Veterans & Their Families

This information describes some VA benefits and the general claims process. It is not intended to provide legal advice but to help determine whether you have a claim at the stage at which Hawthorne Merrill Law could possibly help.

There are a number of VA benefits, but to obtain any of them you must file a written claim with a VA regional office. VA will assemble evidence from various sources and then either grant or deny benefits. If the claim is denied in whole or part you may challenge the decision by timely filing a Notice of Disagreement and then appealing to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If the Board denies, then appeal is available to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

If you are a Veteran and have a pending claim, Jane Merrill may be able to represent you or your family member, without charge, if your claim is at any of these stages: 1) before the VA regional office or Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Notice of Disagreement was filed after June 20, 2007; 2) before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (a pending appeal), or 3) a final decision of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in which 120 days have not passed since that decision was rendered. If your claim is at any of these stages, Jane will gladly review your paperwork to see if she can help.

Benefits and the Claims Process

The VA provides veterans, their spouses and dependents a variety of benefits. Commonly, veterans and their families may apply for the following benefits:

A common claim is for service-connected disability compensation. To establish entitlement to these benefits, the evidence must show three things: (1) the veteran has a disability; (2) the veteran first showed symptoms of a disease, suffered an injury, or aggravated a pre-existing disease or injury while in service or within a short period afterward; and (3) there is a causal relationship between the current disability and service. If VA is satisfied the evidence shows these requirements, then a veteran is “service connected” for the disability, which means the veteran is eligible for compensation.

How much compensation the veteran receives depends on how much the disability impairs the veteran.  To determine the compensation amount, VA uses the Schedule for Rating Disabilities in the Code of Federal Regulations. (38 C.F.R. Part 4). The average impairment in earning capacity resulting from the disability, from 0% (noncompensable) to 100% (totally disabling) is the basis for the scale and it is measured in 10% increments. The date payments begin (the “effective date”) is generally the later of the date VA received the claim or the date the evidence shows entitlement to the benefits. Though the proof requirements vary, claims for other VA benefits follow this same process.

When a claim is submitted, VA is required to provide the Veteran with notice explaining the information required to qualify for benefits. VA must also notify the Veteran that VA will provide certain assistance in developing the evidence. However, the Veteran is ultimately responsible for developing his or her claim.

After reviewing the claim, VA must issue a written decision granting or denying benefits. If the Veteran wants to appeal the decision, the Veteran must file a “Notice of Disagreement” within one year of the date stamped on the cover letter accompanying the decision. A Notice if Disagreement is a statement from the Veteran or Veteran’s representative that the Veteran disagrees with the decision or any part of it, for example, the rating decision, and wants to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The decision becomes final if a Notice of Disagreement is not filed within that one year. Once final, the VA will not review or change the decision, except in a very few rare and unusual cases.

After a Notice of Disagreement is filed, VA will either attempt to resolve the dispute or will issue a Statement of the Case. A veteran has the remainder of the year from the date on the letter with the Rating Decision or 60 days after the date the Statement of the Case is sent, whichever is longer, to submit a Substantive Appeal (Form 9) to the regional office, which sends the case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The Board reviews the entire file, including any new evidence submitted, and then renders its decision. The Board may grant or deny benefits, or send the claim back for further development by the agency.

If the Board denies all or part of the claim, a Veteran may file a further appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims no later than 120 days after the date the decision is mailed to you. Note that the appeal to the Court must be based on legal or procedural errors, not on the ultimate question of whether you should get benefits. When the Court sees such errors, it sends the case back to the VA.

Jane Merrill will review your paperwork and may represent you, at not cost to you or your family, if you have a recent Board decision or have already filed your appeal to the Court, and at the agency after such an appeal or if you have filed a timely Notice of Disagreement after June 20, 2007. Contact Jane Merrill to discuss your case and she will determine if she can help you in your claim for VA benefits. Jane is accredited attorney before the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and is admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; therefore, Jane is able to assist veterans in any state with their claims for benefits.