Common Mistakes to Avoid in Litigating a VA Disability Claim
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Veterans and their families, when applying for disability benefits from the VA, often make mistakes. Some mistakes, included in the following list, are more common than others:
• Lack of evidence in a service-connected case. Some types of service-connected conditions, such as PTSD, are hard to prove without specific evidence. That is why it is crucial to include strong evidence that substantiates the claim you are making with the VA. Also, if you have already been granted benefits and want a higher rating, you again will need to provide strong evidence to justify the increased rating.
• Missing deadlines. There are deadlines that you must follow when appealing the VA’s decision. All deadlines must be adhered to, otherwise you risk not getting your benefits. For example, you have 120 days to appeal an adverse decision by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. There is something known as the “mailbox” rule, meaning if your appeal is postmarked to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims within the 120-day deadline, your appeal will be accepted.
• Not submitting evidence that your disability started in service. This is somewhat different than the first mistake on this list. It can be tough to supply such evidence if your service was a long time ago. For example, showing that your current arthritis is a result of a back injury from your military service is not easy. You would need to obtain doctor testimony or your own testimony explaining the connection. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases are especially difficult, as evidence is not always available. Instead, you would focus on showing a change in behavior resulting from the in-service assault. Doctors, friends, family members or anyone else close to you would be able to explain problems they noticed in you following the incident.
• Not properly developing the case. When you file a disability application, you are in essence telling the VA that you have a problem and require compensation. If you don’t properly develop your case with supporting explanations and documentation, you will most likely not have a strong claims file, which means your chances of being denied benefits is high. Make sure you take the time to build your case.
• Allowing the VA to develop your case for you. The VA has a duty to assist veterans. That means they must gather all of the evidence for you relating to your disability claim and send you to a medical exam. However, it is a mistake to rely on the VA to build a case on your behalf. I have seen many situations where the VA did not develop cases well and, as a result, benefits were denied.