VA Disability Benefits: Helpful Rules for Claimants
When you’re slogging through the VA disability benefits claims process, it can seem like everything and everyone is stacked against you. The time it takes to process a claim is ridiculous – more than four months! – and there are so many rules and processes that it’s easy to miss one and receive a veterans claim denial for a silly reason. And if you try to appeal, you might be waiting years before you get your benefits.
Thankfully, there are some helpful rules and laws the VA uses that actually help claimants. These are “benefit of the doubt,” “duty to assist,” and “lenient standard of proof.”
VA Disability Benefits: Helpful Rule 1 – Benefit of the Doubt
This rule revolves around a term called “equipoise.” Essentially, equipoise means there are two different opinions on something. In regards to veterans claim denial, this could mean that one doctor says your condition is not service connected, while another doctor believes it is. Or it could refer to the fact that an initial medical report labels you as 40 percent disabled, but a follow-up report says you’re only 20 percent disabled. Under Benefit of the Doubt, the VA always goes with the outcome that benefits the veteran more. This rarely happens, but obviously it can be quite helpful when it does.
VA Disability Benefits: Helpful Rule 2 – Duty to Assist
Duty to Assist sounds like a very simple rule: if a veteran brings forth a claim, the VA has a duty to assist him or her in developing it. Unfortunately, the VA was doing such a horrible job in this duty that Congress passed the Veterans Claims Assistance Act in 2000 to redefine what the VA was required to do in more specific terms and essentially force them to better assist veterans. The two main things this law requires of the VA are to:
Tell veterans what they need to do to prove their claim – the VA must provide documentation to the veteran before the claim is adjudicated on the five specific subject areas the VA uses to determine claims; if they fail to do so, they will be remanded
- Obtain important records and conduct a thorough examination – it is the VA’s responsibility to get not only your service medical records, but also any related records you tell them about.
VA Disability Benefits: Helpful Rule 3 – Favorable Standard of Proof
In comparison to the standard for civil court proceedings, where proof is determined by a “preponderance of the evidence,” the standard of proof for VA claims favors veterans. All veterans must show to win their claim is that “as likely as not” their current disability stems from an incident that occurred in the service. Now, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to avoid a veterans claim denial. Doctors’ statements cannot be speculative in nature, and must show that they have taken all medical records into account.
If you’re suffering from a condition you believe to be service-connected and would like to learn more about VA disability benefits, contact Marc Whitehead, an experienced veterans benefits attorney today.