Veterans receiving Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, including disability compensation, pension, health care and education, among others, receive a variety of correspondence from VA. It is important to read letters carefully, even though large portions contain standard form-letter information.
For example, a decision letter for a VA service-connected disability claim will state whether or not you are being paid as a single veteran or one with dependents. If you have a combined rating of 30 percent or more, you are entitled to additional compensation for each qualified dependent. If you are not being paid for dependents and should be, you can add them through e-Benefits or on VA Form 21-686c with supporting documents such as marriage or birth certificates.
A decision letter also will explain why VA assigned a certain percentage for a disability and what medical evidence is needed in order to receive a higher rating. Veterans often open a claim for an increase without checking the criteria needed for a higher rating, running the risk of having their rating reduced if the subsequent VA compensation and pension exam notes improvement.
The letter also may state that a certain rated disability has a “likelihood of improvement” and that you are subject to a future VA exam to access the severity of the condition. This means you should make sure to always report to your doctor symptoms related to the particular disability.
For example, migraine headaches are rated on the number of “prostrating attacks” over the last several months. If you have a high rating, such as 50 percent, and have not been seeing a doctor to report and be treated for your severe headaches and get called for an exam, you will likely get a proposal to reduce your rating, as there would be no medical evidence to support a continuation of 50 percent.
VA also will send a form each year to veterans who are receiving 100 percent disability under individual unemployability, asking to verify they are not employed full-time in “gainful employment.” If you do not complete and return the form, VA will send a letter stating that you did not return the form, with a proposal to reduce the 100 percent rating.
Veterans rated at 30 percent or more who receive an additional monetary amount for dependents also will be sent a form every so often, asking to verify dependent status. If you do not return a completed form, VA will propose a reduction in your compensation to recoup dependent-rate compensation back to the date they last had dependent verification.
VA letters contain a lot of information and may ask for additional information or documents related to a specific claim. Make sure to always notify VA of any change in address or phone numbers and keep a file of all letters you receive from VA. If you don’t understand any part of a VA letter, see an accredited veterans service officer who can explain it to you.
Sandy Britt is a Montgomery County veterans service officer. Questions about a specific claim can be addressed only by calling the Montgomery County Veterans Service Office at 931-553-5173 for an office appointment with a service officer.