Posts Tagged ‘Statement in Support of Claim’

Filing A Claim For Veterans Disability Compensation

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Veterans Disability

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Veterans suffering from a service-related injury or disability—whatever the type—are often unsure how to go about engaging with that vast government bureaucracy known as the Veterans Administration. While my legal practice is geared to assisting veterans who have had their claims denied, we see merit in helping demystify the process for ex-service members just starting out. An excellent tutorial is provided by author Benjamin Krause on the DisabledVeterans.org website. You may wish to explore his explanation of the process with this link.

Before you go, feel free to bookmark my website in your browser for future reference. We wish you an equitable outcome. But, if your claim should be undervalued or denied outright, we would sincerely welcome your return.

Bottom Line: Should your disability claim be in dispute, we have the specialized resources and expertise to help you get a fair shake from the VA. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Buddy Letters

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Veterans Disability

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VA claims generally start with a statement from the veteran. The VA then examines all of the additional evidence to make a determination on that veteran’s claim. Typically, that evidence includes medical and service records. Unfortunately, those can be woefully incomplete.

That’s when additional evidence can fill in some very important blanks. The VA would call one type of additional evidence a “Statement in Support of Claim.” These are commonly referred to as “Buddy Letters” or “Buddy Statements.” There are various kinds of Buddy Letters. The best ones are those written by fellow service members who actually witnessed what you went through. The closer they were to you, the more compelling Buddy Letters will be to the VA.

For example, suppose you were an 11B Infantryman making a claim of PTSD today. An effective Buddy Letter might come from your platoon sergeant. That would be a person who saw you from the time you arrived in theater to the time you left. In the Buddy Letter, the service member could recount the actual missions or campaigns in which you were involved, provide first-hand observations of what you experienced and witnessed, and comment on any changes he observed in you over that time.

Though less effective, a Buddy Letter could be from another service member who served in the same theatre but didn’t actually serve alongside you. The service member might be able to recount general information about the circumstances of your service. Unfortunately, the specifics of what you experienced and how it might have affected you would be missing. A letter like this wouldn’t necessarily hurt your claim, but it might do little to support it.

Buddy Letters can be helpful in proving that you served in combat—especially if you didn’t have a combat MOS or if your official service record doesn’t specifically list it. Unfortunately, the VA applies a very limited definition of “combat” requiring “[e]vidence that the veteran participated in attacking or defending an attack of the enemy.” That means that service in a general “combat area” or “combat zone” is not enough to prove that a veteran served in combat. Buddy Letters, in conjunction with other evidence, can support your claim that you served in combat.

Another way Buddy Letters can have a positive impact is in cases where injuries during service aren’t always apparent. A series of small strains and sprains can lead to a much bigger problem later in life. If those smaller injuries didn’t warrant going on sick call or reporting to sick bay, there may not be a record of them. Buddy Letters from your co-workers can discuss how you hurt your back lifting equipment day in and day out. Or, how your job required typing all day leading to a current condition of carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, how you worked around toxic fumes all day leading to respiratory issues.

The best Buddy Letters will always come from those who were closest to you at the time of your injury—whether it was a single event or on-going trauma. The closer to you the letter writer was, the more impact the letter will have. So, it should come from someone in your company, rather than someone in your battalion. Better yet, it should come from someone in your platoon, rather than someone in your company. Better still, it should come from someone in your squad, rather than in your platoon. The key is that they can state what they directly witnessed of your service experience and the basis for your claim.

We at the Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are uniquely qualified to assist you with any issues related to disabilities caused by your military service. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Notice of Disagreement Update

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Veterans Disability

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Everything we said in previous blogs about your Notice of Disagreement (NOD) was true—when we said it. But the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced a significant rule change that has a big impact on how veterans can file an appeal. The currently optional VA Form 21-0958 Notice of Disagreement will become mandatory in March of 2015. This means that the “I disagree with the VA’s ratings decision & I plan to appeal” letter or even the VA Form 21-4138 Statement in Support of Claim will NOT start your appeal.

So what does this mean to you? There’s still a ONE-YEAR deadline from the date of any VA decision you wish to appeal within which to start your appeal. Because of the inherent detail involved in the new NOD form, it means that it’s even MORE important to start your appeal process as soon as possible. As soon as you get your determination from the VA on your claim, request a copy of your Claim File (C-File)—more about that will be coming soon—and start work on the new NOD form.

The rule change notwithstanding, everything else we said before is still true. Form 21-0958 can be tricky and it may be a good idea to get qualified legal assistance to fill it out. You still need to keep a copy of it. And, it still needs to be sent to the VA office that sent you the decision letter from which you are appealing. Of course, you still need to send it in a way that proves that you sent it…and so on.

This VA rules change highlights a critical and overriding concept that you’ll need to keep in mind during the process of your appeal: the governing law and the rules that come from that law are NOT set in stone. It’s the responsibility of anyone that helps you during this process—whether you hire an attorney or go to a Veteran’s Service Organization—to keep abreast of those changes and make sure that they’re followed to ensure a fair hearing of your case. We, at The Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr, are fully-equipped to help you. Contact us for a free consultation.

Appealing Your Case To The Veteran’s Administration

Written by Maurice Abarr on . Posted in Veterans Disability

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Okay…

You’ve served our country, done everything asked of you and more, and now you’ve come home. Unfortunately, like too many of your comrades in arms, you’re suffering from a disability because of your time in service. So now, you’ve followed all the steps for filing your disability claim with the VA. After waiting for their response, you finally get a response. But, it’s a ratings decision that values your disability lower than you think it should be. Or, it’s a rating decision that grants you some of what you are due and denies you other parts of your claim. Or, it denies your claim entirely.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this happens all too often. The good news, though, is that it’s not the end of the road. There is a process by which you can appeal the VA’s determination.

As a veteran, you know the government loves its abbreviations and acronyms. As attorneys representing veterans, we have to know what they mean. We at the Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr can help you get through all of the confusion of the VA’s abbreviations and acronyms.

The first step is to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA. It’s just what it sounds like. It’s your way of letting the VA know that you received their determination but you think they got it wrong. More importantly, it preserves your right to appeal all of the errors in the VA’s decision to deny you benefits.
There are some key points to know about filing an NOD. Perhaps the most important of these is the timing. You have a one-year deadline to file your NOD. That’s one year from the date on the cover letter that accompanies the decision you want to appeal–not one year from when you received it. Frequently the VA sends its decision with a cover letter and the cover letter is dated later than the decision. The date of the cover letter is what controls the process.

IMPORTANT: While one year may seem like a lot of time, this is a deadline you don’t want to miss; if you don’t file your NOD in time, the VA’s determination is considered final.

The VA has a new form–the VA Form 21-0958 Notice of Disagreement–for filing your NOD. It’s important to note that the use of this form to file your NOD is not mandatory. You can use the much simpler VA Form 21-4138 Statement in Support of Claim or even write a plain letter to the VA.

If you’ve received a determination from the VA, you’ll probably have a copy of this new VA Form 21-0958 and you can see the level of detail it requires. So why would you use such a complicated form that’s not mandatory when a much simpler approach exists? According to the VA, the primary benefit of using this form is that it will expedite the processing of your appeal. The specific issues of your appeal are brought to the VA sooner and more clearly and it helps jump start the process. It’s our contention that you want to make things as easy as possible for the VA to say, “Yes,” to your appeal. On the other hand, there is a potential risk in how you fill out the 21-0958 form. It asks for specific reasons for your disagreement. If, however, you don’t include certain information or raise certain objections, you may have trouble introducing them later.

Our recommendation is a question of timing–especially where you are up against that all-important one-year deadline. If you’ve just gotten your determination and the clock just started, then it makes sense to work through the 21-0958 form and take advantage of the benefits it can bring. It’s important that you don’t hurt your appeal before it has even started. Considering the potential pitfalls the form brings, it may be a good idea to get qualified legal assistance in filling out your 21-0958. If, however, you’re up against the one-year deadline, it probably makes more sense to use the simpler approach: the VA Form 21-4138 Statement in Support of Claim. If your situation lends itself to going with the 21-4138 or letter approach, then it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind.

There are two specific things you need to say:

1. That you disagree with the VA’s ratings decision and the date of that decision. (“I disagree with the VA’s decision of date .”)
2. That you say that you intend to appeal that decision. (“I want to appeal this decision.”) It is imperative that you include both of those statements.

You don’t need to get any more specific than that. In fact, too much specificity at this point may hurt your appeal later down the road.

Regardless of how you prepare your NOD, once you’ve completed it (and saved a copy for yourself), send it to the VA office that sent you the denial letter. We strongly recommend that you send it in a way that provides proof of delivery (e.g., certified mail with return receipt) so that you’ll have proof that you met the filing deadline. If you send by certified mail, return receipt requested, you will receive a green card confirming the date of receipt. Keep that card in a safe place. It may be very important later.

The VA will respond with a Statement of the Case (SOC); this is a summary of the decision and how they arrived at their determination. This will also include the very important VA Form 9, Appeal to Board of Veterans Appeals. Form 9 is much more complicated than a NOD and what is (and isn’t) included can be critical to your appeal. This form has a much shorter deadline–60 days–and is the time where you will be expected to get specific with your appeal.

Depending upon your particular situation, it may be advisable to seek qualified legal help. Whether it’s at the NOD stage and deciding which way to start the process or at the Form 9 stage, the last thing you want to do is make a small technical error that can hurt your appeal later down the road.
Feel free to contact us to ensure that you get a fair hearing of your case. You’ve earned it.

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