What is SMC-K, and Do I Qualify?
True or false, when a veteran is receiving compensation at the 100% Disability Rate, they’re getting the most VA disability compensation available to them. False. Just because you are receiving disability benefits at the highest schedular disability rating does not mean you might not be able to receive additional compensation from a higher level. Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is a benefit that is paid in addition to the basic rates of monthly payment available through the VA’s rating schedule. Some SMC types include Aid and Attendance benefits, Housebound benefits, and more where veterans may require extra help around the house, home care, etc. Today we will look at one of the types of SMC, SMC(k) and the SMC rate. SMC-K is what’s known as a basic level of SMC. Establishing entitlement to a basic level of SMC, such as SMC(k), allows a veteran to then be potentially eligible for even higher compensation rates under other categories of SMC. The purpose behind SMC(k) is to compensate veterans who have service-connection for certain disabilities involving the anatomical loss or loss of use of certain body parts or when there is impairment of certain senses. Specifically, SMC(k) is available when there is anatomical loss or loss of use of the following:
- One or more loss of use of a creative organ
- One foot or one hand
- Both buttocks
- One eye
- Hearing (deafness of both ears)
- Speech (aphonia)
- One or both breasts for a female (this includes partial anatomical loss as well such as breast tissue)
Defining Anatomical Loss for VA Special Monthly Compensation Benefits
Anatomical loss would be the physical loss of the particular body part. For example, the anatomical loss of a foot would mean the foot had been amputated. Keeping in mind though that anatomical loss of creative organs generally cannot be due to an elective surgery such as a vasectomy. Things get a bit more complicated when defining “loss of use” is a bit more complicated and depends on the body part or body system involved.
- Loss of Foot: Loss of use of a foot is said to exist when the remaining function of the foot or hand is the same level of function that would exist had the veteran underwent an amputation (below the knee) with a prosthesis put in place. Function of a foot is described in terms of balancing, propulsion, and ambulation. There are certain circumstances involving the foot where loss of use is assumed, which can be found here.
- Loss of Hand: As with loss of use of a foot, loss of use of a hand is said to exist when the remaining function of the hand is the same level of function that would exist had the veteran underwent an amputation (below the elbow) with a prosthesis put in place. The function of a hand is described in terms of grasping and manipulation. SMC(k) is available when there is no effective function remaining in the hand. So, if a veteran is unable to actions such as picking things up, or grasping utensils he should argue that he is entitled to SMC(k) because he has no effective function remaining in his hand.
- Both Buttocks: Loss of use of both buttocks exists when there is bilateral severe damage to the buttocks muscle group (muscle group XVII). The severe muscle damage must make it impossible to rise from a seated or stooped position without assistance from, and there must be an inability to maintain postural stability (to stand up straight).
- One Eye: Loss of use of an eye, also referred to as blindness, requires the veteran to have light perception only in that eye. The veteran must not have the visual acuity to be able to identify letters from 1 foot away, and perception of objects or hand movements can only be made at a distance of 3 feet.
- Hearing: SMC for loss of use of ability to hear is best described as SMC for deafness. Deafness exists when there is bilateral hearing loss equal to or greater than what is required for a 100% rating under the VA’s rating Hearing loss must be examined under current VA testing criteria.
- Speech: Loss of use regarding speech is when the organs of speech are disabled to the point that communication by speech is impossible. For example, when a veteran has a total laryngectomy with tracheostomy they would be entitled to SMC(k).
It is important to remember that in proving entitlement to SMC(k) there must be medical evidence showing the above-described loss of use.
Do I Have to File a Claim for SMC(k)?
VA regulations state that entitlement to SMC must be treated as an inferred issue by VA decision-makers. This means that entitlement to SMC must be considered when compensation rating activities are being conducted in all decisions as long as there is medical evidence showing possible entitlement. The evidence doesn’t have to prove entitlement, it just has to prove that there might be an entitlement due to the veteran’s military service. The issue of entitlement to SMC(k) does not have to be raised by the veteran filing a claim on a specific form. Because it is an inferred issue, the VA is supposed to consider it automatically if there is evidence in the veteran’s file supporting a finding of entitlement. This also means that there’s plenty of room for the Veterans Affairs Regional Office to make errors regarding entitlement to SMC(k), so be sure to check any decisions carefully.