higher it is (which starts at 0 and increases in 10 percent increments, up to 100 percent), the more compensation available. Sometimes there are multiple conditions that must be considered. If there are questions or problems with determining eligibility, the disability rating or how to file a claim—don’t hesitate to contact an attorney at the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. at 888-234-5758.
Friday, January 31st, 2014
Delays are fairly common when it comes to a variety of veterans’ benefits. One example in which this can be a problem is for post-911 veterans seeking GI Bill benefits.
However, the good news is that progress has been made quicker, with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) reducing the process close to 50 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. This despite the fact there was a 27 percent increase in the number of educational claims filed.
This reduction in education benefits is being attributed to improvements in claims automation because of advancements in technology. Implementation of the “Long Term Solution” processing system in Sept 2012 includes more than 1,700 rules and calculations that help determine eligibility.
These benefits are available to Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and their families who wish to further their education. Housing, tuition, books and supplies and other payments are examples of expenses covered by the GI Bill.
For new enrollees, the current timeframe for processing an initial claim is less than 20 days on average. For returning students, less than eight days.
Improved GI Bill Processing May Help Disability Claims Processing
There are other advantages to the improvements of processing these educational benefits. It may also help the VA address the backlog of disability claims. The faster GI Bill benefits are processed, the more time can be spent on other claims, such as disability decisions.
VA provides lots of benefits to veterans and servicemembers. In addition to the GI bill, vocational rehab and home loan benefits may be available. But they also provide disability benefits when an injury or illness is service-connected. The amount depends on the disability rating assigned.
If you have applied for disability and are running into problems getting these benefits approved, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. at 888-234-5758 to learn more about your rights and for help obtaining the disability benefits to which you are entitled.
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
In the newest update from the Department of Veteran Affairs, progress continues to be made in eliminating all backlogged disability claims by 2015. In March 2013, the number of claims pending had reached its highest number at 608,000, according to a Stars and Stripes report from late December. As of the end of 2013, that number was reduced to 393,000.
Despite the good news, there is still much work to be done, especially since the department has other goals to meet; for instance, reaching 98 percent accuracy in decision making and ensuring every single claim filed is processed within 125 days.
But there are concerns from some skeptics about the ability to meet those goals, a PBS report from late December reminds us. Currently the accuracy rate is in the 80 percent range. There’s also the issue of 250,000 disability claims being added to those already backlogged. And in the next four years, the department expects to see the number of pending disability claims double.
These and other factors may create a lot of uncertainty for any veteran who wishes to file an initial claim, let alone appeal one that has been denied. But there are things veterans can do that may expedite the process or at least prevent delays.
Many claims are denied because of missing information like records and documentation that support the applicant’s eligibility for disability. It could be that the applicant hasn’t filled out paperwork correctly or failed to submit it on time. Making sure everything is in order can help prevent unnecessary delays and the necessity of going through the appeals process. One way to avoid these mistakes is to work with an attorney.
There are several steps that disabled veterans seeking benefits must take and deadlines that they must meet. To ensure you complete your application correctly, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758 or fill out our contact form.