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.