What Military Veterans Should Know About VA Home Loan Guaranty Benefits

VA Home Loan Guaranty Benefits

Home Loans

VA helps Servicemembers, Veterans, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. As part of the VA’s mission to serve you, the VA provides a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing-related programs to help you buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for your own personal occupancy.

VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide you with more favorable terms.

Benefits

Purchase Loans help you purchase a home at a competitive interest rate often without requiring a downpayment or private mortgage insurance. Cash Out Refinance loans allow you to take cash out of your home equity to take care of concerns like paying off debt, funding school, or making home improvements. Learn More

Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL): also called the Streamline Refinance Loan can help you obtain a lower interest rate by refinancing your existing VA loan. Learn More

Native American Direct Loan (NADL) Program: helps eligible Native American Veterans finance the purchase, construction, or improvement of homes on Federal Trust Land, or reduce the interest rate on a VA loan. Learn More

Eligibility

You must have suitable credit, sufficient income, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan. The home must be for your own personal occupancy. The eligibility requirements to obtain a COE are listed below for Servicemembers and Veterans, spouses, and other eligible beneficiaries.

VA home loans can be used to:

  • Buy a home, a condominium unit in a VA-approved project
  • Build a home
  • Simultaneously purchase and improve a home
  • Improve a home by installing energy-related features or making energy efficient improvements
  • Buy a manufactured home and/or lot.
Status Qualifying Wartime & Peacetime Periods Qualifying Active Duty Dates Minimum Active Duty Service Requirement
Veteran WWII 9/16/1940 – 7/25/1947 90 total days
Post-WWII 7/26/1947 – 6/26/1950 181 continuous days
Korean War 6/27/1950 – 1/31/1955 90 total days
Post-Korean War 2/1/1955 – 8/4/1964 181 continuous days
Vietnam War 8/5/1964 – 5/7/1975 *For Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, the beginning date is 2/28/1961 90 total days
Post-Vietnam War 5/8/1975 – 9/7/1980 *The ending date for officers is 10/16/1981 181 continuous days
24-month rule 9/8/1980 – 8/1/1990 *The beginning date for officers is 10/17/1981
  • 24 continuous months, OR
  • The full period (at least 181 days) for which you were called or ordered to active duty
Gulf War 8/2/1990 – Present
  • 24 continuous months, OR
  • The full period (at least 90 days) for which you were called or ordered to active duty
Currently On Active Duty Any Any 90 continuous days
National Guard & Reserve Member Gulf War 8/2/1990 – Present 90 days of active service
  • Six years of service in the Selected Reserve or National Guard, AND
    • Were discharged honorably, OR
    • Were placed on the retired list, OR
    • Were transferred to the Standby Reserve or an element of the Ready Reserve other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable, OR
    • Continue to serve in the Selected Reserve

*If you do not meet the minimum service requirements, you may still be eligible if you were discharged due to (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) a service-connected disability.

Spouses

The spouse of a Veteran can also apply for home loan eligibility under one of the following conditions:

  • Unremarried spouse of a Veteran who died while in service or from a service connected disability, or
  • Spouse of a Servicemember missing in action or a prisoner of war
  • Surviving spouse who remarries on or after attaining age 57, and on or after December 16, 2003
    (Note: a surviving spouse who remarried before December 16, 2003, and on or after attaining age 57, must have applied no later than December 15, 2004, to establish home loan eligibility. VA must deny applications from surviving spouses who remarried before December 6, 2003 that are received after December 15, 2004.)
  • Surviving Spouses of certain totally disabled veterans whose disability may not have been the cause of death

Other Eligible Beneficiaries

You may also apply for eligibility if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • Certain U.S. citizens who served in the armed forces of a government allied with the United States in World War II
  • Individuals with service as members in certain organizations, such as Public Health Service officers, cadets at the United States Military, Air Force, or Coast Guard Academy, midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy, officers of National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, merchant seaman with World War II service, and others

Restoration of Entitlement

Veterans can have previously-used entitlement “restored” to purchase another home with a VA loan if:

  • The property purchased with the prior VA loan has been sold and the loan paid in full, or
  • A qualified Veteran-transferee (buyer) agrees to assume the VA loan and substitute his or her entitlement for the same amount of entitlement originally used by the Veteran seller. The entitlement may also be restored one time only if the Veteran has repaid the prior VA loan in full, but has not disposed of the property purchased with the prior VA loan. Remaining entitlement and restoration of entitlement can be requested through the VA Eligibility Center by completing VA Form 26-1880.

Certificate of Eligibility

After establishing that you are eligible, you will need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE verifies to the lender that you are eligible for a VA-backed loan. This page describes the evidence you submit to verify your eligibility for a VA home loan and how to submit the evidence and obtain a COE.

Evidence Needed

The evidence you need depends on the nature of your eligibility. Consult the table below to determine your category and the evidence you will need when applying.

Applying for a COE

After gathering the evidence you need, you can apply for your Certificate of Eligibility (COE) in the following ways.

Servicemembers, Veterans, and National Guard and Reserve Members

Apply online

To get your Certificate of Eligibility (COE) online, please go to the eBenefits portal. If you already have login credentials, click the Login box, and if you need login credentials, please click the Register box and follow the directions on the screen.  If you need any assistance please call the eBenefits Help Desk at 1-800-983-0937.  Their hours are Monday-Friday, 8am to 8pm EST.

Apply through your lender

Most lenders have access to the Web LGY system. This Internet-based application can establish eligibility and issue an online COE in a matter of seconds. Not all cases can be processed through Web LGY – only those for which VA has sufficient data in our records. However, Veterans are encouraged to ask their lenders about this method of obtaining a certificate.

Apply by mail

Use VA Form 26-1880, Request for Certificate of Eligibility.

Surviving Spouses

Spouses can take the VA form 26-1817 to their lender for processing (see Apply Through Lender above) or may mail the 26-1817 and DD214 (if available) to the following address:

Download VA Form 26-1817, Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility – Unmarried Surviving Spouses

If you can’t print the form, just call 1-888-768-2132 and follow the prompts for Eligibility and we will mail the form to you.

Send the completed form to:
VA Loan Eligibility Center
Attn: COE (262)
PO Box 100034
Decatur, GA 30031

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

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What is VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Training Benefits

The purposes of the VA Vocational Rehabilitation (“Voc Rehab”) program are to help veterans with service-connected conditions become gainfully employed, maintain that employment, and achieve independence in daily living. The Voc Rehab program is implemented in Chapter 31 of Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, so the benefits are sometimes referred to as “Chapter 31” benefits. The program includes several different services and benefits to help an eligible veteran achieve his or her rehabilitation goal. Services include vocational and personal counseling, education and training, financial aid, job assistance, and, if needed, medical and dental treatment. Program services generally are available for up to 48 months, but can be extended under certain instances.

Basic entitlement for Voc Rehab requires 1) a veteran with an award of monthly VA compensation or 2) a service member awaiting discharge from the service with a condition which will likely be awarded monthly VA compensation. In addition, a Voc Rehab claimant generally

  • Must have served on or after September 16, 1940; and
  • Must have service-connected conditions that are schedular rated at least 20% disabling (10% if VA determines a “serious employment handicap” exists); and
  • Needs Voc Rehab to overcome an employment handicap; and
  • It has been less than 12 years since VA notified the claimant of his or her qualification for Voc Rehab benefits.

The 12 year eligibility period can be extended if certain conditions prevented the claimant from participating in the program or if a serious employment handicap exists.

A veteran who is eligible for an evaluation under Chapter 31 must first apply for Voc Rehab services using VA Form 28-1900 [http://www.va.gov/vaforms/form_detail.asp?FormNo=28-1900]. An eligible applicant will receive an appointment with a Voc Rehab counselor who will determine if an employment handicap exists as a result of the veteran’s service connected condition. If an employment handicap is established, a plan to address the veteran’s unique rehabilitation and employment needs will be developed.

Under the Voc Rehab program, VA will pay training costs, tuition and fees, books, supplies, equipment, and special services needed by the veteran. While in training, VA will also pay a monthly “subsistence allowance” to help with living expenses. For veterans with service-connected disabilities so severe that they cannot immediately get back to work, the program will try to improve his or her ability to live as independently as possible.

Chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code, provides for the training and rehabilitation of veterans with service-connected disabilities.  “The purposes of [chapter 31 benefits] are to provide for all services and assistance necessary to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities to achieve maximum independence in daily living and, to the maximum extent feasible, to become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.”  38 U.S.C. § 3100.  38 U.S.C. section 3101 refers to a VA “vocational rehabilitation program” and defines that rehabilitation program.  Additionally, 38 U.S.C. section 3104 provides in pertinent part:  “Services and assistance which the Secretary may provide under this chapter, pursuant to regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe, include … [p]lacement services to effect suitable placement in employment, and postplacement services to attempt to insure satisfactory adjustment in employment.”  38 U.S.C. § 3104(a)(5).

Under VA regulation, the term rehabilitation program “includes, when appropriate: (1) A vocational rehabilitation program (see paragraph (i) of this section); … or (3) A program of employment services for employable veterans who are prior participants in Department of Veterans Affairs or state-federal vocational rehabilitation programs.”  38 C.F.R. § 21.35(f). Further, 38 C.F.R. section 21.35(i) restates the definition of “vocational rehabilitation program” in the same terms as already defined in 38 U.S.C. § 3101(9)(A)(ii).  Cottle v. Principi, 14 Vet. App. 329, 332-33 (2001).

The statutory purpose of vocational rehabilitation programs is “to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities … to the maximum extent feasible, to become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.” 38 U.S.C. § 3100; see also 38 C.F.R. § 21.1 (same).  Thus, the very fact of a veteran’s participation in a rehabilitation program, the objective of which is to become employable, is evidence that the veteran is presently unemployable.

[A] veteran’s participation in an activity carried out under this section [entitled “Therapeutic and rehabilitative activities”] … may [not] be considered as a basis for the denial or discontinuance of a rating of total disability for purposes of compensation or pension based on the veteran’s inability to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation as a result of disability.

38 U.S.C. § 1718(f)(1).  A plain reading of the statute reveals that the Board may not properly consider an appellant’s participation in a vocational rehabilitation program as evidence of employability.  Thus, the interim evaluations from a vocational rehabilitation program are both irrelevant and immaterial to evaluating employability because they do not logically establish employability in the periods in which they are rendered; they only point to the strength of an expectation of future employability.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Military Veterans Should Know About VA Education Benefits

VA offers a number of educational benefits to veterans and, in some cases, to a veteran’s spouse and dependents. Educational benefits programs include the Montgomery GI Bill (“New GI Bill”), Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program, Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP), Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP), Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA), Educational Test Program, National Call to Service Program, and Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. Each program has different eligibility requirements, eligibility periods, and time limits for completing the educational programs. A person receiving benefits from one VA educational program cannot receive benefits from any other VA educational benefits program.

Each program requires a claim for the benefit desired to begin the process using VA Form 22-1990 [link]. As all of these programs often have very specific requirements, any potential claimant should carefully review each program in detail to identify the benefits for which they may be eligible and the best program for their individual needs. The two most commonly sought programs are briefly described below.

Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill are generally available for those who went on active duty after June 30, 1985. In some cases, Selected Reserve and National Guard members may also be eligible. In all cases, there are minimum service periods of from 2 to 4 years depending on the specific circumstances of service. Under this program, which is also known as “Chapter 30” benefits, educational benefits are available for up to 36 months. Payments are for a fixed amount depending on whether the educational program is full- or part-time.

Eligible veterans must have received an honorable discharge (not just “other than dishonorable”). Before applying, a claimant must also have (1) obtained a high school diploma or equivalent or (2) completed the equivalent of 12 credit hours in a college degree program. Involuntarily separated veterans may also qualify under certain conditions.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill became effective August 1, 2009, and provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, and individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days of service. A veteran must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which are also known as “Chapter 33” benefits. Approved training under this program includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational and technical training, licensing, and national testing. To receive benefits, the particular training program attended must be approved by VA.

In general, the Post 9-11 GI Bill program pays full tuition directly to the school for all public school in-state students. There are some restrictions and caps for those attending private or foreign schools. The program will also pay a limited monthly housing allowance, books and supplies stipend, and a one-time rural benefit, if applicable. The Chapter 33 program provides up to 36 months of benefits and benefits are generally payable for up to 15 years following release from active duty.

An individual entitled to either Chapter 30 or Chapter 33 benefits may transfer an entitlement to educational assistance to: (1) a spouse; (2) a child; or (3) a combination of spouse and child. The family member must otherwise be eligible for benefits at the time of transfer to receive transferred educational benefits. Applications should be submitted using VA Form 22-5490 [link].

38 U.S.C. Chapter 35 provides educational assistance to “eligible persons,” including “children whose education would otherwise be impeded or interrupted by reason of disability or death of a parent from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the Armed Forces.”  38 U.S.C. § 3500.  For purposes of DEA benefits under chapter 35, “eligible person” means a child of a person who, as a result of qualifying service, died of a service-connected disability or has a total disability permanent in nature resulting from a service-connected disability, or who dies while a disability so evaluated was in existence.  38 U.S.C. § 3501(A)(1)(a).

In general, an eligible child’s period of eligibility for educational assistance under chapter 35 ends on his or her 26th birthday.  38 U.S.C. § 3512(a); 38 C.F.R. § 21.3041(a), (b), although there are some exceptions.  38 C.F.R. § 21.3041(g).  The general rule is that the commencing date of an original award of educational assistance is the latest of:  (a) the date the educational institution certifies the course; (b) one year before the date of receipt of the claim; or (c) the effective date of the approval of the course, or one year before VA receives approval notice, whichever is later.  38 U.S.C. § 3672; 38 C.F.R. § 21.4131(a).  When determining the effective date of an award under Chapter 35 the Secretary may consider the individual’s application as having been filed on the eligibility date of the individual if that eligibility date is more than one year before the date of the initial rating decision.  38 U.S.C. § 5113(b).

Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. section 5113(b)(2) the criteria for an earlier effective date under this statute requires that the claimant is an eligible person who:

(A) submits to the Secretary an original application for educational assistance under Chapter 35 of this title . . . within one year of the date that the Secretary makes the rating decision;

(B)   claims such educational assistance for pursuit of an approved program of education during a period preceding the one-year period ending on the date on which the application was received by the Secretary; and

(C)   would have been entitled to such educational assistance for such course pursuit if the individual had submitted such application on the individual’s eligibility date.

Forever GI Bill – Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” will bring significant changes to Veterans education benefits over the coming years. Most changes enhance or expand education benefits for Veterans, servicemembers, families, and survivors. View our breakdown of the updated benefits.

Resources

Contact Us

  • Join the conversation on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
  • Our Education Call Center is available at 1-888-442-4551 (Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. CST) for any questions about GI Bill benefits.
  • Take advantage of your local Veterans Service Officer to help you navigate the new information.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

How VA Evaluates Income for Non-Service Connected Pension

Countable Income for Non-Service Connected Pension

To determine the income limit requirement for eligibility, the VA will require the Veteran to report all “countable income” for the Veteran’s household.

Countable income” refers to all household income:

  • the Veteran’s,
  • Veteran’s spouse (if living with the Veteran), and
  • Dependents.

The Veteran’s “countable income” must be below the maximum annual pension rate, MAPR, and the Veteran’s “net worth” must not provide adequate maintenance of the Veteran.

The need for pension is determined by “countable income” minus allowable deductions. The calculated reduced income is then subtracted from MAPR limit and the result is the annualized pension divided by 12 months.

As an example:

  • The MAPR for a Veteran who needs aid and attendance with no dependents is $21,531 income per year.
  • The Veteran’s countable income is $32,000 per year.
  • After subtracting the allowable deductions, the countable income of the Veteran is reduced to $15,000/year.
  • The MAPR of $21,531 minus $15,000 of countable income equals $6,531 per year of VA Pension.
  • The $6,531 yearly VA Pension is divided by 12 months to determine the monthly amount.
  • The Veteran receives a VA pension for $544.25 monthly for this example.

Allowable Deductions from Countable Income for VA Pension

The Veterans “countable income” is reduced by specific expenses. However, often Veterans believe that they are not eligible for pension because they make too much or are denied because they do not know the complete list of income exclusions and deductible expenses that would reduce their “countable income”.

The complete list of income exclusions is provided in 3.272 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations. This knowledge is important because most Veterans mistakenly think that the only income deduction is unreimbursed medical expenses over 5% of the Veteran’s household income. When in fact there are many deductions and when the Veteran uses all of the deductions that apply to their situation, the outcome is greater.

Another mistake that Veterans make is reporting income that is excluded from income reporting on the pension application.       Not knowing the rules or what information to supply can cause a VA denial!

All income received from the following exclusions are not considered countable income by the VA. Veterans should make sure that when applying for pension, all deductions are applied and only income not excluded is counted. The list includes 22 income sources that are excluded from reporting and are found in Title 38 CFR 3.272:

  1. Welfare,
  2. Maintenance in an institution or facility due to age or impaired health,
  3. VA pension benefits ( Payments under Chapter 15 of Title 38 and including accrued pension benefits payable under 38 U.S.C. 5121),
  4. Reimbursement for casualty loss,
  5. Profit from the sale of property,
  6. Joint accounts,
  7. Unreimbursed medical expenses that are 5% of the MARP,
  8. Veteran’s final expenses,
  9. Educational expenses for Veteran or Spouse,
  10. Domestic Volunteer Service Act Programs,
  11. Distribution of funds under 38. U.S.C 1718,
  12. DOD survivor benefit annuity,
  13. Agent Orange settlement payments,
  14. Restitution to individuals of Japanese ancestry,
  15. Cash surrender value of life insurance,
  16. Income received by American Indian beneficiaries from trust or restricted lands,
  17. Payments from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act,
  18. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,
  19. Monetary allowance under 38 U.S.C. chapter 18, Victims of Crime Act,
  20. Healthcare premiums to include Medicare, (make sure to include all insurance premiums paid for all 4 Parts of Medicare-A,B,C,D and Supplemental plans),
  21. Medicare prescription drug discount card and transitional assistance program, and
  22. Lump-sum life insurance proceeds on a veteran.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

How Military Sexual Trauma is Handled During VA Disbailities Claims

Military Sexual Trauma

Military sexual trauma, or MST, is the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a Veteran experienced during his or her military service.

The definition used by the VA comes from Federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D) and is “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.” Sexual harassment is further defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”

Fortunately, people can recover from experiences of trauma, and VA has effective services to help Veterans do this. VA is strongly committed to ensuring that Veterans have access to the help they need in order to recover from MST:

  • Every VA health care facility has a designated MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. This person can help Veterans find and access VA services and programs. He or she may also be aware of state and federal benefits and community resources that may be helpful.
  • Recognizing that many survivors of sexual trauma do not disclose their experiences unless asked directly, VA health care providers ask every Veteran whether he or she experienced MST. This is an important way of making sure Veterans know about the services available to them.
  • All treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST is provided free of charge. To receive free treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST, Veterans do not need to be service connected (or have a VA disability rating). Veterans may be able to receive this benefit even if they are not eligible for other VA care.
  • Veterans do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred. MST-related services are available at every VA medical center and every facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for the aftereffects of MST. MST-related counseling is also available through community-based Vet Centers.
  • Services are designed to meet Veterans where they are at in their recovery, whether that is focusing on strategies for coping with challenging emotions and memories or, for Veterans who are ready, actually talking about their MST experiences in depth.
  • Nationwide, there are programs that offer specialized sexual trauma treatment in residential or inpatient settings. These are programs for Veterans who need more intense treatment and support. To accommodate Veterans who do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women. All residential and inpatient MST programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.
  • In addition to its treatment programming, VA also provides training to staff on issues related to MST, including a mandatory training on MST for all mental health and primary care providers. VA also engages in a range of outreach activities to Veterans and conducts monitoring of MST-related screening and treatment, in order to ensure that adequate services are available.

Military Sexual Trauma Details

MST includes any sexual activity where a Service member is involved against his or her will – he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include:

Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing

Threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities

Threatening and unwelcome sexual advances

The identity or characteristics of the perpetrator, whether the Service member was on or off duty at the time, and whether he or she was on or off base at the time do not matter. If these experiences occurred while an individual was on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered by VA to be MST.

MST is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as with other forms of trauma, there are a variety of reactions that Veterans can have in response to MST. The type, severity, and duration of a Veteran’s difficulties will all vary based on factors like:

Whether he/she has a prior history of trauma

The types of responses from others he/she received at the time of the MST

Whether the MST happened once or was repeated over time

Although trauma can be a life-changing event, people are often remarkably resilient after experiencing trauma. Many individuals recover without professional help; others may generally function well in their life, but continue to experience some level of difficulties or have strong reactions in certain situations. For some Veterans, the experience of MST may continue to affect their mental and physical health in significant ways, even many years later.

Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional responses to things; feeling angry or irritable all the time

Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally “flat”; difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness

Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares

Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things

Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or “high” to cope with memories or emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep

Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or “jumpy” all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences

Difficulties with relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures; difficulty trusting others

Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal problems

Although posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly associated with MST, it is not the only diagnosis that can result from MST. For example, VA medical record data indicate that in addition to PTSD, the diagnoses most frequently associated with MST among users of VA health care are depression and other mood disorders, and substance use disorders.

For more information, Veterans can:

Speak with their existing VA health care provider.

Contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center.

Call Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247 to get confidential one-on-one help. Safe Helpline provides 24 hour a day, 7 day a week sexual assault support for the Department of Defense community.

Contact their local Vet Center.

Veterans should feel free to ask to meet with a provider of a particular gender if it would make them feel more comfortable.

DOWNLOAD MST BROCHURE: military-sexual-trauma-mst-brochure-for-veterans

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Disabled Veterans Should Know About VA Changes About PTSD Claims

PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now included in a new chapter in DSM-5 on Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders.   In  the DSM-IV PTSD was addressed as an Anxiety disorder.

The diagnostic criteria for the manual’s next edition identify the trigger to PTSD as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. The exposure must result from one or more of the following scenarios, in which the individual:

  • – directly experiences the traumatic event;
  • – witnesses the traumatic event in person;
  • – learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend (with the actual or threatened death being either violent or accidental); or
  • – experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (not through media, pictures, television or movies unless work-related).

The disturbance, regardless of its trigger, causes clinically significant distress or impairment in the individual’s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning. It is not the physiological result of another medical condition, medication, drugs or alcohol.

Changes

DSM-5 pays more attention to the behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD and proposes 4 distinct diagnostic clusters instead of 3.  They are described as re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions and mood and arousal.

Re-experiencing covers spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks or other intense or prolonged psychological distress. Avoidance refers to distressing memories, thoughts, feelings or external reminders of the event.

Negative cognitions and mood represents myriad feelings, from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others or markedly diminished interest in activities, to an inability to remember key aspects of the event.

Finally, arousal is marked by aggressive, reckless or self-destructive behavior, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance or related problems. The current manual emphasizes the “flight” aspect associated with PTSD; the criteria of DSM-5 also account for the “fight” reaction often seen.

The number of symptoms that must be identified depends on the cluster. DSM-5 would only require that a disturbance continue for more than a month and would eliminate the distinction between acute and chronic phases of PTSD.

PTSD Debate within the Military

Certain military leaders, both active and retired, believe the word “disorder” makes many soldiers who are experiencing PTSD symptoms reluctant to ask for help. They have urged a change to rename the disorder posttraumatic stress injury, a description that they say is more in line with the language of troops and would reduce stigma.

But others believe it is the military environment that needs to change, not the name of the disorder, so that mental health care is more accessible and soldiers are encouraged to seek it in a timely fashion. Some attendees at the 2012 APA Annual Meeting, where this was discussed in a session, also questioned whether injury is too imprecise a word for a medical diagnosis.

In DSM-5, PTSD will continue to be identified as a disorder.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Veterans Must Know About Special Rules For Certain Claims

Special Rules For Certain Claims

Congress, and in some cases VA, has recognized that some conditions resulting from service are so widespread or unique that they require special procedures. Two of the most common of these conditions, herbicide exposure in Vietnam Era veterans and undiagnosed or multisymptom illnesses in Persian Gulf War veterans, are described below.

Herbicide-Exposed Veterans

Congress has established a “presumption” of exposure to herbicides, most infamously including “Agent Orange,” for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period from January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975. A presumption is a legal term that means that VA has to assume a fact unless there is evidence against the fact. For Vietnam veterans this means that evidence of actual exposure Agent Orange is not required – those veterans is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange – if they meet the requirements for the presumption.

For claimants, this means that if a veteran can show he or she was in Vietnam during the specific period and currently has a medical condition listed in VA regulations as being caused by Agent Orange which began within the listed time periods, VA must service connect that condition. Conditions that are presumptively service-connected for herbicide exposure include chloracne, Type 2 diabetes (also know as Type II diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes), Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, B cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease. Other presumptive conditions are listed, so a Vietnam veteran with a health condition should review the entire list. [link to CFR]

Just who is eligible for the herbicide presumption has been the topic of extensive debate and litigation. As it currently stands, having earned a Vietnam Service Medal is not enough to obtain the presumption. A veteran must show that he or she put “boots on the ground” in Vietnam or have been a “brown water” (inland waters) sailor to qualify. A single layover or shore leave is enough to receive the presumption. In addition, some veterans with service in Korea are also eligible for the presumption. For veterans with service in Thailand the key to claims for exposure are military duties that took the veteran out to and alongside the perimeter of bases where defoliants were acknowledged to have been used. Such duties include dog handling, security, and some maintenance activities.

Many veterans have challenged this definition, especially “blue water” (open ocean) sailors and Air Force ground support personnel who believe that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service. VA, backed by the courts, will not apply the presumption unless they have evidence of “boots on the ground” from these veterans.  Air Force members and reservist who served

On June 19th, 2015 the Federal Register published that Air Force Servicemembers and Air Force Reservists who served during the period of 1969 through 1986 and whose service required that they regularly and repeatedly operate, maintain, or serve onboard C-123 aircraft that was exposed to Agent Orange are now eligible for VA disability compensation for presumptive conditions due to Agent Orange Exposure.

In addition, any veteran who believes that he or she was exposed to a herbicide can file a claim and attempt to show actual herbicide exposure. This can be done by providing evidence of actual exposure, such as photographs showing Agent Orange barrels. In addition, veterans who served in other locations, such as Guam, have occasionally been able to show actual exposure although the government does not officially acknowledge Agent Orange was stored or used in those locations.

A unique aspect of Agent Orange claims is the possible retroactive assignment of effective dates. A series of court orders in the class-action litigation in Nehmer v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, requires VA in certain cases to make an award effective on the date of the claimant’s application or the date of a previously-denied application, even if such date is earlier than the effective date of the regulation establishing the presumption. In other words, the Nehmer case created an exception to the rules for calculating effective dates and requires VA to assign retroactive effective dates for certain awards of disability compensation and DIC.

Another result of the Nehmer case is that if an individual was entitled to retroactive benefits as a result of the court orders but died prior to receiving such payment, VA must pay the entire amount of the retroactive payments to the veteran’s estate, regardless of any statutory limits on payment of benefits following a veteran’s death. Veterans and surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of veterans with service in Vietnam who previously filed claims for conditions associated with herbicide exposure should carefully review current VA regulations to determine if they are eligible for retroactive benefits.

Polytraumatic Injuries Requiring Specialized Rehab

Recent combat has resulted in new patterns of polytraumatic injuries and disability requiring specialized intensive rehabilitation processes and coordination of care throughout the course of recovery and rehabilitation. While serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), military service members are sustaining multiple severe injuries as a result of explosions and blasts. Improvised explosive devices, blasts, landmines, and fragments account for 65 percent of combat injuries (see subpar. 17a). Congress recognized this newly emerging pattern of military injuries with the passage of Public Law 108-422, Section 302, and Public Law 108-447.

Combat injuries are often the result of a blast. Blasts cause injuries through multiple mechanisms. Severe blasts can result in total body disruptions and death to those closest to the blast site or they can result in burns and inhalation injuries. Blast injuries typically are divided into four categories: primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary or miscellaneous injuries.

1. Primary Blast Injuries. Primary blast injuries are caused by overpressure to gas- containing organ systems, with most frequent injury to the lung, bowel, and inner ear (tympanic membrane rupture). These exposures may result in traumatic limb or partial limb amputation.

2. Secondary Blast Injuries. Secondary blast injuries occur via fragments and other missiles, which can cause head injuries and soft tissue trauma.

3. Tertiary Blast injuries. Tertiary Blast injuries result from displacement of the whole body by combinedpressure loads (shock wave and dynamic overpressure).

4. Miscellaneous Blast-related Injuries. These are miscellaneous blast-related injuries such as burns and crush injuries from collapsed structures and displaced heavy objects. Soft tissue injuries, fractures, and amputations are common.

Animal models of blast injury have demonstrated damaged brain tissue and consequent cognitive deficits. Indeed, the limited data available suggests that brain injuries are a common occurrence fromblast injuries and often go undiagnosed and untreated as attention is focused on more “visible” injuries. A significant number of casualties sustain emotional shock and may develop PTSD. Individuals may sustain multiple injuries from one or more of these mechanisms. Explosions can produce unique patterns of injury seldom seen outside combat.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Classification of Blast Injuries

Auditory or Vestibular
Tympanic membrane rupture, ossicular disruption, cochlear damage, foreign body, hearing loss, distorted hearing, tinnitus, earache, dizziness, sensitivity to noise.

Eye, Orbit or Face
Perforated globe, foreign body, air embolism, fractures.

Respiratory
Blast lung, hemothorax, pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion and hemorrhage, atrioventricular fistula (source of air embolism), airway epithelial damage, aspiration pneumonitis, sepsis.

Digestive
Bowel perforation, hemorrhage, ruptured liver or spleen, mesenteric ischemia from air embolism, sepsis, peritoneal irritation, rectal bleeding.

Circulatory
Cardiac contusion, myocardial infarction from air embolism, shock, vasovagal hypotension, peripheral vascular injury, air embolism-induced injury.

Central Nervous System
Concussion, closed or open brain injury, petechial hemorrhage, edema, stroke, small blood vessel rupture, spinal cord injury, air embolism- induced injury, hypoxia or anoxia, diffuse axonal injury.

Renal and/or Urinary Tract
Renal contusion, laceration, acute renal failure due to rhabdomyolysis, hypotension, hypovolemia.

Extremity
Traumatic amputation, fractures, crush injuries, burns, cuts, lacerations, infections, acute arterial occlusion, air embolism-induced injury.

Soft Tissue
Crush injuries, burns, infections, slow healing wounds.

Emotional or Psychological
Acute stress reactions, PTSD, survivor guilt, post-concussion syndrome, depression, generalized anxiety disorder.

Pain
Acute pain from wounds, crush injuries, or traumatic amputations; chronic pain syndromes.

Recognizing the specialized clinical care needs of individuals sustaining multiple severe injuries, VA has established four PRCs. The PRC mission is to provide comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation services for individuals with complex physical, cognitive and mental health sequelae of severe and disabling trauma, to provide medical and surgical support for ongoing and/or new conditions, and to provide support to their families. Intensive clinical and social work case management services are essential to coordinate the complex components of care for polytrauma patients and their families. Coordination of rehabilitation services must occur seamlessly as the patient moves from acute hospitalization through acute rehabilitation and ultimately back to the patient’s home community. Transition to the home community may include a transfer from a PRC to a less acute facility.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs designated five PRCs, co-located with TBI Lead Centers, at VA Medical Centers in Richmond, VA; Tampa, FL; Minneapolis, MN; San Antonio, TX, and Palo Alto, CA (see App. A). It is VHA policy that the PRCs provide a full-range of care for all patients eligible for VA care, who have sustained varied patterns of severe and disabling injuries including, but not limited to: TBI, amputation, visual and hearing impairment, spinal cord injury (SCI), musculoskeletal injuries, wounds, and psychological trauma. Due to the medical complexity of these patients, PRCs must be prepared to admit individuals who may have a higher level of medical acuity and require interdisciplinary management by various medical specialists. The general admission criteria to the PRC include:

1.The individual with polytrauma is an eligible veteran or an active duty military service member; and
2.The individual has sustained multiple physical, cognitive, and/or emotional impairments secondary to trauma; and
3.The individual has the potential to benefit from inpatient rehabilitation; or
4.The individual has the potential to benefit from a transitional community re-entry program; or
5.The individual requires an initial comprehensive rehabilitation evaluation and care plan.

It is recommended that all patients experiencing a polytraumatic injury be referred to a VA PRC. The PRC team has specialized expertise to determine the most appropriate setting for care. If the patient does not require admission to a PRC, the team can assist with coordination of care at the most appropriate facility. Referral to a PRC also ensures that the patient and family are integrated into the VA system of care with the appropriate rehabilitation services. NOTE: The SCI Chief for the applicable region needs to be contacted by the PRC admissions clinical case manager to consult on the transfer of patients with a diagnosis of TBI and SCI.

Referrals to the PRC must be given the highest priority and the screening process needs to be expedited to ensure that there are no delays in transferring a patient to the Center. The PRC must accept admissions on a 24/7 basis. To establish the medical needs and acuity of the patient, there is a need to review medical documentation, consult with the referring treatment provider, and coordinate a plan for transfer.

Referral of service members with polytrauma to a PRC is initiated by DOD, typically by the MTF social worker or case manager, or other DOD representative. Where assigned, the VA- DOD liaison social worker is actively involved in the referral process, facilitating communications, information exchange, transition of care, and family support. The PRC’s admissions clinical case manager coordinates the referral and screening process for the accepting VA PRC. NOTE: For those referral sources that do not have VA-DOD liaisons, admission screening is to be coordinated between the PRC admission clinical case manager and the MTF.

Points of Contact
VA Polytrauma Points of Contact are available at 39 VAMCs without specialized rehabilitation teams. These Points of Contact, established in 2007, are knowledgeable about the VA Polytrauma/TBI System of care and coordinate case management and referrals throughout the system and may provide a more limited range of rehabilitation services. See a full list of Polytrauma Points of Contact in the attached PDF.

PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now included in a new chapter in DSM-5 on Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders.   In  the DSM-IV PTSD was addressed as an Anxiety disorder.

The diagnostic criteria for the manual’s next edition identify the trigger to PTSD as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. The exposure must result from one or more of the following scenarios, in which the individual:

  • – directly experiences the traumatic event;
  • – witnesses the traumatic event in person;
  • – learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend (with the actual or threatened death being either violent or accidental); or
  • – experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (not through media, pictures, television or movies unless work-related).

The disturbance, regardless of its trigger, causes clinically significant distress or impairment in the individual’s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning. It is not the physiological result of another medical condition, medication, drugs or alcohol.

Changes

DSM-5 pays more attention to the behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD and proposes 4 distinct diagnostic clusters instead of 3.  They are described as re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions and mood and arousal.

Re-experiencing covers spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks or other intense or prolonged psychological distress. Avoidance refers to distressing memories, thoughts, feelings or external reminders of the event.

Negative cognitions and mood represents myriad feelings, from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others or markedly diminished interest in activities, to an inability to remember key aspects of the event.

Finally, arousal is marked by aggressive, reckless or self-destructive behavior, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance or related problems. The current manual emphasizes the “flight” aspect associated with PTSD; the criteria of DSM-5 also account for the “fight” reaction often seen.

The number of symptoms that must be identified depends on the cluster. DSM-5 would only require that a disturbance continue for more than a month and would eliminate the distinction between acute and chronic phases of PTSD.

PTSD Debate within the Military

Certain military leaders, both active and retired, believe the word “disorder” makes many soldiers who are experiencing PTSD symptoms reluctant to ask for help. They have urged a change to rename the disorder posttraumatic stress injury, a description that they say is more in line with the language of troops and would reduce stigma.

But others believe it is the military environment that needs to change, not the name of the disorder, so that mental health care is more accessible and soldiers are encouraged to seek it in a timely fashion. Some attendees at the 2012 APA Annual Meeting, where this was discussed in a session, also questioned whether injury is too imprecise a word for a medical diagnosis.

In DSM-5, PTSD will continue to be identified as a disorder.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Veterans Must Know About Compensation or Service-Connection

Compensation for injury or other adverse medical condition is the single most common type of VA benefits claim. The VA compensation process is designed to “rate” an eligible veteran based on the “average impairment in earning capacity” resulting from events occurring during or as a result of military service. If a condition is determined to be “service-connected” and an entitlement awarded, VA provides the claimant monthly payments and access to other VA benefits based on the “effective date” of the award, which is usually the date the claim was submitted to VA. Do not be concerned if you do not know what all these terms mean right now, one of the important purposes of this Knowledge Book is to explain VA terms in plain language. The terms in this paragraph, and many others, are explained in the sections that follow.

Every condition for which compensation is sought must be connected to the veteran’s service.  Establishing “service connection” generally requires medical evidence or, in certain circumstances, lay evidence of:

(1)   a current disability;

(2)   in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury; and

(3)   a nexus between the claimed in-service disease or injury and the present disability.

Davidson v. Shinseki, 581 F.3d 1313, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2009); Jandreau v. Nicholson, 492 F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (Fed. Cir. 2007); Hickson v. West, 12 Vet. App. 247, 253 (1999); Caluza v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 498, 506 (1995), aff’d per curiam, 78 F.3d 604 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (table); 38 C.F.R. § 3.303.

Evidence of a current condition is fundamental to an award of service connection.  Cotant v. Principi, 17 Vet. App. 116, 132-33 (2003); Brammer v. Derwinski, 3 Vet. App. 223, 225 (1992) (reasoning that, absent “proof of a present disability[,] there can be no valid claim”).  Without evidence establishing a current disability, disability compensation may not be granted.  McClain v. Nicholson, 21 Vet. App. 319, 321 (2007) (stating that service connection requires, among other things, a current disability at the time of filing or during the pendency of the claim).  Absent evidence in the record that a claimant currently suffers a claimed condition a determination that service connection is not warranted is not clearly erroneous.  Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 49, 52 (1990).

Service connection may also be established by showing continuity of symptomatology, which requires a claimant to demonstrate:

(1)   that a condition was “noted” during service;

(2)   evidence of post-service continuity of the same symptomatology; and

 (3)  medical evidence or, in certain circumstances, lay evidence of a nexus between the present disability and the post-service symptomatology.

38 C.F.R. § 3.303(b); Barr v. Nicholson, 21 Vet. App. 303, 307 (2007) (citing Savage v. Gober, 10 Vet. App. 488, 495-96 (1997)); Davidson, 581 F.3d at 1316; see also Jandreau, 492 F.3d at 1377 (whether lay evidence is competent and sufficient in a particular case is a factual issue to be addressed by the Board).  “[S]ymptoms, not treatment, are the essence of any evidence of continuity of symptomatology.”  Savage, 10 Vet. App. at 496.  Testimony of continuity of symptomatology can potentially indicate that a disability may be associated with service, but only “if ultimately deemed credible.”  McLendon v. Nicholson, 20 Vet. App. 79, 84 (2006).

Pain alone without a diagnosed condition, however, is not a disability or compensable condition.  Sanchez-Benitez v. West, 13 Vet. App. 282, 285 (1999), appeal dismissed in part and vacated in part on other grounds sub nomSanchez-Benitez v. Principi, 259 F.3d 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (“pain alone, without a diagnosed or identifiable underlying malady or condition, does not in and of itself constitute a disability for which service connection may be granted.”).  Accordingly, a decision to deny a claim for failure to establish a current condition based on pain alone will be upheld.

A condition does not have to be symptomatic at the time of the decision for service connection to be granted.  The requirement for a current disability “is satisfied when a claimant has a disability at the time a claim for VA disability compensation is filed or during the pendency of the claim . . . even though the disability resolves prior to the Secretary’s adjudication of the claim.”  McClain v. Nicholson, 21 Vet. App. 319, 321 (2007).  Furthermore, although congenital defects themselves cannot be service connected by law, service connection may be warranted for superimposed disabilities that result from military service.  VA Gen. Coun. Prec. 92-90 (July 18, 1990).

A finding of service connection is a factual determination by the Board that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard.  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4); Rose v. West, 11 Vet. App. 169, 171 (1998).  “A factual finding ‘is “clearly erroneous” when . . . the reviewing court . . . is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'”  Hersey v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 91, 94 (1992) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).  The Court may not substitute its judgment for the factual determinations of the Board on issues of material fact merely because the Court would have decided those issues differently in the first instance.  Id.

“Medical” and “lay” evidence are discussed later.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

How Willful Misconduct Affects VA Disability Claims

Willful Misconduct

A veteran cannot receive VA compensation for a disability that is the result of willful misconduct.  38 U.S.C. § 1110; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.1(m), (n), 3.301(a)-(b), (c)(2), (d).  Willful misconduct is broadly defined as “an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action [;] … [i]t involves deliberate or intentional wrongdoing with knowledge of or wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.1(n); see Yeoman v. West, 140 F.3d 1443, 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (holding that VA’s willful misconduct regulations were not unconstitutionally void for vagueness); Daniels v. Brown, 9 Vet. App. 348, 351 (1996) (willful misconduct negates statutory presumption that disease or injury was incurred in line of duty (citing 38 U.S.C. § 105(a))); VA Gen. Coun. Prec. 2-93 (January 13, 1993) (discussing origins and subsequent history of willful misconduct prohibition in context of tobacco use) [hereinafter 1993 VAGC Opinion ].

However, a “[m]ere technical violation of police regulations or ordinances will not per se constitute willful misconduct,” and the latter “will not be determinative unless it is the proximate cause of injury, disease or death.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.1(n)(2)-(3).  Moreover, alcohol abuse, a specific type of willful misconduct, is defined as “the use of alcoholic beverages over time, or such excessive use at any one time, sufficient to cause disability to or death of the user.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.301(d); see Allen v. Principi, 237 F.3d 1368, 1376-78 (Fed. Cir. 2001); see also 38 C.F.R. § 3.301(c)(2) (“The simple drinking of alcoholic beverage is not of itself willful misconduct [; however] … [i]f, in the drinking of a beverage to enjoy its intoxicating effects, intoxication results proximately and immediately in disability or death, the disability or death will be considered the result of the person’s willful misconduct.”). The Board may consider state law in interpreting VA’s definition of willful misconduct. Yeoman, 140 F.3d at 1446 (holding that “[t]he Board’s consideration of … state law was a proper part of its interpretation of willful misconduct under the standards mandated by the very regulations defining that term and its relation to drunkenness.”).  The Board’s determination that a disability is the result of willful misconduct is a finding of fact.  Thomas v. Nicholson, 423 F.3d 1279, 1283 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Disabled Veterans Must Know About Veteran Status and Eligibility for VA Benefits

Establishing Eligibility

The law currently sets three threshold conditions to be eligible for VA benefits:

  1.  veteran status,
  2.  character of discharge, and
  3.  a medical condition that is not the result of willful misconduct or substance abuse.

Veteran Status

Are you a Veteran?

Many eligible individuals are unaware that they are “veterans” for VA benefits purposes. Contrary to some beliefs, it is not necessary that a service member have been in combat or have retired from the military to be eligible for VA benefits. Although there are usually some minimal period of service requirements, the vast majority of individuals with active duty service (including certain training and certain “call ups” of Reserve or Guard) are “veterans” for VA purposes.

Veteran status is defined as:

  1. a claimant must be “a person who served in the active military services”, and
  2. who was discharged or released “under conditions other than dishonorable.

Although the term “veteran” appears straightforward, there are specific legal requirements for someone to be considered a “veteran” for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits.  “In order to qualify for VA benefits, a claimant . . . [must be] a ‘veteran.'”  Cropper v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 450, 452 (1994); D’Amico v. West, 209 F.3d 1322, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2000).  A veteran is defined as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.”  38 U.S.C. § 101(2); 38 C.F.R. § 3.1(d).  Service in the active military, naval, or air service includes service in the United States Armed Forces or, for certain purposes, service in the organized military forces or organized guerilla forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in the service of the United States Armed Forces.  38 U.S.C. §§ 101(10), 101(21)(C), 101(24), 107; 38 C.F.R. § 3.40(b).

To establish entitlement to benefits, VA may accept documents submitted by a claimant as evidence of qualifying service, without verification from the appropriate service department, if the documents were issued by a U.S. service department, contain the needed information, and in VA’s opinion are genuine and contain accurate information. 38 C.F.R. § 3.203(a); Soria v. Brown, 118 F.3d 747, 749 (Fed. Cir. 1997).  If, however, the evidence of service submitted does not meet the requirements of section 3.203(a), VA must request verification of service from the appropriate U.S. service department.  38 C.F.R. § 3.203(c); Soria, 118 F.3d at 749; Capellan v. Peake, 539 F.3d 1373, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (noting that section 3.203(c) requires verification from the service department whenever a claimant lacks the kind of official evidence specified in section 3.203(a)).

Under section 3.203, service department findings are binding on VA for purposes of establishing qualifying service.  Duro v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 530, 532 (1992) (“[t]herefore, VA is prohibited from finding, on any basis other than a service department document, which VA believes to be authentic and accurate, or service department verification, that a particular individual served in the U.S. Armed Forces.”).  “Thus, if the United States service department refuses to verify the applicant’s claimed service, the applicant’s only recourse lies within the relevant service department, not the VA.” Soria, 118 F.3d at 749.  The Board’s determination of “veteran status” is a question of fact that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard of review set forth in 38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4).  Struck v. Brown, 9 Vet. App. 145, 152-53 (1996).

Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress established the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (“FVECF”) and authorized VA to make one-time payments from the fund to eligible persons who submitted a claim within the one-year period beginning on the date of enactment.  Pub. L. No. 111- 5, § 1002, 123 Stat. 115.  The act defined the term “eligible person” as any person who served before July 1, 1946, in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, including the recognized guerilla forces, or in the Philippine Scouts.  Id.  But, “Philippine veterans are not eligible for veterans’ benefits unless a United States service department documents or certifies their service.”  Soria v. Brown, 118 F.3d 747, 749 (Fed. Cir. 1997); 38 C.F.R. § 3.9.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency