Get the Right Disability Rating

im still disabled even if my disability is invisible

by Levi Newman on July 5, 2011

A veteran emailed me last night about a breathing problem he developed after deployment to the Middle East. We’ll call him Bob. The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to recognize his condition, which is probably constrictive bronchiolitis or something similar, and gave him a low-ball rating.

I encouraged Bob to get a civilian doctor’s diagnosis of his condition, but he did not understand why it would be important. In his email, Bob asked, “what is the benefit of a higher rating?” Here is my response to him and any other veteran considering the same question.

Why Disability Increases are Important

I’ll cover the risk first and then get into reasons why the benefit may be worth the risk.

A sad non-myth. Some Veteran Service Organizations tell veterans to be wary about applying for increased disability ratings. Their reason is that the VA may revoke or reduce the veteran’s rating. Unfortunately, this is not a myth.

The VA has developed a reputation for stiffing veterans when they apply for disability rating increases. For those who do not believe me, check out the story of Vietnam veteran Charles Cooley. Cooley suffers from a myriad of illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure, as do many other Vietnam era veterans. Here, he applied for an increase but complications during the rating process led to the Ratings Board revoking Cooley’s rating, entirely. It took an act of God to get it back. In the end, Cooley received an increase to 100%, but it was a fight.

However, being armed with a civilian doctor’s diagnosis and nexus letter could help insulate you against a wrongful rating decrease.

To Bob’s question: if you file for an increase, the Board could lower your rating. If they are wrong in doing so, you’ll need to appeal their decision, which is a process that could take a few years. So, there is some risk related to seeking a compensation increase.

Your reality. Fighting to get your disability correctly rated, despite the risk, can be an important objective for a few reasons.

First, it is important that the American public have a better understanding of the effect of poisons military members are exposed to. This will hopefully curb the practice of using things like Agent Orange because the long-term impact on veterans’ health is very expensive.

Second, your disability compensation would increase if the rating is increased. Some veterans may not realize that a 70% or 80% rating can really help change your life position. And while it is no fun being injured or ill to an extent that justifies such rating, at least you will receive compensation to make life smoother.

Third, once you receive a correct diagnosis, the VA will be forced to provide treatment, whether through the VA or a contractor. However, until you get a diagnosis, the VA will continue to misdiagnose your condition based on their policy or due to a lack of resources.

For these reasons, getting a private medical opinion could be worth the expense up front, because the long-term gain for your may be substantial.

To Bob’s question: if you have an appetite for some risk, then go for it. Contact your veterans service officer or veteran lawyer for help with the process. Be sure to get your condition diagnosed, if necessary by a civilian doctor you pay for out of pocket, and don’t stop until the VA honors the laws that govern them.

Check here for tips to make your increase application go more smoothly.

Photo thanks to rachelcreative under creative commons license on Flickr.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah July 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm

The Military has our VETS between a rock and a hard place. VETS must either accept less than standard medical care from a VA hospital, or if they elect to go to private doctors, they loose their right to a full honors military funeral when they pass away. My brother was in Viet Nam 101st Airborne, “The Screaming Eagles” He inlisted . He served with honor, He got spat on when he came home and was treated like a plague. That has a tendancy to make an already fragile psyche very damaged, and with no medical support our men are lost forever! VETS who give so much for their country at the very least deserve outstanding medical care. These men very easily could have taken high paying jobs rather than serving, they would have had better Insurance that’s for sure.

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Alexander Eccleston July 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I ruptured my bicep in iraq. The doctor @ Fort lewis said Inoperable due to time frame. I would like an evaluation . I live in carmichael Near Mather VA hospital

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Kent Yates July 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

When I went to my PTSD eval, I was totally unaware that the interviewers were getting a bonus for denying us PTSD eval. My life history is a nightmare and I have been in federal prison twice on gun charges, yet none of that weighed in. I want to know how to wake them up.
Secondly, I live on scraps at 67 now, and a private evaluation would only be possible if I won the lottery, which I can’t really afford to play ! I guess i could discontinue my internet and cable TV and turn the heat up to 85 to reduce electricity use.
The saddest part of my military experience is awakening to the political agendas I was empowering.

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John Wayne July 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The VA examiners do NOT get a bonus for denying a claim. They do not make the decision, the only report the examination results. If you spent time in Federal prison, you deserve to lose your benefits…..

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JIM FRANCZAK August 12, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I AM A VIETNAM VETERAN AND HAVE A RATING OF 50% FOR PTSD WHICH I RECEIVED IN 2004 AFTER BEING MANY BATTLES WITH THE VA AND FINALLY RECEIVED MY RATING. BUT, THIS PAST WEEK I RECEIVED A LETTER FROM THE VA AND THIS LETTER STATED THAT THE VA WOULD SEVER MY BENEFITS, THE VA IS GOING TO TRY TO TAKE AWAY MY RATING AND BENEFITS FOR PTSD, I WAS FLOORED AND THE DOCTOR WROTE IN THIS LETTER THAT I WAS “MALINGERING” CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS BULLSHIT, I WAS NEVER SO DOWN IN MY LIFE, HAVING SERVED MY COUNTRY AND FOUGHT AND ALMOST DIED IN VIETNAM, I AM IN THE PROCESS OF HIRING A LAWYER, THAT IS KNOWLEDGE IN VA LAW, AND FIGHT THIS DECISION BY THE VA. ALSO THE DOCTOR WITH THE VA WENT OUT HER WAY TO FIND OUT THAT I HAD SEVERAL C&P EXAMS SCHEDULED THAT WEEK THAT I HAD ANOTHER PTSD C&P EXAM., SO WHY WOULD A VA DOCTOR WITH MENTAL HEALTH DO THAT. ALSO THIS DOCTOR STATED THAT WHY SHOULD I GIVE YOU A HIGHER RATING THEN THE ONE THAT YOU HAVE NOW., SHE STATED SHE MADE A MISTAKE, COME ON I FOUGHT IN VIETNAM AND I BELIEVE THIS DOCTOR HAS A BRUISED EGO AND SHE IS PAYING ME BACK FOR THE APPEAL THAT I DID TO GET A HIGHER RATING ON MY PTSD., THIS IS NOT ONE BIT FAIR, TO SCREW WITH A VIETNAM VETERAN. THE ONLY MONEY THAT I GET IS THROUGH THE VA COMPENSATION AND NOW THE VA WANTS TO TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME.

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David G August 31, 2011 at 1:26 am

Dear Ben,

I joined the US Army in 2005. When I was in Iraq in 2008, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder of which I was given 50% Disability Rating. When I was medically evacuated to Darnall Army Medical Center in Ft Hood, Texas, I was additionally diagnosed with Psychosis. I was discharged under General under Honorable Conditions. I filed for VA Compensation. For some reasons I did not understand myself, I wrote VA that I am withdrawing my claims for Psychosis. VA acknowledged the withdrawal of my claims of Psychosis. VA awarded me with 50% Disability for Bipolar Disorder. Can I still claim for Psychosis? I am undergoing weekly psychotherapy at VA Hospital for 2 years now. Can I request for an increase of rating? Can I re-file my claims of Psychosis as I am still diagnosed with the ailment?

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Navy Engineman March 6, 2012 at 1:19 am

I too was diagnosed by the VA with bipolar disorder but didnt file it . I had a few breakdowns which lead me to being hospitalized various times at the va and other facilities. I did not put bipolar to my disability claim. I currently take meds for psychosis and was diagnosed by the VA when i was admitted. I spoke to someone from mental health about this and all they do is give me meds but the meds are starting to add up.I was wondering if i should wait for my initial claim to go through since I have been waiting for 22 months.I don’t want to drag it out any longer. I have my current medical records from the VA. I went through a nasty divorce and had my kid adopted by my ex wife’s family while I was deployed and began to drink heavily out of depression. It wasn’t until the death of a relative that I had my breakdown and was diagnosed.Should I wait for my initial claim to go through?

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ms tai July 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I think you should apply after you obtain your medical records. What you have aganist your case is substance abuse, now. You going to have to review your chart to see if they added that in your history. If they did and I am sure they asked you…

Then you need to supply AA meetings signature that you are seeking help for any substance abouse, and make sure your labs UDS(screen and alcohol SCREEN SHOWS NEGATIVE) get as many as those in your chart..

Any other medical evidence you have after you file a claim…fax it, or mail it to them, making sure you add the indentifying information on each document.

hope that helps

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Esma August 19, 2012 at 7:50 am

You need to call your local Social Security office, make an apmnnotpeit, and go in person to talk to them. They will guide you through the process of filing. Social Security will pull your medical records, and you may have to be evaluated by a SS doctor. SS bases their decision on whether they believe you can engage in gainful employment or not. I’m bipolar and on disability, but I have a lot of other physical health problems too. It can be very hard to get disability benefits, which is why so many people end up getting an attorney to help them. Was this answer helpful?

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Audrey Beebe August 31, 2011 at 1:04 pm

David,

There is nothing stopping you from refiling a claim for psychosis. A step to further strengthen your claim may be to have the Dr. that you are seeing for psychotherapy write a letter stating that your claim withdrawal was caused by your state of mind at the time.

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Candy Bernard September 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm

My husband has been gone 8 years and I am still fighting for his disability that we applied for two years before his death…Can anyone help me, lead me in the right direction etc.

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Audrey Beebe September 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

Candy, after that many years of fighting, the popular next step is to get your congressmen/representatives involved. Generally that either speeds up the process or gets you a direct, clear answer.

Try that.

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Danny O'Neal November 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I wanted to comment on VA and their “process”. I am a disabled veteran. I volunteered to go to IRAQ 4 times and went three times. I have a aggrivated left shoulder injury and a right shoulder injury from IRAQ. I also believe I suffer from PTSD. After I arrived home from my last trip to iraq i found myself a instant alcoholic, and would regularly walk around with a fully loaded weapon in my mouth. I currently consider myself lucky I got past the weapon ordeal (sometimes i think about it), and I am still alive to support my family like they supported me. VA has recieved four claims for disability and only after I contacted a local state va rep were they able to actually say they got my information. I was asked not to say anything about my mental state but claim for my injuries. I VOLUNTEERED to go overseas to support my fellow soldiers and stand for what my country said it believed in. I now know why everyone (military) in my family said dont do it they dont care about you. So i say to you stay strong and fight for what is owed to you and your loved ones because its the solidiers and their families that care not VA.

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Victor Varela April 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Are you the daniel oneal from korea 1st of the 15th field artillery?

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Megan December 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I returned from my deploymen to the middle east in April 2010, and half way throughmy deploymet I developed a severe chronic cough and now have a difficult time breathing.It has only gotten worse since I have returned home. The VA has run a variety of tests and everthing comes back normal and they say i have “asthma”. Inhalers dont do a thing for me. I have been rated with 10%. Doctors are not listening to me and I am very frustrated. This had affected my life and making any physical activity and day to day living difficult. I am looking for any one else with the same problems!!! I have found information on constrictive bronchiolitis and I match every single symptom.

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Navy Engineman March 6, 2012 at 1:29 am

I have been waiting for my initial claim for about 22 months now and its been at the rating specialist for about 10 months now. I was diagnosed bipolar by the VA in 2008 when I was admitted. I also have psychosis. I am medicated for it and have been since my diagnosis. I spoke to the mental health coordinator at my va and all he does is give me meds.I did not file bipolar with my initial claim because I was able to pay for my meds but lost my job recently and cannot afford the meds. When I run out I usually have a breakdown or episode.I have to do the means test soon. I was married while in the navy but went through a nasty divorce and had my kid get adopted by my ex’s family while i was deployed.I began to drink heavily out of depression and had a breakdown when a relative died.After that i was admitted to the VA for two weeks. I want to file for bipolar so I can receive the right treatment but am afraid that my claim will take much longer than it already has.Any advice? I don’t want to add anything to my claim yet because it may drag out the claim process even more.Since the mental health doc just gives me meds should I seek an outside doctor??

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John July 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Why should the VA pay for your mental disorder that is obviously congenital. This is a BS claim.

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Zeb August 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Seriously? If you are a real vet you know these things are real. You call BS and yet i have a feeling you have never heard the words of a dead man, furthermore you are probably one of those stellar soldiers who puts everything including your family behind your career. In no less words i can say F77ck you! You horrible waste of my oxygen

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Le'Undo Lamont Adams March 15, 2012 at 1:27 am

I have been fight for years,For my benefits,and got a 70% rating,But I don’t Think it is fair,I got injured in The US Army, why’ll stationed at Fort Hood Texes.I had a bad fall,Backwards On my head,Don’t remember how I got to The Hospital,But I was messed up,I suffered fro m Blindness in my left eye,Head injury,Were I can’t Remember a lot of things Have
a bad back that’s gotten worse,They had to remove half of my right kidney because of the med’s they constanly gave me for pain,I’m still getting the run-a-round,The reps 4 vets are not helping me,CAN SOMEONE HELP!!!!;

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Juan Flores April 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm

In Korea I was blown off of a 3/4 ton truck in for 30 feet landed on my back the medics said that I only had1951,received a concocion and was hospitalized ten retrned. I wahosdpitalized several time after that with siatic pains in my left leg doctors at fort Knox said I only had a strain and treated me wit h heat treatments.I fund out that realy hada herniated dis and had to get operated at once. I was evaluated only once for my present disability. My back problem was not enen considered.Can send detailed case history

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Al Creighton May 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm

The comments I have read, is in accord with how thw VA treats our veterans. The VA make it appear that they are concerned, but the end result is patience and not giving up. At first I did not believe the stories, but in time, it is a fact of how the VA dragg their time for themselves and actually wait for you to die or lose your mind. Even when you write your Congressman/Senator, unless your claim is quiet clear and does not require effort on their staff to follow thru, they really do not get involved, because they believe the VA responses. We all need to keep fighting, and for some reason, listen to those Attorney’s who are honest and will fight you case for increased benefit rating. It has been two years and still waiting for an increased benefit rating. Be blessed to all..

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Ms Adair July 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I am new to this site and currently experiencing the VA claim experience for my son who served US NAVY. I am more famaliar with SSI/SSDI benefits and secured many claims for the community that I live in. I am a civilian public worker, in mental health. Please allow my appreciation to you who served, became wounded while in service and of God Bless those that perished serving. I want to offer very HELPFUL information and both entities are almost the same. Keep in mind I am new with the VA and had some success towards the middle of a case or two. I hope by supplying some of the information below helps your claim- thank you for your service

1. Its not what you say but prove…Medical records from where every you went for treatment, that includes jails and prisons.
2. I am a mental health worker, so I know that area well. Believe it or not if you were ever on probation or parole and was ORDERED by the judge to see a psychiatrist/take medication- thats evidence
3. More than one family member in the service experiencing the same symptoms help-prove, bloodlines means genetics. I am dealing with a young lady whose father is bipolar/ptsd, sister bipolar/ptsd, brothers ptsd/bipolar…all of them take meds, one of them had to surrender a weapon, another attempted suicide on base….valuable evidence, connect them together.
4. Even domestic violence/restraining order, certain language can be very useful in a claim..
5. Side effects of medication – has very serious or sedating side effects, impairs your driving.
6. Firings from jobs is also a power weapon and good evidence
7. citations from city enforcement about your animals- depressed older patients often horde animals
8. Speeding tickets- reckless driving is a good one for evidence, if you experience insomnia, even car accidents reports…not having enough sleep can change your perception in a car.

Again I am mainly into SSI/SSDI but it is evidence. I recommend any thing related to your illness, should be looked at. Present it well, including newspaper articles, eye witnesses including shipmates, family members. PROVE IT – if your PSTD cost you to lose your job PROVE IT, did you receive an demotion been arrested on your job, been accused of poor performance, aggressive behaviors PROVE IT
God Bless

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David Davis July 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm

My medical records were falsified by the US Army. The VA after 43 years discovered a new folder which they had in their possession for all that time. My claim has been with the BVA for over 7 years this time and there appears to be no end in site. Congress and senators just send out form letters. America needs to pick up arms and fight the real enemy he is not abroad but in our own midst.

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Kaymos August 26, 2012 at 10:55 am

I’ve been in the military for 12yrs. Im a 29 yr old woman. Ok here my story. I was active duty from 2000 to 2003. I was awarded %10 for my right knee. 10% for my left hip. I did claim other injuries for my lower back, depression and antiexy. During my active duty I was mentally abuse about my weight and was admitted. But the Va denied my claim for lower back and depression/antiexy, so at the time I said cool and had my 20%. I went into the reserve immedately. I got deployed in 2007-2008. I have 12 yrs of medical records of constant visits to the Va and cilivan doctors. So here’s the problem. My right knee/left hip has been messed up for 11 yrs. Of course over the years its gotten worse. During my pre-deployment the Army was aware of my disabilities but still sent me to Iraq. During my deployment I was almost blown up in training exercise in Ft.Bragg and was almost given an article 15 for leaving my equipment in the vehicle even though It was on fire, and I was stuck and couldnt get out for like 3 mins. Before the Humvee caught fire the gas tank blew up twice and was so loud my ears hurt really bad. Once I finally got out the vehicle blew up like 1 minute later. Talking bout pre PTSD. I wasnt even in Iraq I was in training and almost got killed. So imagine my thoughts of never returning home. Anyway I spanged my left and right ankle in Ft. Bragg, and then my left knee started to bother me. The lower back pain come back also. So I went to Iraq physically broke down and still had to make it through the deployment. During my tour I had some mysterious outbreak called pitroysis rosea all over my breast and stomach, it was crazy, it is an immune disorder. They thought it was ring worm but it wasnt. I was in Camp Falcon and we got mortared about every 2 to 3 days. Folks were dying left and right and I became very sad and depressed and started having nightmares. I was very starled by the mortars, and was terrified everytime I had to get in Humvee due the explosion I was in. My deployment wore me out mentally, I was on watch for 3 days because I had an antiexy attack. I wasnt sleeping maybe 2-3 hrs a night. Once I returned home in 2008 all my injuries, right knee, left knee, left hip, left and right ankle were definately worse. Ive been to PT twice in the past 5 yrs Ive been. Since 2001 Ive had at least 15 injections in the right knee. A few weeks ago I had my first Hip injection. Ive had MRI done of my left knee and right knee and lower back. Right knee mild chondramalcia. Left knee all kinds of shit. Lower back I have two bulging disc, and drying of one disc. I had knee surgery dec 11. Though all these years my pain has caused me alot depression and sadness. The fact that I’m in pain has made me angry and serious antiexy issues. The nightmares of me being blown up, or people and seeing dead bodies laying around doesnt make anything better.I still dont hardly sleep, my right ear is always ringing and feels like im on a plane.I was admitted at the Va hospital in July for overdoseing on my pain meds, I did want to die, because I’m a 29 yr old woman that walks around like a 60 yrs limping, the only way I feel normal is if im on drugs. I put in for an increase of disability June 2011. Its been 15 months now I have all medical documentation for 11 yrs. I’m not one of these soldiers that are trying to get compensation for no reason just to get a pay check. I need my compensation increased so I dont have to work so hard, due to my injuries. I have to take 150mg of tramadol every 4 hrs while I’m at work, I’m a patient care tech and do alot of physical labor. I only work 3 days a wk but 12hr shifts. I just want my compensation so I can work part-time that way I can be in pain just half of the time and not all the time. So I’m at 20% does anybody have an ideal of how much my disability increase I may get?

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