For some veterans, accessing benefits to which they are entitled can be a difficult process. Aside from lots of paperwork and filing deadlines, there often is a perception that someone else needs the benefits more or that the veteran is self-sufficient and really doesn’t require assistance.
Anthony Kuhn, a service-connected disabled veteran and managing partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, knows the feeling all too well.
“I waited far too long to go and apply at the VA,” he said. “You’re thinking that, one, somebody else needs it more so you’re not going to go and you’re not going to do it. Two, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m young, I’m tough. I’m going to tough it out and I’m going to fight through this and I’ll be fine.’ The reality is that there’s no difference between service-connected benefits and any employer/employee-related disability. It’s the same thing. You have this disability as a result of your service in the military and you’re entitled to those payments.”
According to data released in 2015 by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 19.3 million veterans nationwide. Of that number, 3.8 million were listed with a service-connected disability rating. More than 1 million have a disability rating of 70 percent or higher.
The process isn’t easy, Kuhn said, and veterans applying for benefits must meet certain criteria. Service-connected compensation is available to veterans without a dishonorable discharge. He said there are a number of things to consider.
“First, you have to show that you have an existing medical condition or disability,” he said. “Second, you have to show that there was some type of medical condition that was either incurred or aggravated while on active duty. The third thing is that you have to be able to show a nexus between the two. You have to be able to link the incident on active duty with the medical condition you currently have.”
All three can be established through medical records or a “line-of-duty investigation,” according to Kuhn.
“That’s when you get injured on active duty and there is paperwork and an investigation that gets done that says whether or not it was aggravated or incurred on active duty,” he said.
Records from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and records from civilian doctors can be used. Once a veteran applies, the VA will go through all the evidence and determine whether the person is eligible for benefits.
The VA conducts additional exams, called the “compensation and pension exam,” Kuhn said, in order to determine the severity of the condition.
The VA uses a scale for each percentage in order to determine how much a veteran will receive.
“You have to exhibit some symptoms, not all,” he said.
For instance, if a soldier is hit by a roadside bomb and suffers traumatic brain injury, a medical disability retirement may be granted. He said those are evaluated by the soldier’s branch of service. In those cases, VA benefits are calculated after a determination is made.
“Your first day off of active duty is when you can start getting your VA benefits,” he said.