Veterans Administration’s Duty To Assist
Dealing with the VA to make a claim for your veteran’s disability benefits can often feel like an adversarial process from the moment you get started. After all, you feel you’re due a benefit and you have to go through a long and complicated process to get to it.
Though many don’t realize it, it’s actually the VA’s responsibility to assist you in filing disability claims. In 2000, Congress passed the Veterans Claims Assistant Act. This requires the VA to help veterans file their disability claims. This is a unique requirement among federal agencies that have application processes for benefits.
So what does this really mean and what does the VA have to do? The rules under which the VA operates cover a wide range of duties. They include:
Notifying a veteran of what’s needed to complete an application.
Considering all possible claims.
Helping to gather evidence.
If you submit an incomplete application, the VA cannot use that as a reason to deny benefits to you. It’s the VA’s responsibility to tell you what’s needed. For instance, if your application is missing evidence of the in-service event that is the cause of the current disability, then it is the duty of the VA to inform you how to complete the application with evidence relating to that event.
In other bureaucratic agencies, something as simple as a forgotten signature can kill an entire application—forcing an applicant to start from scratch, if they’re allowed to re-apply at all. But for veterans, it’s the VA’s duty to make sure that you have been given a reasonable opportunity to complete your application.
It’s even the VA’s duty to consider disabilities that you may not have specifically claimed. For example, if a veteran doesn’t make a claim for hearing loss but a medical record suggests hearing problems and a service record suggest prolonged exposure to loud noises during service, then the VA is duty-bound to consider whether an additional claim for hearing loss should be considered.
If there’s something specific that the VA needs in order to approve your application for disability benefits—for example, medical evidence to prove a service connected disability (in addition to what you’ve already submitted)—then the VA is obligated to let you know what records are required. In addition, the VA is duty-bound to assist in gathering that evidence.
The requirements for assistance aren’t absolute, of course. For instance, while the VA’s responsibilities would include obtaining relevant records from any federal agency, you are still responsible for obtaining private medical records or records from state or local governments. Furthermore, you would need to provide enough information to help the VA facilitate getting such federal records.
Another example of how the requirement for assistance isn’t absolute concerns medical exams. Veterans are entitled to medical examinations provided by the VA to help substantiate a claim. But the VA cannot compel you to participate in such an exam—that’s your responsibility. It’s important to remember that not showing up for such medical examinations will count against your application.
If the VA fails to meet any of its duties in assisting you in filing your claim—and your claim is denied—you may have grounds for an appeal. Because the duties of the VA cover so many areas and because the requirements, as well as the limits of those duties can get complicated, it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified attorney to see if the VA missed any of its obligations in your claim. We at The Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are uniquely qualified to assist you. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.