If you became sick or injured due to active duty military service, you may be eligible for veterans benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Unfortunately, the VA benefits process can be very difficult and frustrating for disabled veterans. And this frustration is often exacerbated in times of distress and hardship. Most VA disability claims take years to obtain a final resolution and achieve the proper rating and effective date for service-connection.
Despite the VA backlog, there are certain circumstances under which a claim may be expedited. The following are the main ways to expedite a VA disability claim. However, it is important to make sure all relevant evidence has been filed prior to expediting a VA claim in order to achieve the best possible outcome and avoid a quick denial.
A terminal condition or illness is one that is life-limiting. It is a condition that in the near future the illness will result in permanent unconsciousness from which the person is unlikely to recover or death. Examples of qualifying illnesses may include, but are not limited to:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease
- Advanced cancer
- Multiple organ failure
In requesting the VA to expedite your claim due to a terminal condition, a documented diagnosis and status of your illness will need to be provided. Records regarding hospice care may also be submitted. Unfortunately, there are times when even expedited claims are not resolved prior to death, but surviving spouses, parents, and children may still be entitled to Dependency and Indemnity (DIC) and accrued benefits. Surviving spouses include spouses married to the veteran at the time of death but they must meet additional qualifications for eligibility as well. For surviving parents, the parent must be the biological, adoptive, or foster parent with an income below a specified amount to show dependency. Surviving children may be eligible if unmarried, not included in the surviving spouse’s compensation, and are under 18 years old (or under 23 years old, if attending school).
DIC claims award a monthly benefit, like monthly disability compensation for veterans, to an eligible surviving spouse or family member. In addition to the relationship qualifications, the veteran’s death must be due to a service-connected condition. Accrued benefits may also be awarded to a surviving spouse or relative. These benefits are also monthly payments but they are the payments the veteran was entitled to at the time of passing. An application for accrued benefits must be filed within a year of the veteran’s death.
Furthermore, if the VA denied a Blue Water Navy Veteran’s service-connected disability claim in the past, an eligible survivor may be entitled to DIC benefits pursuant to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
At the Regional Office level, advanced age for the purposes of expediting is typically over the age of 85 years old. But, for claims at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA or Board), then the qualifying age for advancing a claim on the docket is 75 years old. Therefore, if there are separate claims at the Regional Office and Board, each claim would be expedited in accordance with the relevant advanced age determinations.
If you are unable to earn enough income for expenses like a mortgage payment or medical expenses due to your disability, you may find yourself in financial hardship. To request that a claim be expedited due to financial hardship, veterans need to fill out a VA form 10-10hs. This, as with most forms, can be found on the VA website (www.va.gov).
For a claim to be expedited based on financial hardship, it must be “extreme.” Examples of extreme financial hardship include eviction notices, collection notices from creditors, home foreclosure, seizure of property or assets, bankruptcy, and termination of utilities. The VA will look at the overall situation and, although it is not required, filing supporting documentation such as the actual notices and personal statements discussing financial hardship can help the VA find extreme hardship to grant a request to expedite.
In times of severe hardship, please know that you are not alone and that the VA offers programs and facilities to help former service members. There are shelters as well as assistance programs like Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) that are available to those in need through the VA. You may also qualify for public assistance through the federal government. If you are unsure of where to seek help, please contact your nearest VA center for guidance.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 11302, a person may be considered homeless and therefore eligible to request the VA to expedite a claim, if he/she:
- Lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
- Has a primary nighttime residence that is not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (i.e., vehicle, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground); or
- Resides in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements.
The VA also provides housing, health care, and employment resources for homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) collaborative program helps find permanent housing for homeless veterans and their families. The program provides rental assistance vouchers to those eligible for VA health care services and experiencing homelessness. Moreover, VA case managers will provide support such as health care, including mental health treatment and substance use counseling, to aid in the recovery process. Some other housing resources include: Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program, Enhanced-Use Lease (EUL) Program, and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).
The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) connects homeless veterans in need with trained VA responders to provide medical assistance. After speaking with you, the responder may then direct you to the nearest VA facility’s Homeless Program point of contact. Veterans struggling with mental health may also call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. The VA’s Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) Program provides medical services as well but in a residential setting. As a part of DCHV, the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Program (MH RRTP) offers help to those with mental illness, addiction, or psychosocial deficits. The VA also provides substance use services to aid homeless veterans in recovery through its Substance Use Disorder Treatment Enhancement Initiative. Another program, Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) offers outreach, examinations, treatment, referrals, and case management.
Through the Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services (HVCES), the VA implements resources to help improve employment outcomes for veterans. HVCES and its vocational development specialists, who serve as community employment coordinators, refer job-ready candidates to open positions, help facilitate hiring, and assist with employment applications to apply service experiences to civilian positions.
If your request to expedite has been granted, it still takes time to properly process your claim. The resources mentioned above may help to ease some of the burdens associated with waiting for your claim to be decided. If unsure of your eligibility or the programs available in your area, be sure to contact the VA facility closest to you.
If you are a veteran pursuing veterans disability benefits or an expedited claim through the VA, the team at Hill & Ponton are available to help. We focus on veterans disability law, so our clients can avoid financial hardship and other challenges.
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