The Veterans Affairs disability claim process can be confusing. In a claim decision letter, the reason for denial should be tailored to the veteran's actual denial reason, but generic or "canned" responses can leave a veteran without a good explanation for why their claim wasn't accepted. As you look for answers, consider a few traits of the VA disability system, what you can do to make life easier along the process and how an attorney can help.
Why Would A Real Claim Be Denied?
A veteran with injuries sustained during their military service has good reason to be confused--even insulted--when their claim is denied. One major issue to keep in mind is that the VA funding needs to be kept on a very strict control. Not a single dollar should go where it shouldn't, so even an honorable service member must be checked for fraud. It isn't personal in most cases, but a matter of matching up your paperwork with the process.
The first check to understand is the service-connection test. A service-connected condition is any condition that was caused during a service member's military service, or a pre-existing condition that was made worse because of military service. This limits disability compensation to veterans who were injured specifically because of military service.
That said, military service is a broad topic. It doesn't just mean when you're on watch, on duty, in combat or wearing a uniform. Your entire military service starting from the date listed on your DD-214 to your End of Active Duty Service (EAOS) and reserve duty are eligible.
It doesn't matter if you were on leave, in the United States or visiting another country that had nothing to do with your service; as long as you were part of the military, your injury or condition falls within the service-connection window. There are even a few exceptions for injuries that happened a bit after leaving the military, but these are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Proof Means More Than A Scar Or A Limp
To prove a service-connection, you need to have documentation or direct proof that can be verified by the military. Unfortunately, walking in with scars, a limp or mental conditions that you think are obviously connected to the military are not acceptable proof. You can, however, have these conditions investigated to find a connection if you have no medical record or official paperwork saying that you were injured when you claim you were injured.
This is important because it's too easy for a veteran to be injured as a civilian, then seek the life-long disability compensation. The VA will help a veteran with an unrelated injury with a few basic medical benefits as long as they're eligible for medical care (most veterans are), but the monetary compensation is only for service-connected conditions.
While the VA offers many services, they are unable to dig deeply into your military history and research connections for you. The long wait times are a systematic problem, and the resources simply aren't available for a VA representative to get the documentation for you; if they don't have access to it, you need to get the documentation for them. This is where an attorney comes in.
A personal injury attorney can investigate your injury or condition and find the most likely cause. If you know what happened, simply point the attorney in the right direction to get the proof you need. If you're unsure of the direct cause, an attorney can still research with claim system-experienced medical professionals, but be sure to contact an attorney as soon as possible.