VA Backlog Makes for Long Wait for Veterans with PTSD

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Soldiers returning stateside from their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with more than just physical injuries. Many of them are also returning with serious anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These, and other mental health issues, make it difficult or impossible for many former military service members to re-enter civilian society and find suitable employment to provide for themselves and their families.As part of their VA benefits, military veterans suffering from PTSD may be entitled to disability benefits. With the enormous backlog of VA benefits claims, however, many veterans are waiting months — or even years — for that first disability benefit payment.

For those suffering from severe PTSD and other anxiety disorders, this wait is especially troublesome. While soldiers with physical injuries may be able to find suitable work that allows them to cope with their disability, those with severe psychological injuries often cannot work at all. This places great financial stress on these soldiers and their families.

Current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has promised to make reducing the backlog in VA benefits requests his top priority for 2010. Even so, it is likely to be years before this backlog is effectively reduced.

Filing For VA Disability Benefits

To be eligible for VA disability benefits, the following conditions must be met:

  • The applicant must have an other than dishonorable discharge;
  • The applicant must have a current illness or injury that is service-related or was worsened by service; and
  • The applicant must have sufficient evidence to prove that his or her current illness or injury is connected to service, called a “nexus.”

PTSD is included as one of the conditions for which VA disability benefits may be granted. The information that must be provided in these cases is the same as it is for other disabling conditions. Namely, the veteran must be able to provide a current medical diagnosis of PTSD and the PTSD must be connected to an identifiable in-service (or “stressor”) event.

Once a veteran believes he or she is eligible for disability benefits, the veteran should submit a completed copy of VA Form 21-526 (Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension) to the nearest VA Regional Office (VARO).

There is no filing deadline for submitting this form; any veteran who meets the eligibility requirements may submit a request for benefits at any time. However, because the current average processing time for benefits is between four and six months, it is best to submit the application as soon as possible. If your claim is denied, the appeals process can take several additional years.

Providing Evidence Of The Disability

Collecting and organizing the requisite evidence to successfully prove a disability claim is the most crucial part of the claims process. Many initial claims for veteran disability benefits are denied because the claimant provides insufficient evidence of the disability and its connection to an in-service event. Thus, it is vital that veterans have up-to-date, detailed medical records documenting their disability and sufficient supporting documentation of the in-service event that caused or aggravated their disability.

After A Claim Is Filed

Once a claim for benefits has been filed, the VA is likely to require the applicant to complete a compensation and pension — or C & P — exam. This exam will be used to determine whether the veteran has a disability and, if so, the severity of the disability. Based on this information, the veteran will be assigned a disability rating. The higher the disability rating, the more benefits the veteran is entitled to receive. Disability ratings are assigned in 10 percent increments.

If the VARO denies a request for disability benefits, or awards a lower disability rating than the veteran believes he or she deserves, the veteran can appeal the denial to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) or request a review of the decision by a Decision Review Officer at the VARO.

In general, veterans have one year from the date of a benefits denial to appeal the decision. To begin the appeals process, the veteran must file a “Notice of Disagreement” (NOD) with the VARO. While private attorneys can take a veteran’s case on at any time, it is only after the NOD is filed that an attorney can collect a fee.

Contact A VA Benefits Attorney

If you have had a request for VA disability benefits denied or have medical evidence that your disability received a lower disability rating than it deserves, contact an experienced attorney today.

With more than 180,000 appeals currently waiting to be adjudicated, it may take years before your case is settled. A lawyer experienced in handling VA benefits claims can help veterans collect the necessary evidence and present it in the best way to support a claim for benefits. The VA has a full complement of experienced analysts, advisers, and attorneys ready to contest every application. There is no need for you to enter this battle without experienced legal support.