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VA Updates: Glad You Asked

During Veterans Month, I had the opportunity to brief several companies’ Veteran groups about the benefits they earned from their military service. During my presentations, I provided a quick overview of all the benefits and then devoted three-quarters of the hour to answering questions from the attendees. I’ve found that answering questions enables me to provide more situation specific information and often suggest next steps they can take to receive their benefits. Inevitably, there are more questions than time allows, reinforcing my belief that so much more needs to be done to educate our Veterans on these benefits.

Navigating Claims for Increase: Addressing Concerns

One question that came up in each session had to do with the possible negative consequences of filing for an increase in benefits. This is often referred to as a “Claim for Increase.” This occurs when a Veteran has previously filed for disability compensation and been granted a service connection.  This is awarded in percentages from 0 to 100 percent, in numbers divisible by 10 (e.g., 10%, 20%, up to 100%), and is used to identify the tax-fee monthly payment this benefit provides.

After receiving a service connection, a Veteran may file a Claim for Increase for a variety of reasons, including:
•    A condition has worsened – over time, as we age, conditions generally worsen. As a result, a higher service connection (percentage) might be appropriate. Hearing loss is an example. Generally, hearing worsens over time. This is true for many conditions.
•    A new condition has been identified – after the award, additional conditions are identified that merit a service connection. This could be something new or related to an existing condition. The latter is called a secondary condition that occurs because of a previously identified condition. For example, a service connection for an ankle injury is granted. Later, issues with the corresponding knee occur, which happened because of the ankle injury. If the knee injury were deemed a secondary condition, additional benefits would be granted.

The natural intuition is that after filing for an additional condition, once granted, the total service connection will increase. Many are wondering, however, when filing for an increase, can the total service connection decrease? That is, will other conditions be reviewed and downgraded so my total percentage decreases? Given that this question keeps coming up, my sense is that Veterans who might merit additional benefits (including healthcare) are not refiling, concerned their benefits might decrease. So, let me address this.

VA’s Role and Veterans Benefit Reduction: Unveiling Facts

Yes, as directed by law and regulations, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can reduce benefits under certain circumstances. But do continue reading because this occurs rarely, and there is a process to protect Veterans.

Let’s start with fairness. Veterans should receive the benefits that are appropriate for their situation. Obviously, if a condition has improved, then reduced disability compensation makes sense.

This is the VA process to address a possible reduction:
1.    VA notifies the Veteran a reduction is being considered.
2.    Veteran can request a hearing to present new information within 30 days of the notification.
3.    Veteran has 60 days to present new information that their condition has not improved.
4.    After VA makes a determination, the Veteran may appeal.

In reality, a reduction in benefits occurs infrequently. Best estimates are reductions occur between 2 and 5 percent of the times a Claim for Increase is made. With such a small chance of reduction and a true need for additional support, a Claim for Increase would appear to be worth doing.

Expert Support for Veterans Benefits

One way to better understand your specific situation and the possible consequences of applying is to work with a Veteran Service Officer to develop and file your claim. Service Officers are trained on VA benefit processes and have experience from helping other Veterans apply for benefits. Ideally, a skilled Service Officer can review your application and, based on their past support for Veterans, provide an informed perspective on a possible decrease before applying.
Service Officers are available at no cost from:

•    The American Legion
•    Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
•    Paralyzed Veterans of American (PVA)
•    Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
•    Wounded Warrior Project

You can also access a Service Officer from your state Department of Veteran Affairs/Services. Some counties also provide Service Officers.

Given the existence of a possible reduction process, the facts that indicate it doesn’t occur often, and the availability of help from a Service Officer, if you believe an increase in your disability compensation is appropriate, my best advice is to weigh the facts carefully and not really anecdotes or rumors.

About the Author Paul R. Lawrence

Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D., served as Under Secretary of Benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from May 2018 to January 2021. He is the author of “Veterans Benefits for You: Get what You Deserve,” available from Amazon.

Read About Other VA Updates

If you enjoyed learning about navigating Veterans benefits and the complexities of filing a Claim for an Increase, we invite you to read the stories of VA Updates on our blog. In addition to our profiles of celebrities who served, we share military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog. If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.



Tags: Disabled American Veterans (DAV), famous military units, military book reviews, Paralyzed Veterans of American (PVA), The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), veterans’ service reflections, Wounded Warrior Project


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