Veterans Disability Compensation is a full-time practice area at Quatrini Rafferty. Michael V. Quatrini, Esq. is accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans‘ Affairs (VA) to represent Veterans of the armed services who suffer from service-connected disabilities or diseases.
Veterans’ Disability Compensation is available to members of the armed services who suffer physical or psychological injuries or diseases while on active duty. This includes injuries or diseases that were made worse by active duty military service. The amount of monthly benefits depends on the degree of disability, and additional benefits — like payments for being unemployed due to your condition — are payable in certain instances.
Applying for Benefits
The process for obtaining benefits is similar to applying for Social Security Disability. This application must outline the injuries and detail the connection between the injuries and the particular service-related event. This application can be submitted directly through the VA.
A specific description of that precipitating event is critical, along with medical evidence supporting the connection between the event and the injuries. Official military documentation of the event is very beneficial to the claim, as are “buddy letters” from fellow veterans confirming the incident(s). It should be noted that disability benefits are not available for those who received a dishonorable discharge.
Once the application is complete, it is submitted to a local VA office for review. The local office issues a “Rating Decision” as to whether the claim is (1) service connected, and if so, (2) the percentage of disability assigned to the injury.
If the local VA office either denies the claim or assigns a low or zero percentage of disability to the condition(s), the claim can be appealed. An appeal must be filed within one year of the initial decision.
The VA provides three main types of review options:
- Supplemental Claim: You may resubmit your claim but must include new and relevant evidence the VA did not have when making its first determination.
- Higher-level Review: You can request to have a “senior reviewer” look over your application and provide another decision. The downside of this option is that you cannot provide new evidence.
- Board Appeal: With a board appeal, a Veterans Law Judge with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals will look over your complete file and make a new and independent decision. There are three possible requests that can be made when asking for a board appeal, including the option for a hearing.
VA DISABILITY PRESUMPTIVE CONDITIONS
Some conditions, depending on the dates and locations of active duty, are eligible for “presumptive” status, meaning that the VA process presumes that active-duty service caused these conditions. It is then up to the VA to disprove the connection. For example:
During the Vietnam War, U.S. military forces used herbicides in Vietnam and Laos to remove forest cover, destroy crops, and clear vegetation from the perimeters of U.S. bases. This effort lasted from 1962 to 1971. Since that time, the VA has determined that a positive association exists between exposure to herbicides and the subsequent development of several conditions, which also have presumptive status:
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
- Multiple myeloma
- Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- B-Cell Leukemias
- Parkinson’s disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
Recently, the VA has expanded the definition of Vietnam service to include veterans who served on “Blue Water” ships within 12 nautical miles of the Republic of Vietnam.
The Veterans Administration has acknowledged that veterans serving at Camp LeJeune, N.C., between 1957 and 1987 were exposed, through the water supply, to industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals. Since that time, the VA has determined that a positive association exists between exposure to herbicides and the subsequent development of several conditions, which also have presumptive status for compensation and medical treatment purposes:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia / myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Esophageal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Renal toxicity
- Female infertility
- Lung cancer
- Hepatic steatosis
- Neurobehavioral effects
Gulf War Presumptions:
Gulf War veterans may be entitled to presumption for unexplained symptoms/diagnoses related to their service if:
- Veteran has experienced the symptoms for six months or more;
- the symptoms first appeared during active duty service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations up until December 31, 2021, and;
- the symptoms are at least 10 percent disabling according to VA regulations.
The symptoms/diagnoses must fall into the following categories:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is long-term and severe fatigue not relieved by rest or directly caused by other conditions.
- Fibromyalgia, which includes widespread muscle pain with possible additional symptoms including insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems.
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders, which includes irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
- Undiagnosed Illnesses, the symptoms of which may include, but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.
Where the Veteran cannot work due to their service-connected disabilities, they can apply for individual unemployability (TDIU — total disability based on individual unemployability) which would compensate them at the 100% disability rating level.
To be eligible for TDIU, the Veteran must have:
- At least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disability, or;
- Two or more service-connected disabilities – with at one of those conditions rated at 40% or more disability and a combined rating of 70% or more, and;
- Inability to sustain “substantial gainful employment” (i.e. – full or part-time employment)
Given our decades of experience in utilizing treating physicians, independent medical examinations and vocational experts to obtain fully favorable awards for clients in the Social Security Disability process, QuatriniRafferty has a unique edge in handing TDIU claims for Veterans with diverse employment backgrounds.
HOW WE CAN HELP
Our attorneys have achieved success at every step of the process – Decision Review Officer/High Level Review, Supplemental Claim, Board of Veterans Appeals, and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Some of those successful claims have included the following conditions:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Diabetic Neuropathy
- Hypertension related to Diabetes
- Thoracotomy Surgery and Scarring
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability
- Multiple Myeloma
- Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
- Lumbar and Cervical/Neck Surgery and Radiculopathy
- Shoulder and Knee Surgery and Replacements
- Prostate Cancer
- Ischemic Heart Disease / Coronary Artery Disease
Our office is uniquely equipped to handle virtual Board of Veterans appeals hearings right from our Greensburg, Pittsburgh or Altoona offices. For our clients, this is a huge relief as it saves the stress and hassle of traveling to the regional office in Pittsburgh or other regional offices across the state and country.
As with all of our work at QuatriniRafferty, we offer a free consultation to review your VA claim. We want to help you decide which claims are ready to appeal, and, which appeal options may be right for you. Please contact our office at 1-888-534-6016 or email us to schedule your free telephone, video or in-person appointment.
Quatrini Rafferty proudly represented an Army Veteran who applied for, but was denied, service connected disability benefits for an acquired psychiatric disorder to include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Veteran also applied for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) benefits because their psychiatric condition prevented them from working. After meeting with the client, we prepared and filed a Notice of Disagreement challenging the denial of both benefits. Prior to re-adjudication of the claim, our office obtained and submitted updated treatment records, along with a Disability Benefit Questionnaire which confirmed that our client’s condition was “more likely than not” related to his military service. Following a review by a Decision Review Officer, our client was awarded a 70% rating for his acquired psychiatric disorder along with an escalation to full 100% disability payment for TDIU benefits because he was unable to work on a full or part time basis due to his service connected disability benefits, all of which resulted in over two years of retroactive disability payments.