Thursday, July 18, 2013

Starting a VA Disability claim: To be Pro Se or not to be

When you get ready to file a claim for disability, you have many options.

Many people go to the Veterans Administration (VA) and get a representative called a national service officer (NSO) to handle the claim for them. This would be organizations like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), or the AMVETS. If you are going his route, the DAV is trained by the VA and has access to some of the VA databases. You have to give the a specific power of attorney (POA) to one of the service organizations.

You can also represent yourself. This is called Pro Se. There are advantages of being Pro Se. Besides having better control of the claim, any veteran proceeding Pro Se gets extra leeway in making his benefits case. Pro Se Veterans' Filings Must Be 'Read Liberally'

The bad news is as Pro Se you must educate yourself on the claims process and different strategies you can use. I recommend you start by reading two books: Claim Denied by John Roche and Veteran Administration Claims: What you Need to Know to be Successful by AskNod, The latter book should be used with the AskNod blog:

I would read the Roche book first because it provides a more general review of the claims process. It also covers a lot of other VA programs you may have little interest in.

The AskNod book is specifically devoted to Disability Claims. You can also submit specific questions to the blog author.

You can file a claim using the old fashioned VA Form 21-526 . There is also an online version called the VONAPP  see

The best way to file is a Disability Benefit Questionnaire (DBQ) that is signed by your doctor. The DBQ is in Acrobat format and can be completed online and filed in the VARO's Veteran Center. You can mail it to the VARO by certified mail with a return receipt.

You must write in a nexus staments that connect your medical condition to your armed forces service, Typically you might see a statement like "Mr; Jones medical condition is more likely than not related to his hospitalization in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004 for a leg wound.

The Asknod book will take you through the initial claim, organizing the claim and documenting it. It also address the Decision Review Officer Review. It is the only book that I have reviewed that addresses appeals to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) and the US Court of Veteran Claims (USCAVC) in a comprehensive manner.

The AskNod book discuses filling of Notice of Disagreement, tricks VAROs use to deny the claim , the importance of the BVA Waiver of VARO review, why the the veteran usually gets the higher of disability ratings, Fenderson or staged ratings, and why you need s special statement in claims for Individual Unemployability. It also discusses how vets can get their effective dates for claims pushed back.

AskNod also suggests bringing in an attorney after a denial if you have a well-documented claim at the VARO level. This is where the POA become important.You can not bring in an attorney until the claim has been certified for an appeal to the BVA.

This is another reason why you may want to file the claim Pro Se, Otherwise you will have to rescind POA from the service organization before you can give the POA to an attorney,

AskNod has noted taht the vets are getting smarter and appealing. A BVA appeal can take 3- 5 years. If there are nay open issues, the appeal will be remanded. AskNod also suggests bringing in an attorney to get the claim resolved at the VARO level.

By law, the attorney can take 20 per cent of the claim. This can be expensive but it can avoid extending the claim for years.

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