Veterans having their claims denied has been an ongoing and controversial topic in the United States. There aren’t always clear-cut delineations as to what gets a claim approved. Some get rejected for obvious reasons, while others are unethical.
Reasons for veteran claim denial
Many veterans are unaware that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faces a backlog of claims and processing delays. An article published in the Military Times in July 2022 revealed the backlog dropped by 25 percent but highlighted new setbacks.
The pandemic and ensuing closures of facilities slowed down the processing of claims. Additionally, the eligibility for coverage has increased. That now includes claims related to Agent Orange exposure for Vietnam War veterans. These claims have further slowed down processing times. The backlog reached a peak of 264,000 in October 2021, and estimates project the number to drop below 100,000 around mid-2024.
Unfortunately, these delays are a significant reason why claims get denied, even indirectly. Decision Review Officers also don’t have as much time to develop each case, especially if it doesn’t seem strong.
Top causes of veteran claim denial
- Injury/illness ruled as a pre-existing condition. Officers at the VA may rule your illness or injury the result of a pre-existing condition, not a combat-related event.
- Missed deadlines. If you file a claim more than a year after submitting an appeal, your claim may get denied. Applicants should file a claim as soon as possible.
- Inadequate information. Omitting key details can make it difficult for the VA to determine your eligibility. That can lead to a rejected claim altogether.
- Symptoms aren’t considered severe enough to warrant a claim. Unfortunately, the VA may not see your symptoms as severe enough to garner a claim. Of course, this is subjective, and you can appeal this decision.
There are other reasons why your veteran’s claim can get rejected. That includes filling out the wrong forms or submitting a claim without legal representation.
When denials are unlawful
While the VA has legal precedence to reject claims, not every denied claim is lawful. And, yes, you can fight unethical rejections. An example of this is “bad paper” discharges. Essentially, a bad paper discharge is a label given to a military service member that received anything but an honorable discharge for unfair reasons.
Receiving an other-than-honorable, dishonorable discharge, or “bad conduct” discharge may fall under a bad paper discharge. Some service members don’t receive an honorable discharge because of blatant misconduct or poor judgment. But others with decent records get bad paper discharges based on discriminatory grounds. And, of course, this means they can’t qualify for veteran disability benefits.
Examples of unlawful bad paper discharges
- Getting discharged because of alleged minor and unproven “offenses.”
- Getting discharged due to behaviors stemming from physical or mental-health disabilities (i.e., PTSD, TBI, anxiety disorders).
- Getting discharged for violating the now-repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy (which discriminated against LGBTQIA members).
There are some alarming numbers to put these charges into context. For example, between 2009 and 2015, 22,000 soldiers with bad paper charges were diagnosed with PTSD or TBIs. And over 100,000 service members have been discharged due to their LGBTQIA status.
Of course, when these service members can’t get VA claims, essential health-care benefits become inaccessible. And the same conditions they need assistance treating worsen because they have no support. These service members often endure declining mental health, suicidal ideation, unemployment, and homelessness.
When to contact a veteran disability lawyer
If you feel your VA claim has been wrongfully denied, you should contact a veteran disability lawyer ASAP. An other-than-honorable discharge received for minor “offenses” stemming from physical injuries, psychological distress, or sexual orientation is unfair and unethical.
But fighting a bad paper charge is often a complex and emotional process. Sometimes, service members — being human — may engage in conduct the military prohibits in an attempt to heal from a certain trauma. That could mean self-medicating from PTSD with marijuana or other drugs.
Such was the case of Tyson Manker. He was kicked out of the Marine Corps during the Iraq war due to marijuana use. He used it to cope with PTSD, which, at the time, wasn’t adequately treated by professionals. Along with the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, Manker launched a class action lawsuit against the Navy Discharge Review Board in 2018.
That led to a settlement allowing applicants who received other-than-honorable discharges between October 7, 2001, and March 1, 2012, to resubmit their requests. It also forced the Navy to review such discharges granted between March 2, 2012, and February 15, 2022.
Stories like these illustrate a catch-22 that traps ailing service members in a vicious cycle of helplessness and hopelessness. However, it also demonstrates that veterans don’t need to be “stuck” in it. The law is on their side. If you’re in a similar situation, a veteran disability lawyer’s goal is to help you beat these unfair charges. That will enable you to receive the health-care benefits you’re entitled to.
How a veteran disability attorney can help
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that VA claims often go by the wayside because the applicants don’t have legal representation. Take this observation seriously. Although applying for VA benefits may seem like just filling out forms, the process can get complicated fast.
Working with a veteran disability lawyer makes all the difference. They can expose flaws in the VA office’s reasons for denying your claim and identify unlawful military discharges. They can also best help you present proof that you’re suffering from an injury or illness. Ultimately, a veteran disability attorney is there to validate your claim so your rights aren’t violated.
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