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Veterans Day is meant to honor and thank those who served in the United States Armed Forces. Unfortunately, respect for veterans does not always extend to them when they need it most.

Veterans filing a claim for disability benefits experience overwhelming delays and unreasonable denials. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the average wait time to evaluate a veteran’s disability claim was at least 277 days.

In this episode, we discuss why veteran disability claims are delayed and denied and whether veterans can increase their chances of approval.

Show highlights

A history of delays

Current statistics indicate there are approximately 500,000 outstanding veterans’ disability compensation requests for service-related disabilities. Nearly 40% of those have been waiting for more than four months to receive an initial decision.

However, on average, it takes closer to one year for your application to be reviewed, to receive a rating decision, and be approved for benefits. Furthermore, the Department of Veteran Affairs has admitted there is a high error rate when evaluating disability claims.

Why are claims denied?

The Veteran Affairs website reports that 75 percent of all initial applications for VA benefits are denied. These applications are often denied because they have incomplete information or lack necessary documentation.

Other reasons for denial include:

  • Not enough evidence to support your disability
  • Not enough evidence to support your disability is connected to your military service
  • Your disability was a pre-existing condition and was not aggravated by your military service

Causes for ineligibility of benefits

In certain circumstances, a veteran will not be eligible to receive disability benefits, including:

  • The veteran’s disease or disability was caused by the veteran’s misconduct
  • The veteran was dishonorably discharged
  • The injury occurred while the veteran was avoiding duty, such as while deserting or absent without leave (AWOL)
  • The injury occurred while the veteran/service member was in prison or detained due to court martial or civil court felony

Tips for reducing the chances of a denial

Many of these denied claims have a strong chance on appeal if you can secure documentation to refute them. However, it is best to plan ahead and cover all your bases in your initial application.

Many delays and denials come from the hassle of gathering and sharing medical records. Therefore, it is best to track down your own military records and medical records instead of relying on the VA to do it for you. You should also double check that any records you request are sent to the appropriate destinations promptly.

Understanding the appeals process

If you applied for veterans disability compensation benefits and the VA denied your claim, you have the right to appeal. Check out NOLO’s breakdown of the appeal process for details about the relevant deadlines, paperwork, and steps to follow.

Things to remember

Veterans who were denied disability benefits wait an average four to five years for an appeals hearing. However, VA Secretary Bob McDonald predicts that will grow to a 10-year backlog if existing laws are not changed.

It is essential to be aware of and adhere to all relevant deadlines; if you miss them, your appeal is sure to be rejected.

What happens if your appeal is denied?

If the Board of Veterans’ Appeals decides against you, you can:

  • Try to reopen the claim with the local VA office
  • File a motion asking the Board to review your case because of a clear and unmistakable error in the Board decision
  • File an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

Remember, data shows that certain Veteran Affairs Regional Offices (VARO) have denied as many as 71 percent of their claims simply because of errors in processing.

Getting help with your disability claim

If you want help with your initial claim, filing an appeal or going to a hearing, you can hire a representative who works for a veterans’ service organization or an attorney who specializes in veteran disability claims.

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