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What is service connected disability?

The VA defines a veteran as a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and includes full-time service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. Active service also includes merchant marines during WWII, and cadets at a military academy. Many veterans are unaware of service connected disability benefits, and that they can get service connection for a disability that was present prior to their service, but aggravated while in service. In layman’s terms, a service connected disability is a physical or mental injury or illness a veteran incurred or aggravated during active military service. One common mental illness is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a medical condition that can develop after experiencing a terrifying and traumatic event. Many Vietnam War veterans suffer from this condition, as well as ill effects from exposure to Agent Orange during their service. It is interesting to note that the name Agent Orange came from the orange striped barrels the toxic herbicide was shipped in. Veterans exposed to this have increased rates of cancer, digestive problems, leukemia, nerve and respiratory disorders.   These are just two (Agent Orange exposure and PTSD) of the many service connected disabilities for which a veteran can be compensated for.

A service connected disability is not necessarily related to combat, which is an assumption many veterans make. There is also special combat rule that states a veteran in possession of particular awards and decorations, such as the Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, or Silver Star, can rely on buddy and lay statements, and can be offered as evidence that a disability was incurred in combat, even though there is no evidence in service records. These statements must be consistent with the circumstances of the veteran’s service, and must deal with what happened during combat. This rule exists because it is impossible to keep accurate records in combat situations.

To receive service connected disability benefits, a veteran must prove that he or she actually is a veteran, and was discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable. A dishonorable discharge will always disqualify a veteran from receiving VA benefits, except in rare occasions. He or she should always submit a DD 214, which is a copy of their discharge document. The DD 214 provides information on the veteran’s dates of service.

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by Cindy Schoppert, Claims Advocate
October 22, 2014

TDIU – Back to the Basics (Pt. 2): Proof of Inability to Work

In Part I of TDIU – Back to the Basics, we discussed how the VA determines Individual Unemployability (IU) based on a 2-step analysis: 1) Ratings; and 2) proof of inability to work. In Part I, we looked at the VA’s rating requirements for TDIU. Now we will look at Step 2 – Proof of Inability to Work.

Step 2 – Proof of Inability to Work

Step 2 of the 2-step analysis dictates that the veteran has to prove that he is unable to secure a substantially gainful occupation due to his service-connected disabilities. This by itself is a 2-part problem. In order to fully understand the VA stipulations of Step 2, we have to look at: A) the veteran’s inability to work due to service-connected disabilities; and B) what constitutes “substantially gainful occupation”.

Let’s start with A.

When making a determination on IU, the VA can only consider disabilities that have already been service-connected. If a veteran is service-connected for his knees and his back, but in reality could not work due to his anger/PTSD outbursts (which has not been service-connected), the VA will only consider the knees and the back when deciding if the veteran can work or not. Until service-connection for PTSD is granted (if at all), the veteran should try to prove that he could not work due to his knees and back condition, as opposed to the PTSD.

Moving on to B.

The VA currently does not have a definition for “substantially gainful occupation”. The VA’s Adjudication Procedures Manual defines it as “that which is ordinarily followed by the nondisabled to earn their livelihood with earnings common to the particular occupation in the community where the veteran resides”. While this definition seems to be vague and largely unhelpful, it is worth noting that the VA has to look at:

  1. Marginal employment
  2. Educational and occupational history

Marginal employment is not considered as substantially gainful occupation. Marginal employment is considered as “earned annual income that does not exceed the poverty threshold for one person as established by the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census”. Moreover, a job in a “sheltered environment” (such as a family business, sheltered workshop, or a position tailored to the specific needs of the veteran) is considered to be marginal employment, even if that job earns an income over the current poverty threshold. Therefore, the VA cannot base their decision to grant or deny IU based on the veteran’s job that falls under the criteria for marginal employment.

For example: A veteran with PTSD works for a family friend’s business. The family friend provides the veteran with an office and duties that afford limited interaction with other people. The veteran’s salary pays his bills, and is over the current poverty threshold. Because the veteran job has been tailored to his individual needs (limited interaction with other people), his job is considered to be sheltered, and therefore falls under “marginal employment”. The VA cannot consider this job as being substantially gainful employment, and must not use it against him in determining IU.

The VA also has to consider the veteran’s educational and work history when determining if the veteran is entitled to IU. The VA must look at the veteran’s prior education and training, and how his current disabilities prevent him from working in the field in which he has been trained. If, on the other hand, the veteran has participated in a VA vocational rehabilitation program, and still cannot work due to the service-connected disabilities, the VA must also consider this as positive evidence that the veteran cannot maintain substantially gainful employment.

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by Mary Klements, Veterans Advocate
October 21, 2014

Social Security says I’m no longer disabled. What do I do?

I have been receiving Social Security disability benefits for some time now but was recently told the benefits will be cut off because I am no longer disabled under their Rules. I disagree with this decision; is there anything I can do?

As a matter of course, the SSA periodically “checks” on every beneficiary’s case to ensure benefits are only being disbursed to eligible individuals. This check, called a Continuing Disability Review, serves as a “Quality Control” on the system. Sometimes, however, the CDR consultant gets it wrong.

You can appeal the CDR determination that you are no longer disabled. If you want your benefits to continue pending the appeal, you must act quickly! You must tell Social Security that you want the benefits to continue while the appeal is pending within 10 days of receipt of your CDR denial.

Be advised that if you lose your Cessation of Benefits appeal, you may have to repay these benefits to SSA. An attorney can advise whether you should also consider filing an additional request for a Waiver of Overpayment should you ultimately lose the Cessation appeal.

If you do not act within those 10 days to continue your benefits pending the appeal, or if you choose to allow the benefits to stop while the appeal is pending, you may be eligible to collect back benefits if you win the Cessation appeal.

If SSA seeks to terminate your benefits because the Agency determined you were no longer medically disabled, the legal standards are a bit different than when you were initially found eligible for SS disability benefits. With a Cessation case, the burden is on the Agency to show 1) you experienced a significant medical improvement related to your ability to work and 2) you can perform Substantial Gainful Activity (Social Security’s way of describing an ability to return to the competitive work environment on a regular and continuous basis).

Your Cessation appeal could potentially make its way, yet again, all the way through the Agency, including another Administrative hearing, to the Appeals Council and then into the Federal Court system. Considering the different legal standards and the benefits at stake, it is important to consult with an attorney to obtain some guidance on your rights, liabilities and options.

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by Attorney Randi Johnson
October 20, 2014

What VA benefits can a survivor get?

Matthew: Hello, and welcome to the Hill and Ponton video blog. My name is Matthew Hill. This is Carol Ponton. We’re here to talk to you today about VA disability benefits. Specifically, we want to talk to you about survivors’ benefits. Once a veteran dies, his claim does not necessarily die if he has a qualifying survivor to step in his shoes to file a claim.
There are two kinds of benefits:
1. Accrued benefits
This is where the veteran had an ongoing claim and he died and wasn’t given the money he was entitled to. That’s where a survivor can step in and follow in his shoes and see that claim through.
2. DIC benefits
DIC stands for Dependency Indemnity Compensation. Essentially, that is an ongoing monthly compensation for a survivor.
The accrued benefit (the first part that I talked about) is just the lump sum the veteran would’ve been entitled to while he was pursuing his claim, but the DIC is an ongoing monthly benefit.
Most survivors are just lost once they lose their loved one because they’re veteran and they don’t quite understand which one is which. They both, I find, are to be important because the accrued benefits typically will end up being a large lump sum because the veteran has fought so long. But the ongoing benefits I think are equally important. There’s a money stream coming in.

Carol: For the rest of that person’s life.

Matthew: As far as who can be a survivor, the one that I think we all appreciate would be the spouse. Clearly, if the veteran dies and is married, that spouse does qualify. Also, children under circumstances would qualify, as well, if they’re a minor or if they’re in school or if they’re a disabled adult. All of those would qualify.
We see cases where the VA does not grant the DIC benefits and we appeal. Sometimes they won’t grant because the veteran was not service connected at all or they’ll say that the veteran’s disability was not causing the death. Two different situations there. The DIC standard is that the veteran’s service-connected disability either caused or contributed to the death.

Carol: That’s a big difference: caused or contributed to it. If it was part of the cause, not necessarily the main
cause, it still counts.

Matthew: The disability causing the death, which are typically easy, is when the veteran has service-connected heart and he has a heart attack and dies. But those aren’t the cases that the VA typically gets wrong. You can have that same veteran who had a heart problem but was not service connected for it and dies of the heart. But let’s say he had a psych problem – a PTSD problem – and the anxiety that that PTSD constantly put on his body would raise the cortisone levels in his body which would affect his heart and, in essence, contribute to the death.
Those are the kind of subtleties that the VA often railroads right over and denies, but those are extremely important because the law by Congress and the VA is very generous in this sense when it comes to survivors and them getting these benefits.

Carol: Right. They want to protect the survivors. Just because it looks to you like the main cause of the death was not service connected, if there are other causes, you need to look at all of them.
We find that sometimes people will have diabetes – they’ll have very severe diabetes – and they may die of a heart problem. Maybe the diabetes caused the heart problem. There are a number of ways your body is interconnected and you need to figure out what all caused the veteran to die.
You’re entitled to DIC benefits if the veteran was service connected at 100% for ten years. If they were service connected for their knee and back and that didn’t cause the death, you’re still entitled because they were service connected for ten years.

Matthew: And the rating was 100%.

Carol: That may be where there’s another appeal. Maybe the appeal for accrued benefits is asking for 100% to go back. Say the veteran has only been disabled at 100% for six years but part of his appeal is asking for those benefits to go back for more years, which would give the veteran the ten years at 100%. Then you’re automatically entitled to the DIC benefits.
These are complex issues, but you just need to know that the VA is very generous in what they’re offering the veteran and their survivors. So make sure you know what you have and pursue the claims that you have.

Matthew: As she said, pursue the old claims. It would seem that the accrued benefits would be very separate from the DIC benefits, but as Carol said, they can be one and the same.
The last little thing that I wanted to come back to is what I said when the veteran is not service connected for anything. That doesn’t matter. If the disability caused the veteran’s death and it should’ve been service connected, back to the heart disability, if a veteran died ten years ago of a heart disability and the veteran was in Vietnam, the wife should be entitled to benefits now.

Carol: Remember, back then they didn’t service connect the heart, but now it’s automatically service connected if the veteran was in Vietnam. All of these cases where you may not have applied or you weren’t going to win if you apply are the ones that should be pursued.

Matthew: Thanks for joining us today. We hope that this was informative for you. We look forward to seeing you next time.

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by Matthew Hill
October 18, 2014

Exposure to Lead in Veterans (Part I: Lead Paint)

Exposure to lead in the environment can have a disastrous impact on health. There are many routes of exposure, and many regulations in the past have sought to reduce the exposure risk to the civilian population. However, is it possible that the laws intended to protect civilians haven’t protected service members to the same extent?

Lead Paint in Family Housing and Barracks

Lead paint was ubiquitous in homes painted before the 1960’s, used as a primary ingredient in household paints. In 1978, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based paints from residential use. However, lead does not disappear easily. Approximately 75% of residences built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. Under the law, landlords of properties built before 1978 must provide lessees with a disclosure with regards to the dangers of lead exposure. However, the Department of Defense has shown in the past that it does not consider the “Residency Occupancy Agreements” it uses for Base housing to be the legal equivalent of a lease, and when the Navy was sued for failure to comply with these disclosure rules at Kingsville Naval Air Station in Texas in 1998, it fought and won.

There have been several cases in which the DoD or DoD contractors has violated these lead-based paint laws. In 2012, the EPA alleged that military housing at the Naval Submarine base in Groton, CT, and the Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME were not in compliance with lead-based paint regulation, and the residents of these housing units included 9 families with children.

Many military bases aren’t in the United States, and regulatons and laws differ other countries, so there may even be current paint in barracks or family housing that contains lead. This memo shows that paint containing lead is still used, and is “normally present” in Misawa Air base family housing in Japan. How many overseas bases contain housing that still uses lead-based paint? The answer is unclear.

Lead Paint at Work

Almost every enlisted service member in the Navy or Coast Guard remembers painting. Hours and hours of painting, and hours and hours of needle gunning, sanding, and using deck growlers to remove paint. The dust from the paint would clog our pores, and it would be difficult to remove, even in the shower. Primer and paint covered our skin and clothing. I’m sure similar duties were common in other branches as well. The military still uses lead-based pant in many cases for its durability.

The farther back your service, the more likely you were exposed to lead paint, however even recent sailors, airmen, and soldiers were likely exposed. In my next post, I will continue exploring routes of occupational exposure to lean in service members.

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by Chris Amidon, Veterans Advocate
October 17, 2014

TDIU – Back to the Basics: two things you need for VA unemployability

Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU or just IU) is such an enormous benefit to veterans that it is worth taking another look at. TDIU is the VA’s way of admitting that, in spite of the assigned ratings that do not add up to being 100% disabled, some veterans still cannot work due to their disabilities. The VA determines a veteran’s entitlement to TDIU in the context of the individual veteran’s capabilities, regardless of whether an average person would be rendered unemployable under the same circumstances.

This is how it works. The VA determines IU based on a 2-step analysis: 1) Ratings; 2) proof of inability to work. In this blog post, we will look at Step 1.

Step 1: Ratings

In order to be eligible for IU, you must:

  • Be a veteran
  • Have at least 1 service-connected disability rated at 60%    OR
  • Have more than 1 service-connected disability, with at least 1 of them rated at 40%, and the combined rating of all the service-connected disabilities adding up to 70%

For example: A veteran has been service-connected for his Lumbar Spine condition at 40%, his left knee at 30%, and his PTSD condition at 30%. Following the Combined Ratings procedures used by the VA, the veteran’s total percentage is 70%. Because the veteran has one service-connected disability rated at 40%, and because the total of his percentages is 70%, the veteran is now entitled to TDIU.

For the purposes of determining what a single disability is, the following factors define “single disability”:

  1. Disabilities of one or both upper extremities, or lower extremities, including the bilateral factor
  2. Disabilities resulting from a common etiology or single accident
  3. Disabilities affecting a single body system
  4. Multiple injuries incurred in action
  5. Multiple disabilities incurred as a POW

For example: A veteran suffers from several service-connected heart disabilities such as congestive heart failure and hypertension. These disabilities arise from a common etiology (the veteran’s heart condition). Therefore, according to regulations, the rating for these disabilities need only combine to a 60% evaluation in order for the veteran to qualify for TDIU under 4.16(a).

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by Mary Klements, Veterans Advocate
October 15, 2014

Veteran’s Guide to Lead Exposure

In a previous post, I talked about the ways in which veterans could be exposed to Lead Paint. However, lead-based paint is not the only route of exposure. Veterans are also frequently exposed to chemicals containing lead, such as fuels, living and working on military bases contaminated with lead, on the shooting range, and even while soldering.

Fuel

I’ve written several times on the toxic constituents of Jet Fuels such as JP-7 and JP-7, typically focusing on benzene, toluene, and other constituent components. However, JP Jet Fuels also contain lead, and even in non-jet aircraft, the gasoline typically used, (called AvGas) contains lead as well. In addition, older veterans who were alive before the switch from lead-containing gasolines to the ubiquitous unleaded gasoline we use today were certainly exposed to dangerous amounts of lead.

Environmental Lead at Military Bases

Even just living and/or working on some military bases could expose the average serviceman to lead. Many military bases ae on the EPA’s superfund clean up list. Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Center in New Jersey, for instance was found to have 6 inches of JP-Fuel in the ground water, and to be heavily contaminated with tetraethyl lead. Vieques, Puerto Rico residents have long been complaining about the contamination of their area by the Navy, with one group saying the Navy “has caused more damage to Puerto Rico than any other single actor in the history of Puerto Rico.” High levels of lead, as well as mercury, arsenic, as well as many other chemicals taint the entire area. There are many, many military bases in the United States on the EPA watchlist or superfund list.

At the Shooting Range

The National Research Council found that air measurements for lead were higher than the OSHA acceptable standards on many military shooting ranges. The Council found that those who worked in military shooting ranges had high levels of lead in their blood. The Council recommended medical surveillance for workers who ere exposed as infrequently as 30 days per year.

Solder

Most solder has been made with lead, and most veterans who worked in maintenance or electronics where they were required to use solder have been exposed to lead. While, in recent years, there has been a shift towards lead-free solder, it is considered inferior in durability to lead solder, and may still be used frequently.

As we can see, there are several ways in which veterans can show exposure to lead. In the next part in the series, I will discuss the many health effects of lead exposure.

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by Chris Amidon, Veterans Advocate
October 14, 2014

How to figure out the rating combos you need for unemployability

Matthew: Hello and welcome to the Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill, and here with me is Carol Ponton. Today we want to talk to you about unemployability or total disability due to individual unemployability, or IU as everyone knows it. We’ve written plenty about this on our blog.
Essentially, unemployability is a way to get 100% compensation where your disabilities don’t necessarily combine to 100%. This is another way.

Carol: Remember, the one way that everybody knows about is your VA ratings have to add up to 100%. But remember with VA math, that’s very hard to do. This is the way that most people who aren’t working get 100%.

Matthew: As Carol just said, you have to show that you can’t work. But then also you have to have a disability where the combination of your disabilities equal 70% with one disability equaling 40, or you have one disability equaling 60%.
An easy one would be you had a back rating of 60% and you weren’t working. At that point, you were eligible. Or you had PTSDat 50 and then a back at 40, that would be equaling 70%.
Now, the trick in the details is that when you have the combo disabilities equaling 70%, you have to have one disability equaling 40. The mistake we see again and again is where vets think that disability has to be one disability. Same thing with the 60. It doesn’t have to be a single rating. Instead, it can be the VA allows for several different things. It can be one body system, like orthopedic – if a veteran has two bad knees or they have a bad back.

Carol: Specifically, if they have a bad back and that causes radiculopathy or pain down either leg, you can combine those to get your 60%.

Matthew: And your 40% to qualify when you have 70. Other ones are common ideology or a single event. So if a veteran was in an accident, and again hurt their back, had migraines as a result and had a bunch of scars, if all those ratings combine to 40 and they have a combined of 70, then they’ve met that threshold rating. Or if they all combine to 60, then that has met it as well.
Carol pointed to this, in that you have orthopedic or system-wide, but other ones are if you have a bilateral problem.

Carol: The right and the left arm.

Matthew: Or you could have scars and arthritis – the elbow on one arm and then a broken wrist on the left arm. But the fact that they’re bilateral is another way to do it.
Something else that the VA allows is if you have multiple disabilities occurred in action. So if you have shell fragment wounds, you have a TBI and you end up having kidney problems because it was punctured, if all of those combine to 60% then that meets the threshold right there. If they combine to 40 and then there are other disabilities that get the veteran up to 70%, then they are then eligible. Were there any other ones you were talking about this?

Carol: No. But if this sounds confusing to you, it is. It’s so confusing that we find the VA often misses this, and that means you’re missing it. So this is something that you really need to check out. A hundred percent is far more in the way of benefits than 90%. You’re talking $1200, $1300, $1400 a month so this is worth your while to see if you qualify for this.

Matthew: As she said we see mistakes again and again on the ratings. Advocates a lot of times will just flat out say you have to have that 40 one disability, or you have to have that 60. But that’s just not the case.
So if you find that you’re in a situation where you cannot work due to your VA disabilities, the whole basis of the rating system for VA is: how much does your disability keep you out of the workforce? Again, if you’re not working because of your disabilities, you should understand right then and there you’re eligible for 100% through unemployability.
If for some reason your disabilities do not add up altogether or combined to 70% or the 60%, you still are eligible for unemployability if it’s those disabilities that keep you out of the workforce. That’s a much harder one because your case has to go through the Central Office.
The one we see a lot is migraines. The top rating for a migraine is 50%. And if a migraine is keeping you out of work, you deserve 100% through unemployability, but since you don’t meet that magical number of 60 or combined 70, the VA is going to deny you again and again.
You just need to keep up and fight for that. From there you need good medical records from your doctor saying this is why you’re out of the workforce.

Carol: If you get those, you’re going to win. So don’t let them give you just 50%.

Matthew: That’s it for this edition of our Veteran Disability blog. We hope you enjoyed it. We will see you again soon.

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by Matthew Hill
October 13, 2014

Medical Marijuana and the VA

As election season nears, the medical marijuana debate is heating up the State of Florida. Florida is one of several states considering legalization, and my research shows that almost half of the states have already legalized medical marijuana.   Because this issue is so controversial and polarizing, it made me wonder whether the VA has addressed the issue at all, and if so, where it stands.

I should note that the purpose of this blog is not to endorse or condone medical marijuana. On a practical level, I am blogging about this topic because the reality is that many disabled veterans are using marijuana to self-medicate and treat service-connected disabilities, for example, PTSD, chronic pain, anxiety, and the list could go on. For these veterans, most feel that marijuana offers better relief than the pills prescribed by their VA medical providers. In light of the reality “on the ground,” I feel it is important for veterans to know where the VA stands on the issues and how use of medical marijuana may impact their journey for health care and/or compensation benefits through the VA.

From the medical perspective, despite the reported benefits and common use of medical marijuana, I’ve never seen a VA doctor openly recommend this as a form of treatment. In fact, my experience is that VA medical providers tend to openly discourage use altogether.

As I researched this issue even further, I discovered VHA Directive 2011-004. In this Directive, VA makes it clear that its medical providers are not allowed to fill out forms, recommend, or give opinions regarding participation in medical marijuana programs, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.   The Directive also states that for veterans who choose to use medical marijuana and participate in VA treatment programs at the same time, although they are not barred from VA treatment, decisions to modify VA treatment options could be a consequence. In other words, veterans may not be able to continue receiving some medications and/or treatments through the VA if they choose to use medical marijuana; even if they are participating in a legal and state sanctioned program. Essentially, VA providers are not allowed to even have a real discussion with their patients about medical marijuana, at least not to endorse it.

From the disability compensation perspective, if a veteran is using marijuana to self-medicate a service-connected condition, it is possible for any new conditions that develop as a result of marijuana use to also be service-connected under a theory of secondary service connection. So for example, if a veteran is smoking marijuana to self-medicate PTSD, and then later develops chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as a result of the marijuana, he may be able to obtain service connection for his COPD. Of course the possibility of service connection as linked to marijuana use may make some uneasy; however, it is possible under the law. The take away is that veterans should know that use of marijuana, depending on the circumstances, does not necessarily present a bar to VA disability benefits.

It is my understanding that the federal government recently approved a study to explore medical marijuana as a treatment for veterans with PTSD. It will be interesting to see what the federal government comes up with in this regard, and how the findings may or may not change the VA’s positions on this issue. As more and more states begin to legalize medical marijuana, I suspect the VA may have to revisit its policies in this regard.

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by Attorney Leslie Gaines
October 8, 2014

Why does VA take so long to process my service connect benefits appeal?

Matthew: Hello and welcome to the Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill, and here with me is Carol Ponton. Today we want to talk to you about unemployability or total disability due to individual unemployability, or IU as everyone knows it. We’ve written plenty about this on our blog.
Essentially, unemployability is a way to get 100% compensation where your disabilities don’t necessarily combine to 100%. This is another way.

Carol: Remember, the one way that everybody knows about is your VA ratings have to add up to 100%. But remember with VA math, that’s very hard to do. This is the way that most people who aren’t working get 100%.
Matthew: As Carol just said, you have to show that you can’t work. But then also you have to have a disability where the combination of your disabilities equal 70% with one disability equaling 40, or you have one disability equaling 60%.
An easy one would be you had a back rating of 60% and you weren’t working. At that point, you were eligible. Or you had PTSDat 50 and then a back at 40, that would be equaling 70%.
Now, the trick in the details is that when you have the combo disabilities equaling 70%, you have to have one disability equaling 40. The mistake we see again and again is where vets think that disability has to be one disability. Same thing with the 60. It doesn’t have to be a single rating. Instead, it can be the VA allows for several different things. It can be one body system, like orthopedic – if a veteran has two bad knees or they have a bad back.

Carol: Specifically, if they have a bad back and that causes radiculopathy or pain down either leg, you can combine those to get your 60%.

Matthew: And your 40% to qualify when you have 70. Other ones are common ideology or a single event. So if a veteran was in an accident, and again hurt their back, had migraines as a result and had a bunch of scars, if all those ratings combine to 40 and they have a combined of 70, then they’ve met that threshold rating. Or if they all combine to 60, then that has met it as well.
Carol pointed to this, in that you have orthopedic or system-wide, but other ones are if you have a bilateral problem.

Carol: The right and the left arm.

Matthew: Or you could have scars and arthritis – the elbow on one arm and then a broken wrist on the left arm. But the fact that they’re bilateral is another way to do it.
Something else that the VA allows is if you have multiple disabilities occurred in action. So if you have shell fragment wounds, you have a TBI and you end up having kidney problems because it was punctured, if all of those combine to 60% then that meets the threshold right there. If they combine to 40 and then there are other disabilities that get the veteran up to 70%, then they are then eligible. Were there any other ones you were talking about this?

Carol: No. But if this sounds confusing to you, it is. It’s so confusing that we find the VA often misses this, and that means you’re missing it. So this is something that you really need to check out. A hundred percent is far more in the way of benefits than 90%. You’re talking $1200, $1300, $1400 a month so this is worth your while to see if you qualify for this.

Matthew: As she said we see mistakes again and again on the ratings. Advocates a lot of times will just flat out say you have to have that 40 one disability, or you have to have that 60. But that’s just not the case.
So if you find that you’re in a situation where you cannot work due to your VA disabilities, the whole basis of the rating system for VA is: how much does your disability keep you out of the workforce? Again, if you’re not working because of your disabilities, you should understand right then and there you’re eligible for 100% through unemployability.
If for some reason your disabilities do not add up altogether or combined to 70% or the 60%, you still are eligible for unemployability if it’s those disabilities that keep you out of the workforce. That’s a much harder one because your case has to go through the Central Office.
The one we see a lot is migraines. The top rating for a migraine is 50%. And if a migraine is keeping you out of work, you deserve 100% through unemployability, but since you don’t meet that magical number of 60 or combined 70, the VA is going to deny you again and again.
You just need to keep up and fight for that. From there you need good medical records from your doctor saying this is why you’re out of the workforce.

Carol: If you get those, you’re going to win. So don’t let them give you just 50%.
Matthew: That’s it for this edition of our Veteran Disability blog. We hope you enjoyed it. We will see you again soon.

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by Matthew Hill
October 5, 2014

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