What should veterans do after winning a disability compensation claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs? There are several areas to consider, but first and foremost you should remember that the VA claims process is always subject to revision and change based on current or future legislation, procedural updates, funding issues, etc.
Remember, if you win a VA claim and have no intent on pursuing further action with the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are different issues to be concerned with than someone who has more business to conduct with the VA.
VA Healthcare Claims: What You Need To Know Going In
The first thing you need to understand about the VA claims process is that there is the initial claim the military member will file – a claim for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. This claim should ideally be completed during the military member’s final out-processing time but this is not always possible, depending on circumstances.
After the initial claim is filed, the VA will make a determination and notify the veteran. This can take more than three months to manage and veterans may find their waiting times will vary depending on several variables.
If the veteran accepts the decision of the Department of Veterans Affairs, that’s basically the end of the process and the advice in this article pertaining to direct deposit, monitoring your benefits payments, and other payment-related information will apply.
For those who do not accept the VA decision and wish to file an appeal, there is a separate process for doing so and the results are not guaranteed.
But there are many veterans who have filed appeals and have won them, and some of the advice you read below pertains strictly to them. In any case those who win VA claims have some important steps to take next.
Double Check The Vital Details Of Your VA Claim Once It Has Been Awarded
This is an extremely important area – upon your first news of the status of your VA medical claim award, you will need to double check the disability rating percentage you have been awarded AND double check the date of the award.
The actual date of your claim decision will play an important part in calculating any back pay you may be entitled to for VA compensation (if there is pay to be claimed) and if the dates or the percentages have errors, you will need to apply to have them corrected as soon as possible. The correct effective date of your award is extremely important.
Sign Up For Direct Deposit After Winning A VA Claim
You may get instructions on how to sign up for Direct Deposit of your VA compensation in VA mailers, but you can also sign up at the VA official site or by calling 1-800-827-1000 which is a general VA hotline that has prompts that can direct you to Direct Deposit information.
Direct Deposit of your VA compensation payments is an important part of keeping your VA funds safe but also for tracking those payments in case of a dispute, late or delayed arrival of compensation, etc.
Receiving paper checks from the Department of Veterans Affairs is discouraged – the potential of such payments arriving late, getting lost in the mail, or lost before getting mailed out is much higher than the equivalent complications of electronic transfer. It is far easier to document the non-arrival of a VA payment that is scheduled electronically than it is to track an envelope that may have gotten lost in transit.
Consider Filing A New VA Claim For An Increase In Benefits
Because many VA processes can be time consuming, it’s possible for some claimants to experience a worsening of their medical conditions in the meantime. Your VA claim payments are hypothetically based on the most up-to-date information at the time, but you should file a claim for an increase in benefits if your medical issues are getting worse. You can file these claims at the VA official site.
Sign Up For VA Health Care
You may have no intention of using VA health care options today, but as veterans get older the VA health care system offers more benefits that can be useful if the vet has a medical condition that requires in-home care, trained services provided on an outpatient basis, respite care, palliative care, etc.
The earliest days of your retirement or separation from military service may not find you needing as much care as you may down the road. Those who do choose to enter the VA health care system immediately should apply as soon as their claim has been awarded, if not sooner.
Explore Your Other Veteran Medical And Non-Medical Benefits
There are a variety of options for veterans in the VA health care system, but for those who have VA disability ratings, there are extended options including insurance, career assistance, transition assistance, and specific help with certain conditions the VA offers programs for (such as hearing aids, support animals, and other benefits).
Non-medical VA benefits to explore include Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E). This benefit is intended for those with service-connected medical issues that interfere with their ability to find or keep jobs. VR&E, also referred to as Chapter 31 benefits can help eligible veterans explore their employment options and any required training needs. In some cases, your family members may also be eligible for certain benefits.
Explore State Veteran Benefits
If you have a VA decision on your claim and have been awarded a disability rating, depending on your state’s veterans benefits you may be eligible for property tax breaks, state veteran home loan programs, reduced or discounted license plate fees and more.
There may be state-level versions of federal programs such as the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (see above) and other job-related resources. Disabled veterans may also qualify for state benefits for college tuition at state-supported schools.
Certain disabled veterans may be eligible for education benefits that apply for spouses or children of those with qualifying disabilities. Each state will set its own unique requirements in this area, so it’s best to ask questions of your state agencies about applying for or qualifying for such benefits.
At the state level, these resources will be made available via the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs office, which is sometimes referred to in some states as a State Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs or a similar variation.
Remember, the state-level Department of Veterans Affairs (or whatever name it goes by in your state) is not associated with the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs, though it may administer similar programs or help veterans sign up for federal VA programs.
Know Your Benefits
It’s not enough to get a VA disability rating and a payment amount; you need to know what your VA benefits offer you as a VA-rated disabled veteran including the availability of life insurance, healthcare options from the VA, when you may be entitled to be given a temporary 100% disability rating (this is possible in certain cases) and the circumstances under which you may apply for that rating.
Another area to know is how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles Cost of Living adjustments to your benefits payments each year. This adjustment won’t seem like much at first, but you could, over time, watch your VA payments increase, by as much as $25 to $50 per month over a long enough period of time.
Again, these increases will be gradual each year and will likely represent single-digit percentage adjustments.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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