|Matthew Hill:||Hi, this is Matthew Hill, with Carol Ponton on the Hill & Ponton video blog. Today we’re here to talk to you about lost evidence by the VA. A lot of the veterans we represent have a fear, almost paranoia that the VA either threw away their evidence or shredded it or purposely didn’t put it in their file. We actually have an incident now where the VA is admitting that. They’re admitting that they didn’t put evidence in the veteran’s file.|
|Carol Ponton:||They’re admitting they didn’t get it.|
|Matthew Hill:||Ah, They’re admitting they didn’t get it.|
|Carol Ponton:||Whether the fax machine didn’t work, what the … Now that it’s paperless, it’s supposed to automatically go into the veteran’s file. Whatever happened, they’re admitting they didn’t get it, so you really need to re-submit it.|
|Matthew Hill:||And they’re admitting it from?|
|Carol Ponton:||August of 2015 through December. I can tell you, in doing our work, we get a lot of criticism because we send in duplicates, but then we find they don’t have what we sent in. During that period-|
|Matthew Hill:||Criticism from the VA.|
|Carol Ponton:||From the VA.|
|Matthew Hill:||That they call us and say that you’re purposely over stuffing the file to make it complicated.|
|Carol Ponton:||We try not to do that, but then we’re finding over and over again that the crucial evidence was missing, and it had been submitted numerous times. The VA is admitting that specifically the time August of 2015 through December, that a lot of evidence did not end up in the file. They’re sending veterans letters saying, look, if you’ve already gotten a decision, we can reopen this. We’re going to take you all the way back to that claim if you want and maybe you can get benefits because evidence was missing, so don’t miss this opportunity. Whatever evidence that you sent in, or that you thought went in, take them up on it. Re-submit it. Figure out what it is. This also re-opens your case. Say you didn’t get around to appealing it, or you thought they had evidence and they denied you, don’t count on that. You need to send in the evidence and make sure they have it, and make them make another decision.|
|Matthew Hill:||I would suggest sending that evidence in, even if they don’t contact you. Be assertive, pro-active on your case. Another way you can tell if they had the evidence is if you look at the rating decision. In that, they’ll tell you what the issues are, and the next thing they’ll tell you is the evidence reviewed. That’s a quick way to scan what evidence they used. I would look at that even if your evidence was not in the August 2015 to December 2015 time period, because if they don’t have a crucial piece of evidence, like Carol said, they don’t do with us time and again, then that’s important to re-submit and get them to look at it.|
|Matthew Hill:||Thank you for joining us today. We look forward to hopefully seeing you soon.|
Matt Hill: Hi, thank you for joining us on our VA Hill and Ponton video blog. This is Carol Ponton and I’m Matthew Hill. Today we want to talk to about a question we recently received about whether a veteran has to stop working once they receive their disability benefits. This question was about a veteran who was a 100%.
There are 2 ways to get a 100%. There’s when one disability or all your disabilities combine to a 100% on their rating schedule, or if you are in receipt of what’s called total disability due to individual unemployability. Which essentially individual unemployability, or IU is what it’s typically know as, but that’s essentially where your service connected disability doesn’t combine or add up to a 100% but it keeps you from working. You get paid the same rate at a 100%.
Carol Ponton: Right. The only things is you can’t work.
Matt Hill: Well, yeah. That goes back to the question, can I work if I get a 100%? There’s 2 parts to that. With a 100% you don’t have to worry about that at all.
Carol Ponton: Schedular 100%.
Matt Hill: Schedular 100% you’re fine you can work, if you work. With the unemployability it’s not that straight forward. You actually can work and earn under, if you earn up to or under the poverty threshold which I think is $11,000 or $12,000 or so. Then that’s considered to not be full employment and you can still receive the total disability due to individual unemployability.
I would say that if you do that there’s a potential though that the VA’s going to review you to see if you are better. As the law is written you can work.
Carol Ponton: Right, that’s how it’s written, but that is scary with the VA. Ever year if you have a schedular 100% the VA doesn’t bother and you’re permanent until they don’t bother with you again. If you have a 100% due to unemployability every year they will send you a form and say, “Have you worked in the last year?” If you don’t send that form in they will cut you off. If you send the form in and show earnings depending on the earnings then they cut you off.
Matt Hill: Right. Well regardless if you had earnings or not it’s imperative to send in that form. We’ve had several veterans who just had their benefits cut off and they didn’t understand why, and they hadn’t submitted that form. That needs to go in.
Carol Ponton: They were confused, they thought well I’m permanent and total. I’ve been found a 100% why should I have to send that in. Because that’s the 100% under unemployability is based on not working. That’s the only thing you have to do is once a year prove that you’re not working by submitting the form.
Matt Hill: Of course, I mean if you did work you do show that. That’s the main difference between a 100% on the schedule and then unemployability. Otherwise you’re paid the same. All the other … If you’re permanent and total for each you get all the same benefits. The work issue you need to be aware of.
Carol Ponton: Right.
Matt Hill: Thanks for joining us today.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill & Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill, here with Carol Ponton. Today we want to answer a question we received recently from one of our veterans and one we get often and that’s regarding survivor’s benefits. The question we get is, what will happen when I die? Will my wife still get benefits? What happens to my claim when I died? Is she eligible for those benefits?
It’s a pretty complicated question, but it’s one where the short answer would be, yes, she could…
Carol Ponton: If.
Matt Hill: Well yes “if”, right. There’s two sets of benefits at issue here. The first set is what are called accrued benefits, meaning the benefits that you have accrued by being in the system. If you’ve watched any of our videos on time frames, you appreciate, and if you’ve been in the system, that it can take anywhere from a year to seven years to get your benefits. If you were to die at some point in that process, your wife could substitute in.
I recently had a wife substitute in on a case where the veteran had been appealing for six years and he actually finally won and then died. She substituted in to take the case back from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to the regional office to get that case implemented.
The other real quick area is what’s called DIC benefits. It’s a survivor’s plan, basically a monthly payment to where, if a veteran died due to a service-connected disability, then that survivor would get those benefits.
Carol Ponton: The two things that would qualify a widow or widower for that is if the veteran had been totally disabled, 100% disabled for 10 years or more, or if the cause of death was a service-connected problem or if that service-connected problem contributed to the cause of death.
Matt Hill: The short answer is, and we tell all our veterans that we’re not leaving until they or their spouses or even their young children, get the benefits they deserve. Yes, there are opportunities both to get the benefits that the veteran himself was fighting for during that claim and then a continuation of that through the DIC benefits if that disability caused the veteran to pass away. Thank you for joining us.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill.
Carol Ponton: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matt Hill: And today we want to talk to you about a question we’ve gotten recently, which is a veteran asking us “if I have my own copy of my claims file, why do you have to go get one from the VA?” I think, first thing to discuss with this, is what is the claims file? The claims file is the form the VA benefits section keeps on you, not the VA health administration which has all of your medical records. The benefits section keeps a file that has any and every claim you filed since discharge and all the information and evidence that was included to go through those claims. It’s in the order in which those claims were filed.
Carol Ponton: I’ve had many veterans say “well, I have a copy of my claim file.” Sometimes, what they have is what they sent to the VA and what the VA sent back to them. That’s not a copy of their claim file, there would be a lot more evidence in there, compensation pension exams, the VA’s thinking on what they, why they did what they did with the case. Other times they do have, they have been sent a copy of the claim file but it’s been changed. As Matt said, there is a great significance in the order in which things are placed. What happens is when a veteran files a claim, you have the 526 that’s put in there, and then you have everything that is put in the file after that. But, they’re all put in in the date they’re received, there’s no organization, there’s no particular order. That allows us to see whether or not, for instance, there are old claims that are available to be reopened, it tells us a lot of things that allows us to get the maximum benefit for the veteran. If the claim file is mixed up, then we can’t be sure of what actually happened in the procedure from the day you first filed a claim to now. That is a real problem.
Matt Hill: When we represent veterans, our job is to do a competent and professional job, and so when our vets get frustrated on this note, you know, a claim is going to last, in all likelihood, anywhere from 18 months to 3 years, just on the way the VA’s processing cases. From the get-go we want to have the basis on which the VA is making their decisions and have made all past decisions. It’s a matter of just doing the job competently and professionally from day one.
Carol Ponton: A lot of times our veterans will say “I was in Vietnam, I have Diabetes, why aren’t they recognizing that? I keep showing them I was in Vietnam.” Once we get in to the claim file, we realize, the VA is not saying you weren’t in Vietnam, they’re saying “we don’t have a diagnosis of Diabetes.” Or “we don’t have a diagnosis of the Peripheral Myopathy or Heart Disease.” And so that tells me what the VA needs to win. I’ve had this happen so often with my clients, it’s really hard to figure out sometimes what the VA wants, and once you get that to them, then you win your case. But, you have to read the claim file. If we need an independent medical exam, we need to have our doctors, have read the important parts of the claim file. If they haven’t then the VA, when they get this opinion, is going to disregard it in most times, they’re going to say “our compensation and pension examiner read the claim file, your doctor didn’t, so this doctor, the VA doctor knows better than yours.” We don’t want that to happen, and we found when we get the claim file, and we have our doctor review that, that’s very hard most of the time for the VA to refute.
Matt Hill: Thank you for joining us today.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill here with Carol Ponton. Today we would like to talk to you about the intersection of the 2 areas of law we practice. VA Disability benefits and Social Security Disability benefits. All the time we’re asked is there an offset of one benefit from the other, meaning if you received social security benefits is it offset by VA, you have to reduce one or the other. The answer is …
Carol Ponton: It’s somewhat confusing but …
Matt Hill: It depends.
Carol Ponton: It depends. There is regular social security disability that you’re granted benefits because you’re disabled and because you worked and paid social security disability benefits. There is no offset. If that’s what you get. There are VA benefits that you get that are for service connected problems. It’s not a pension, it’s not given to you because you’re disabled and you don’t have much income. It’s given to because these conditions are related to what happened to you in service. Those 2 types, there’s no offset.
There are other types, there’s a social security it’s called supplemental security income and there’s a VA pension. Those are both related to your income as well as disability. If that’s what you have, yes there could be an offset. The majority of people are getting regular social security disability benefits, either through the disability program or retirement program. Those are not offset with regular VA disability benefits that are related to something that happened to you in the service. A lot of times people are hesitant to file for one or the other, thinking they’re going to be offset. That is normally not the case. You should check both of them out.
Matt Hill: That being said, if you have supplemental security income, SSI or non service connected pension you need to be aware when you get benefits from the other. If you had SSI and then you had service connected benefits, if the social security administration finds that out and keeps on paying you the SSI, there will be an over payment which they will come and try to collect from you. Same thing from the other side. If you’re receiving a non service connected pension and you win social security disability benefits, the VA probably won’t find that out.
Carol Ponton: When they do, they will. When they find it out.
Matt Hill: Years later. They’ll come back and want all that money back. That is something to be aware of.
Carol Ponton: You ask, how can they take it back? They just stop paying you.
Matt Hill: Yeah. That’s something to be aware of, but I agree with Carol, service connected disability compensation and social security disability income. Those are benefits that you have earned, earned through representing our country with the service connected compensation. Then the social security disability income through paying into the system. You definitely want to collect on both of those when you’re eligible.
Carol Ponton: Right.
Matt Hill: Evidence from one can help the other, as far as proving your claim.
Carol Ponton: When the VA decides whether you’re entitled to unemployability, they want to see whether you’re on social security disability. That’s very important to them in deciding whether you are unemployable.
Matt Hill: Thank you for joining us today on this question.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill and Ponton Disabilities Blog. I’m Matthew Hill here with Carol Ponton. Today we’d like to talk to you about Parkinson’s disease and specifically Parkinson’s ratings. Over the last four or five years, after the VA finally conceded that it was related to Agent Orange, we’ve handled dozens of these cases. Where we see major mess ups are on the rating. The way the VA rates cases is two fold. They either rate the diagnosis or they rate the symptoms of the disability. With Parkinson’s, the way the diagnosis is rates is that its given a flat 30%. If you have Parkinson’s and your service connected, the minimum of which they must pay is you 3%. It doesn’t stop there and that’s the problem we see because a lot of times they don’t rate the symptoms.
Carol Ponton: You’re right. They don’t rate the symptoms so I think it’s a 30% minimum if you have Parkinson’s but then Parkinson’s causes problems in every area. If you have tremors and you can’t use your hands, remember then they should rate both arms, both hands. It’s can you use your hands? Are you able to use your arms at all? Same with your legs. Can you walk? Can you use your feet? Are you in a wheelchair? All of these areas, if you have problems, you get to be rated but it’s more than that. Parkinson’s will unfortunately sometimes affect your bladder and bowel control. You’re entitled to a separate rating for each one of these problems. Speech. Swallowing. Parkinson’s unfortunately can affect so many of the areas of the body and sometimes people can’t even use their hands or feet any more. That’s a separate rating. That’s called an SMC, a Special Monthly Compensation and you can get a lot more money a month if you’ve lost the ability to use your hands and your feet. Mood. Thinking. Parkinson’s can really destroy that. That’s a separate rating right there. You could get 10% just for the mood and the affect on the mood for Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s should be giving you a very high rating. If you aren’t getting that, you need to look and make sure each one of the problems that you have is being rated by the VA.
Matt Hill: Right. As Carol was saying, Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disorder so that it doesn’t affect just one areas of the body but it can affect, as she said, things as different as speech and use of tongue to not being able to properly step with your foot causing loss of balance. It is important when you are looking at you’re Parkinson’s case, and a lot of times it’s so difficult because you are fighting to get service connected, to get the VA to recognize that it’s actually related to service. Once that happens, you need to make sure the rating is correct. It’s as Carol said, it’s almost as if you need to do a full inventory of problems with your body and make sure everything is noted.
Carol Ponton: There can be a 60% rating for bladder or urinary control. Those are separate ratings as well. Unfortunately what we see is, we usually see a very low rating for Parkinson’s when in fact it should be, sometimes mostly, 100% or more.
Matt Hill: Carol alludes to or more. We’ve also seen plenty of cases where it’s 100%. Just recently I was able to get benefits for a veteran who had been at 100% and get significant special monthly compensation. Just to use round numbers here, 100% is about $3000. We took that veteran from $3000 to $7500 because …
Carol Ponton: A month.
Matt Hill: A month because the loss of use he had of both his arms and his legs was so extreme. That’s the thing with this disability. You want to make sure that not only is it rated solely on the diagnosis itself, but all aspects are accounted for. Again, if you get to a point where you can’t really pick up a fork, or can’t walk properly without holding on to something, those are areas where you really need to probably look into pushing a case up and above 100%.
Carol Ponton: Right. Remember. Veterans are afraid of … Be careful, you’ll lose what you have. With the disabilities we see with our Parkinson’s clients, they aren’t going to lose that. In fact, they’re losing very important benefits. Aid and attendants. It just goes on and on. If you can’t see the problems, because sometimes people who have these problems are trying to just get on with it and not dwell on it. Ask your partner, ask your wife, ask whoever helps you. They are going to be able to tell you, yes, these are areas that have been affected because of the Parkinson’s.
Matt Hill: Thank you for joining us and if you want more information on Parkinson’s disease, please look at our blog. We have quite a few entries on this and take care and have a nice day.
Matt Hill: Hi this is Matthew Hill and Carol Ponton, and we are talking to you from the Hill and Ponton Video Blog. Today we want to address a question we received recently that’s the kind of question that we get a lot, and it regards an effective date of a claim, of the receipt of benefits. Normally the effective date is the date of the claim that has currently been filed. If you filed in 2000, and the claim was denied, and in 2005 the claim was denied, and then 2010 and the claim was granted, it would be that last date. 2010. There are exceptions. Exceptions are they’re quite a few, and they’re incredibly complicated.
Carol Ponton: They’re very important, because if you can find an exception and go all the way back, that’s a lot of benefits.
Matt Hill: Yeah. The question we had was from a veteran who first filed in 1992, and he wanted to know if his benefits could go all the way back then. The first question we had was, “Well have you continuously appealed”, because then that’s an obvious yes. If that’s not the case then there are other things we look for. Did he file something as an appeal that the VA never acted on? Was there evidence in the file at the time that would have required a subsequent decision and they didn’t act on. There’s quite a few different ones, but they’re pretty technical.
Carol Ponton: It’s complicated. It’s very difficult. There are different laws that would reopen it. One is if they give you a denial, and within a year you submit additional evidence that would affect their decision, and they never make another decision. That’s an open claim. As Matt says, “What if they denied your claim for PTSD because there was no evidence of a stressor.” Later on you have a claim, and you are able to submit the stressor. The helicopter crashed, I saw these people dead, and they make a decision giving you PTSD based on that service medical record. Then you have a right to go all the way back. There are a number of exceptions, but it’s very difficult to go over all of them. It’s something our firm looks for whenever we have original claims, but it’s just very complicated.
Matt Hill: Well yeah and I think the complicated thing is you have to get a copy of your claims file. Which is the folder the VA benefit section keeps on you. It will have any and all the evidence and all the information of every claim you claim you filed since discharge. That’s kind of a puzzle that you can start to put together, and that’s where I’m saying, “Did you file information within the appeal period that they had and didn’t act on? Did you file an appeal they didn’t act on? Were there service records put on the file that they should have had before but they didn’t?” There are ways to get back to that first claim. I think it’s important to understand though that the rule is it’s the date of the claim that you currently are filing. To go back further it’s on you, the veteran, to find an exception or somewhere where the VA didn’t follow through.
Carol Ponton: When someone tells you just drop this, don’t appeal, go ahead and file new claim, what they’re telling you is to give up all your past due benefits. Now is that something you really want to do? You need to figure out what’s missing, what I need to get to the VA so that I can win now and get all these past due benefits?
Matt Hill: Well that’s all we have on this, and thank you for joining us.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Matthew Hill here with-
Carol Ponton: Carol Ponton.
Matt Hill: Today, we’d like to talk to you about a question we get all the time. We have veterans say, “My doctor at the VA supports my claim, why am I not getting benefits? Why am I not getting service connection?”
I think to understand this question, which is valid, you first need to understand the structure of the VA. The VA is, I believe, it’s the biggest bureaucracy we have and at the very top there’s a very significant break. On one branch, you have the Veterans Health Administration and on the competing branch, if you will, you have the Veterans Benefit Administration. I like to refer to the Veterans Health Administration as the brick and mortar that you see. The doctors, the nurses, the hospitals. The Veterans Benefit Administration, it’s kind of like the shadow VA. You know they’re there, but you never see them. All that to say your doctor works for the Veterans Health Administration. He might be saying, “Yeah, I think you should get benefits,” but he does not have the final say. The final say is from some decision maker over on the other branch, the Veterans Benefit Administration, but you can use your doctor.
Carol Ponton: Right. If your doctor is favorable, there’s a form called a DBQ for every problem that you might be claiming.
Matt Hill: Disability Benefits Questionnaire.
Carol Ponton: It’s a Disability Benefits Questionnaire, a DBQ. These forms are for your back or for your arthritis or for PTSD. What you do is you download a form, you take it to your doctor and you say, “Please help me. This is the only way that I can get proof of my disability over to the section that’s going to make a decision on my claim.” A lot of doctors will help you. Normally, what the VA goes by is that Compensation and Pension Exam, but when you have a treating doctor who works for the VA saying something totally different, that can’t but help your case a great deal.
Matt Hill: I found that my luck has not been as good as Carol’s when getting treating doctors at the VA to fill out the forms. A lot of times they’ll say that management told them they’re not allowed to do it. When you have a doctor saying that, putting the form in front of them and saying, “Look, this could really help me, you believe I deserve it, as I do. Please fill this out.” It’s something to where if it’s that versus C&P Exam and you lose, I would definitely appeal because there’s no law that says your treating doctor deserves more weight, but as you look at it that person knows you a lot better than some C&P or some contracted doctor or some contracted nurse that the VA had to do a quick C&P Exam for you.
Carol Ponton: The VA regulations say that they have to fill out this DBQ form for you. The administration of that medical center may not like it, but that’s not what the VA has told their doctors. They said, “If you have a patient, they want this DBQ filled out, then you need to fill it out for them.” If you have a doctor that doesn’t seem so favorable, don’t get them to fill out anything because they may really do a job on you.
Matt Hill: We’ve seen that. They fill it out, but it’s negative.
Carol Ponton: Yeah, that we’ve seen. You want a doctor that is saying they like you, they want to help you. It’s not something that if you have lawyer they can really do because the doctor is going to act because they have a relationship with you.
Matt Hill: Right.
Carol Ponton: They want to help you. If you very kindly ask them, “Can you please help me,” I think a lot of them will.
Matt Hill: That’s all we have on that. Thank you for joining us.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome to another Hill and Ponton VA video blog. I’m Matthew Hill …
Carol Ponton: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matt Hill: Today we’d like to talk to you about remands from the Board of Veterans Appeals. Just to go over quickly where the Board of Veterans Appeals or the BVA is in the whole system, when you file a claim you file it at the regional office in your state. They make a decision. If you disagree, they get to look at it again and make another decision. After that, if you disagree, at that point you have the opportunity to file an appeal of the VA Form 9 up to Washington to the Board of Veterans Appeals. Then at the end of all that filing, maybe five years later, you get a decision from the Board of Veteran’s Appeals and a lot of time, from what the statistics say, the number one type of decision is a remand.
Carol Ponton: A remand. A remand can be a number of things. One of which, they are remanding, they are sending back a number of issues to the regional office and asking them to re-evaluate them. You could have a mixture. You could have a decision that has a denial of one claim, a grant of another and a remand of another several issues. What you need to know is, you need to get to the very bottom of the decision, the court will say what they are going to do. Whether they are going to grant, deny, or if they are remanding, why they are remanding. As Matt says, you’ve waited a long time to get this decision. What you want to do is make sure you do whatever it takes to hurry that up.
Matt Hill: At the bottom of the decision it will say that the regional office has to expedite your case because it’s coming back from the Board. The Court of Appeals of Veterans claims, which oversees the Board, has made a decision on what expedite means. Essentially the court says that has to be less than two years. If you think about it, two years is still a long time. Your options are it gets sent back and you can let the regional office do all the work. Typically what they are sending back for are getting records like social security records, treating medical records that might not be at the VA, sometimes service records …
Carol Ponton: Sometimes veterans records, VA records they haven’t put in the file.
Matt Hill: A lot of times, ultimately what it will lead to is another C and P exam because the Board of Veterans Appeals felt like there was an inadequacy in the prior exam. What we’re saying is that you can’t speed up the exam, but if you have a copy of the social security records, or you have a copy of your private doctor records, you submitting that would hopefully speed up the process instead of sitting back and letting the VA do all those issues.
Carol Ponton: I think it really helps if you outline to the VA, the regional office, I’m hereby submitting the following documents which were requested by the Board of Veteran’s Appeals. Social Security documents, all the other things, or if you have written for something and it no longer exists, you can say that as well. For instance, a lot of people are asking for employability and there’s no record from their last employer as to when they stopped working. That’s something that you can get and submit so it’s already in the record. Read through what the Board is looking for, try to get everything you can, and then outline in a letter to the VA, to the regional office, this is what I’m submitting. It complies with the Board’s request.
Matt Hill: One last note on this. It’s less than ten percent of the time that with remands, the regional office then grants the benefits. What will happen is the Board will remand it, ask them to do all these issues, get a C and P Exam, get all the records, and then the regional office has to make a decision again. If they grant it, great. They issue a rating decision, shows you what you were given. Most of the time, literally over 90% of the time according to the VA statistics, they are going to deny it and issue a supplemental statement of the case. An SSOC. At that point, the file is automatically sent back to the Board. You don’t have to file another appeal. They will give you a form to file one, but you don’t have to. It will automatically go back to the Board and the Board will make another decision based on the new evidence with the old evidence combined.
Carol Ponton: That way, if you send in evidence that is favorable, the Board will get to see it, even if the regional office didn’t approve, didn’t accept it, the BVA is going to look at it. That is when they look at, well, this seems to be a very good opinion. They have an ability to say I’m going to take this over the C and P examiner because this doctor has spent more time with you, his explanation was better. Give yourself every opportunity to be approved, whether it’s at the regional office or if you have to go to the BVA, back to the BVA.
Matt Hill: Thank you for joining us.
Matt Hill: Hello and welcome. I’m Matthew Hill here with Carol Ponton, with the Hill and Ponton video blog and today we want to talk to you about decisions at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Earlier we’ve spoken about how we encourage veterans to take their claim all the way to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and just to go over where that is in the whole scheme, you file your claim at the regional office, if it’s denied once and then denied twice you have an opportunity to appeal up to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Today we just want to talk about what happens there with its decision making and what it does.
Carol Ponton: Right. Since so many people don’t go to the board they don’t understand what happens when they get a decision back from them. The board can either deny your benefits and if they do then you can appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. I don’t think their … I think a lot more cases are not denied than are denied. Okay? What happens if they don’t deny your claim? They can do one of two things. Basically they can grant your benefits or they can send the case back the regional office and tell them to do a number of things; have another C&P exam, collect more evidence, a number of things.
Matt Hill: That’s called a remand when they send it back.
Carol Ponton: It’s called a grant or it’s called a remand …
Matt Hill: Or a denial.
Carol Ponton: Often what we see is a mixture of both. Say the veteran asked for service connection for their back and service connection for unemployability. The VA may grant the service connection for the back and then send back the unemployability because once the back is rated, then that will help decide whether or not the veteran’s entitled to unemployability. What’s confusing is how the VA acts on that. When the remand comes back, if there’s a grant the grants are effectuated. They’re put into place within a couple of months usually, no more than three. The remands, where they tell the regional office, “You need to evaluate this, do a CMP exam, they are taking three years.
What they do is they bifurcate, they take it apart, they effectuate the grant, do a rating decision, pay the veteran for that, but then the rest of it sits there. This veteran who is service connected for their back would get the rating for the back, start getting paid for the back, but they would not evaluate the unemployability till they got around to it, and it’s taking three years right now.
Matt Hill: Unfortunately, for a veteran who has a decision from the board remanding there’s language in there and they’re saying that it’s supposed to be expedited by the regional office. The veterans’ court, the court of appeals for veterans’ claim has basically said that expediting means under two, two years or under. If it’s like Carol’s saying going to three years, then you have a possibility of appealing that to get them to do it quicker but in all likelihood it is going to take a couple years.
Carol Ponton: Right. Until, I think, the VA gets more help, they just don’t have the personality, the personnel to take care of all of this.
Matt Hill: They don’t have personality either.
Carol Ponton: Some of them have great personality, some of them don’t but right now I can tell you they don’t have the man power they need.
Matt Hill: When you finally get that decision, and we’re probably talking here four or five, seven years into your claim, it can be confusing but the first thing you want to look at is the conclusion, is for conclusions of law section that says were you granted or not granted the benefits you were seeking. Then if there’s a remand you want to see, what are they looking for.
Carol Ponton: You’re going to have a decision that may be thirty-eight pages long. It starts off, what does the veteran want, maybe some findings, and then there’s this huge, maybe twenty-five pages where they cite law or they cite the facts and then at the bottom they tell you what they’re going to do. “I’m granting this. You’ve found service connector for your back” or “I’m remanding and telling the regional office to do a C&P exam, collect more evidence”, whatever.
Matt Hill: Thank you for joining us today in another episode of our VA veterans’ blog. Have a great day.
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