Although the process was recently revamped, service members who are disabled or become ill while on active duty still face a long, difficult journey to receive the veterans disability compensation they deserve. Barriers to disability benefits include time lags, delayed discharge and financial uncertainty, which collectively put disabled veterans in a limbo state. While veterans continue to suffer from a dysfunctional disability benefits process that worsens situations before bettering them, veterans disability attorney are available for legal help and support.
Current Veterans Disability Process
Many service members and their families from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard branches apply for and receive veterans disability compensation each year. According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, there were about 3.2 million people receiving veterans disability benefits in 2010 at a cost of over $36 billion.
To apply for disability compensation, veterans must first file a claim at their local VA office. Previously, disabled veterans underwent two separate medical reviews upon application. The Department of Defense (DOD) completed the first review to establish military compensation prior to discharge and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) carried out the second review to determine disability benefits. Veterans were not paid during this process, which often caused financial hardship.
The current disability procedure was implemented to correct such issues by allowing both the DOD and VA to perform their evaluations simultaneously before discharging a service member. The review cycle usually begins one year after an injury or illness and should conclude within 295 days.
Delay to Receiving Benefits
While the new procedure has improved the veterans disability process, and service members indicate that it seems more fair, barriers to benefits persist. Significant time lags, averaging 400 days instead of the goal of 295, prolong the completion of new claims, which may be due to the many number of times (often nine) the DOD and VA pass cases between each other. Disabled veterans continue to receive military pay until their discharge, but because they are still service members, they cannot work in civilian jobs.
Veterans must also wait until the process concludes to know the amount of their benefit payments. This prevents any monetary planning or budgeting for the future and creates financial uncertainty. The combination of these difficulties puts recently injured or ill service members in a state of limbo, where they cannot serve in the military, but also cannot secure a discharge to enable them to accept civilian employment. In addition, new service members cannot enlist until positions open up, so delayed discharges cause other issues.
Veterans Deserve a Better Process
The updated veterans disability process is a step in the right direction, but newly injured or ill service members are submitting claims faster than the DOD and VA are completing and awarding benefits. Until the DOD and VA can work together to accept the military's fitness determination and the VA's medical review rating, reducing the process from the average of 400 days to 90, the entire veterans disability system will remain complicated and frustrating for service members to navigate, especially while they are already dealing with their injuries or other medical conditions.
In the meantime, service members applying for veterans disability compensation should locate a veterans disability attorney in their area to help file a claim and to appeal any benefit denials. Because the process can become complex and applicants face many difficult barriers along the way, securing a lawyer with direct experience in handling veterans disability laws and procedures to provide legal help and support can be invaluable to both veterans and their families.