What Veterans Must Know About VA Pension

VA “shall pay to each veteran of a period of war who meets the service requirements of this section . . . and who is permanently and totally disabled from non-service-connected disability not the result of the veteran’s willful misconduct, pension at the rate prescribed by [statute].”   38 U.S.C. § 1521(a).  The maximum annual rates for improved pension must be reduced by the amount of the veteran’s countable annual income.  38 U.S.C. § 1521; 38 C.F.R. § 3.23(b); Springer v. West, 11 Vet. App. 38, 40 (1998).  “Payments of any kind from any source shall be counted as income during the 12-month annualization period in which received unless specifically excluded under [section] 3.272.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.271(a); 38 U.S.C. § 1503; see Martin v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 196, 199 (1994) (stating “statute and VA regulations provide that ‘annual income,’ as defined by statute and applicable regulation, includes payments of any kind from any source, unless explicitly exempted by statute or regulation”); but see 38 C.F.R. § 3.272 (enumerating categories to “be excluded from countable income for the purpose of determining entitlement to improved pension”).

Certain countable income is specifically excluded from this rule and as a result, a veteran’s pension will not be reduced.  38 C.F.R. § 3.272.  Social Security Administration (SSA) old age and survivor’s insurance and disability insurance payments are considered income and must, therefore, be included.  38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262; 3.271(g); Burch v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 512, 513 (1994).  Benefits under noncontributory programs, such as old age assistance, aid to dependent children, and supplemental security income are treated as charitable donations.  See 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262(d), (f).  Unreimbursed medical expenses paid within the 12-month annualization period are excluded from income to the extent that they are in excess of 5% of the maximum annual pension rate.  38 C.F.R. § 3.272(g)(1)(iii).  Whether a claimant is entitled to VA pension benefits is a question of fact.

Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 1505, pension benefits administered by the Secretary shall not be paid to or for an individual who has been imprisoned in a Federal, State, or local penal institution as a result of conviction of a felony or misdemeanor for any part of the period beginning 61 days after such individual’s imprisonment begins and ending when such individual’s imprisonment ends.  38 U.S.C. § 1505(a); 38 C.F.R. § 3.666; see also Latham v. Brown, 4 Vet. App. 265 (1993).

VA Non-Service Connected Pension or Wartime Pension

Many people confuse VA Pension with VA disability compensation. The two are different.

  • VA pension is based on wartime service, having a non-service connected disability and the Veteran must be of low income.
  • VA disability compensation is based on a service connected disability rating for the Veteran. The focus of this article is to provide the facts on the VA Pension since recently there has been misleading TV and internet advertisements promoting Veteran’s and Spouses to apply for the Pension.

Over the years the VA improved pension has been known as a Non-service connected Pension, a VA low-income Pension, live VA pension and most recently on TV and the internet advertised as a VA Wartime Pension for Veterans or Surviving Widows of Wartime Veterans.   The current improved pension became effective January 1, 1979 and was preceded by Section 306 Pension and Old-Law Pension Program.   All three non-service connected programs are disability and needs based. Today, the only available program for applicants is the improved pension program or non-service connected pension.

Eligibility for Non-Service Connected Pension

The improved pension program is for Veterans who served during wartime and meet specific requirements. It is for the requirement reason that TV advertisements refer to this pension as a wartime pension. The following program qualifying requirements must apply for the Veteran to receive this pension:

The Veteran must have an have a discharge “under other than dishonorable conditions” also known as a “honorable discharge”,

  1. actively served a minimum of one day during wartime,
  2. meet specific service time requirements,
    1. 90 days or more of active duty
    2. Veterans with active duty enlistment after September 7, 1980 must serve at least 24 months of active duty or complete the full period for which they were called to active duty.
  3. be of limited income (determined by the Maximum Annual Pension Rate or MARP) and net-worth, which are discussed later in this article and
  4. the Veteran must have one or more of the following :
    1. age 65 or older, or
    2. have a permanent and total non-service connected disability that will continue throughout the Veteran’s lifetime and prevents the Veteran from sustaining employment, or
    3. be a reside in a nursing home for long-term care , or
    4. be a recipient of Social Security disability benefits.

Maximum Annual Pension Rate for VA NSC Pension

Date of Cost-of-Living Increase: 12-01-2017
Increase Factor:  2.0%
Standard Medicare Deduction: Actual amount will be determined by SSA based on individual income.

Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) Category

Amount

If you are a veteran… Your yearly income must be less than…
Without Spouse or Child $13,166
To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR,  or,  $ 659
With One Dependent $17,241
To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR,  or,  $ 863
Housebound Without Dependents $16,089
Housebound With One Dependent $20,166
A&A Without Dependents $21,962
A&A With One Dependent $26,036
Two Vets Married to Each Other $17,241
Two Vets Married to Each Other One H/B $20,166
Two Vets Married to Each Other Both H/B $23,087
Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A $26,036
Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A One H/B $28,953
Two Vets Married to Each Other Both A/A $34,837
Add for Early War Veteran (Mexican Border Period or WW1) to any category above $2,991
Add for Each Additional Child to any category above $2,250
Child Earned Income Exclusion effective: 01-01-2000 $7,200
(38 CFR §3.272 (j)(1))
This link takes you to the full regulation;
scroll down to get the specific citation.
01-01-2001 $7,450
01-01-2002 $7,700
01-01-2003 $7,800
01-01-2004 $7,950
01-01-2005 $8,200
01-01-2006 $8,450
01-01-2007 $8,750
01-01-2008 $8,950
01-01-2009 $9,350
01-01-2012 $9,750
01-01-2013 $10,000
01-01-2014 $10,150
01-01-2015 $10,300
01-01-2016 $10,350
01-01-2017 $10,400
01-01-2018 $10,650

*Child dependents are: (1) under the age of 18, (2) between the ages of 18 and 23 who are attending college, or (3) declared a “helpless child” due to an infirmity before the age of 18. Veterans with additional dependent children should add $2,205 to the MAPR limit for each child.

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 Should Know About VA Pension Non-Service Connected Disability

Pension-Legal References

VA “shall pay to each veteran of a period of war who meets the service requirements of this section . . . and who is permanently and totally disabled from non-service-connected disability not the result of the veteran’s willful misconduct, pension at the rate prescribed by [statute].”   38 U.S.C. § 1521(a).  The maximum annual rates for improved pension must be reduced by the amount of the veteran’s countable annual income.  38 U.S.C. § 1521; 38 C.F.R. § 3.23(b); Springer v. West, 11 Vet. App. 38, 40 (1998).  “Payments of any kind from any source shall be counted as income during the 12-month annualization period in which received unless specifically excluded under [section] 3.272.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.271(a); 38 U.S.C. § 1503; see Martin v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 196, 199 (1994) (stating “statute and VA regulations provide that ‘annual income,’ as defined by statute and applicable regulation, includes payments of any kind from any source, unless explicitly exempted by statute or regulation”); but see 38 C.F.R. § 3.272 (enumerating categories to “be excluded from countable income for the purpose of determining entitlement to improved pension”).

Certain countable income is specifically excluded from this rule and as a result, a veteran’s pension will not be reduced.  38 C.F.R. § 3.272.  Social Security Administration (SSA) old age and survivor’s insurance and disability insurance payments are considered income and must, therefore, be included.  38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262; 3.271(g); Burch v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 512, 513 (1994).  Benefits under noncontributory programs, such as old age assistance, aid to dependent children, and supplemental security income are treated as charitable donations.  See 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262(d), (f).  Unreimbursed medical expenses paid within the 12-month annualization period are excluded from income to the extent that they are in excess of 5% of the maximum annual pension rate.  38 C.F.R. § 3.272(g)(1)(iii).  Whether a claimant is entitled to VA pension benefits is a question of fact.

Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 1505, pension benefits administered by the Secretary shall not be paid to or for an individual who has been imprisoned in a Federal, State, or local penal institution as a result of conviction of a felony or misdemeanor for any part of the period beginning 61 days after such individual’s imprisonment begins and ending when such individual’s imprisonment ends.  38 U.S.C. § 1505(a); 38 C.F.R. § 3.666; see also Latham v. Brown, 4 Vet. App. 265 (1993).

VA Non-Service Connected Pension or Wartime Pension

Many people confuse VA Pension with VA disability compensation. The two are different.

  • VA pension is based on wartime service, having a non-service connected disability and the Veteran must be of low income.
  • VA disability compensation is based on a service connected disability rating for the Veteran. The focus of this article is to provide the facts on the VA Pension since recently there has been misleading TV and internet advertisements promoting Veteran’s and Spouses to apply for the Pension.

Over the years the VA improved pension has been known as a Non-service connected Pension, a VA low-income Pension, live VA pension and most recently on TV and the internet advertised as a VA Wartime Pension for Veterans or Surviving Widows of Wartime Veterans.   The current improved pension became effective January 1, 1979 and was preceded by Section 306 Pension and Old-Law Pension Program.   All three non-service connected programs are disability and needs based. Today, the only available program for applicants is the improved pension program or non-service connected pension.

Eligibility for Non-Service Connected Pension

The improved pension program is for Veterans who served during wartime and meet specific requirements. It is for the requirement reason that TV advertisements refer to this pension as a wartime pension. The following program qualifying requirements must apply for the Veteran to receive this pension:

The Veteran must have an have a discharge “under other than dishonorable conditions” also known as a “honorable discharge”,

  1. actively served a minimum of one day during wartime,
  2. meet specific service time requirements,
    1. 90 days or more of active duty
    2. Veterans with active duty enlistment after September 7, 1980 must serve at least 24 months of active duty or complete the full period for which they were called to active duty.
  3. be of limited income (determined by the Maximum Annual Pension Rate or MARP) and net-worth, which are discussed later in this article and
  4. the Veteran must have one or more of the following :
    1. age 65 or older, or
    2. have a permanent and total non-service connected disability that will continue throughout the Veteran’s lifetime and prevents the Veteran from sustaining employment, or
    3. be a reside in a nursing home for long-term care , or
    4. be a recipient of Social Security disability benefits.

 Maximum Annual Pension Rate for VA NSC Pension

Date of Cost-of-Living Increase: 12-01-2017
Increase Factor:  2.0%
Standard Medicare Deduction: Actual amount will be determined by SSA based on individual income.


Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) Category

Amount

If you are a veteran… Your yearly income must be less than…
Without Spouse or Child $13,166
To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR,  or,  $ 659
With One Dependent $17,241
To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR,  or,  $ 863
Housebound Without Dependents $16,089
Housebound With One Dependent $20,166
A&A Without Dependents $21,962
A&A With One Dependent $26,036
Two Vets Married to Each Other $17,241
Two Vets Married to Each Other One H/B $20,166
Two Vets Married to Each Other Both H/B $23,087
Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A $26,036
Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A One H/B $28,953
Two Vets Married to Each Other Both A/A $34,837
Add for Early War Veteran (Mexican Border Period or WW1) to any category above $2,991
Add for Each Additional Child to any category above $2,250
Child Earned Income Exclusion effective: 01-01-2000 $7,200
(38 CFR §3.272 (j)(1))
This link takes you to the full regulation;
scroll down to get the specific citation.
01-01-2001 $7,450
01-01-2002 $7,700
01-01-2003 $7,800
01-01-2004 $7,950
01-01-2005 $8,200
01-01-2006 $8,450
01-01-2007 $8,750
01-01-2008 $8,950
01-01-2009 $9,350
01-01-2012 $9,750
01-01-2013 $10,000
01-01-2014 $10,150
01-01-2015 $10,300
01-01-2016 $10,350
01-01-2017 $10,400
01-01-2018 $10,650

*Child dependents are: (1) under the age of 18, (2) between the ages of 18 and 23 who are attending college, or (3) declared a “helpless child” due to an infirmity before the age of 18. Veterans with additional dependent children should add $2,205 to the MAPR limit for each child.

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.

Net Worth requirement for Non-Service Connected Pension

The other financial consideration for pension is “net worth.” “Net Worth” limitations are based on the net worth of a Veteran.   The test is whether or not the Veteran’s “net worth” is able to provide adequate maintenance of the Veteran.

“Net worth” determination is also sometimes referred to as the “needs test”.   “Net worth or Needs test” is determined on a case-by-case basis.   The VA uses the Veteran’s and the Spouse’s Social Security numbers to verify income and net worth information from all government sources. The VA’s main source for financial information on Veterans is the IRS Income Tax Return(s).

The VA defines “net worth” or “corpus of estate” as the market value of the Veteran’s home minus the mortgages or other legal liabilities on the property or personal property owned by the Veteran and/or Spouse.

The Veteran’s single-family dwelling and reasonable personal effects are excluded. Unsecured debts are not a factor in determining VA “net worth”.

It is to the advantage of the Veteran to be prepared to document the market value of their home by submitting to the VA either: a real estate broker statement, appraisal, or bank loan officer statement.   The Veterans should also be able to document their mortgage balance and any encumbrances on the property.

The following example will illustrate how the VA determines “net worth.”

  • The Veteran owns a home with a market value of $200,000. The mortgage on the property is $150,000 and there is a $5,000 lien on the property.
  • The Veteran’s personal effects values are: Clothing $2,000, car worth $10,000, furniture $2,000 and other belongings $800.
  • The VA reduces the Real Property value to $45,000 ($200,000 market value reduced by the outstanding mortgage balance of $150,000 and the $5,000 property lien).
  • The values of the personal effects are excluded.
  • Thus, the Veteran’s net worth is $45,000 (Real Property Value) for this illustration.

The VA is known not deny “net worth” under $80,000.   If the Veterans “net worth” is over $80,000, due to the high cost of living where the Veteran resides, the Veteran and/or Spouse should explain:

  • why their claim “should be approved by the VA” despite a net worth over $80,000
  • They should also detail the cost of living for the area,
  • They should document that if their net-worth assets were liquidated, given the area cost of living, the liquidated resources would be rapidly exhausted and the proceeds of the liquidated assets would be unable to sustain the Veteran for any period of time.

NSC Pension Reporting: Eligibility Verification Report for Non-Service Connected Pension

Pension recipients are required to file annual reports detailing their income status. The reports are called Eligibility Verification Reports (EVRs).

If the VA has requested an “EVR report” it must be completed, returned, and received by the VA within 60 days. Failure to return the EVR within the 60 days will result in the VA will suspending the pension benefit and denying the claim for the upcoming year.

It is important not to leave any blanks on the report. Instead of leaving a blank, enter either zero “0” or, the word “none” or, “N/A” on all answers that do not apply. If you leave a blank on the EVR report the VA will reject the report and suspend all benefits.

Another issue with the “EVR report” is with Social Security benefit reporting.   The SSI, (Supplemental Security Income), benefit is not considered “countable income”.   SSDI, (Social Security Disability Income), and Social Security Old Age Pension must be reported accurately to the VA. Any discrepancy in reporting SSDI or SS Old Age Pension can cause VA pension over payments and negative adjustments to the your pension benefit.

The Veteran’s EVR documented Social Security or Social Disability income amount must match the amount documented by Social Security. It is easy for Veterans to have a reporting error. Veterans mistakenly report the actual amount of their Social Security check instead of reporting their full Social Security benefit which includes the Medicare monthly deductibles for Part B Premium at $104.90 and other premiums, if the Veteran selected Premiums for Parts C and D.   Premium amounts for Part C and D vary by the plan. To avoid reporting errors, the Veteran and Spouse should refer to their annual report from the Social Security Administration and document the information correctly onto the EVR report.

If the Social Security Administration report is not available, the Veteran and/or Spouse can call and request the report from Social Security.   Social Security can be contacted at 1-800-772-1213. Social Security representatives are available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you have hearing problems you can call 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Extra Benefits to add to the Non-Service Connected Pension

There are two extra benefits that can be claimed along with this pension. The two benefits are Aid and Attendance or Housebound Benefits. A Veteran can only receive one of the benefits. The Veteran’s housebound benefit is usually less than the Aid and Attendance benefit. Comparing the benefits, per the 12/01/2016 Table to determine pension of a Veteran with no dependents who might need either the housebound benefit or the aid and attendance benefit, the housebound benefit is about $238 per month and the Aid and Attendance benefits is about $716 per month.

To qualify for Aid and Attendance a Veteran must document one or more of the following:

  • The Veteran requires the aid of another person for assistance with activities of daily living. (Activities of daily living include: bathing, feeding, dressing needs, toileting, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting yourself from the hazards of your daily environment.
  • The Veteran is bedridden and the disability requires that the Veteran remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment. )
  • The Veteran is in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacitating conditions.
  • The Veteran is blind or so nearly blind as to have corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less in both eyes and has contraction of the concentric visual field to 5 degrees or less.

Submitting a Claim for Non-Service Connected Pension

To submit a claim for the wartime or non-service connected pension, you will need:

  1. The proper VA application Form
    1. If the Veteran believes that he or she may qualify for both service connected disability compensation and/or a non-service connected pension, the Veteran should apply for both benefits.  They should apply for compensation by submitting VA Form 21-526EZ Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.  The fillable form can be obtained by going to: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf
    2. If the Veteran believes that he or she is only eligible for non-service connected pension, then the Veteran should apply using VA Form 21-527EZ Application for pension. This fillable form can be obtained by going to: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-527EZ-ARE.pdf
  2. All income and net worth information and supporting documents.
  3. Medical Evidence of the Claim: To support your claim, submit all medical treatment records and documents from private Practitioners, private facilities, testing centers and VA medical centers. For each source of medical information, complete VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veteran Affairs, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4142-ARE.pdf. VA medical centers do not need a VA Form 21-4142.
  4. Extra Benefit applications
    1. Application for Aid and Attendance or housebound benefits will require:
      1. If the Veteran resides at home, complete VA Form 21-2680, Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance,   http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-2680-ARE.pdf or
      2. If the Veteran is in a Nursing Home, complete VA Form 21-0779 Request for Nursing Home Information in Connection with Claim for Aid and Attendance, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0779-ARE.pdf
    2. Claim application for a dependent child in school between 18 and 23 with the pension requires completing VA Form 21-674, Request for Approval of School Attendance http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-674-ARE.pdf
    3. Claim application for helpless (disabled) child benefits, will require you to declare the child a dependent, using VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-686c-ARE.pdf and submission of all relevant medical treatment records for the child’s disabilities using VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4138-ARE.pdf.

For a brief overview of the pension, go to the VA Fact Sheet on Live Pension: http://benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/limitedincome/livepension.pdf.

Or, the VA Fact Sheet on Survivors Pension: http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/survivors/Survivorspension.pdf

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

How Character of Discharge Affects VA Disability Claims

VA benefits are restricted to veterans discharged or released “under conditions other than dishonorable.” The military services each have several categories of discharge, one of which is “dishonorable.” These categories are not what VA bases a character of service determination: VA has its own unique system.

VA generally accepts “honorable” discharges and discharges “under honorable conditions” as qualifying discharges without further investigation. VA has also determined that a “dishonorable” discharge is not an “other than dishonorable” discharge and so will disqualify a claimant from any VA benefits unless a narrow insanity exception applies. If an individual received a discharge under “other than honorable conditions” or a “bad conduct” discharge, VA will make a special “character of service determination” before further processing a claim. In making this determination VA is supposed to consider the veteran’s entire period of service not just the specific type of discharge. If VA determines that the individual was separated from service under a disqualifying condition, the veteran will be ineligible for compensation benefits, although he or she may still qualify for certain healthcare benefits. A character of service determination can be appealed if unfavorable.

Veterans with multiple periods of active duty may have been discharged with a different character of service for different periods of service. In such a case, the discharge for the period of service to which a medical condition is connected controls eligibility. For example, a veteran with an honorable discharge followed by a dishonorable discharge for two separate periods of service would be eligible for benefits for a condition connected to the first period of service, but not the second.

A veteran with a discharge that does not qualify him or her for compensation benefits may try to “upgrade” the character of the discharge. VA does not change the character of discharge assigned by the service branch. Each service branch has a “Discharge Review Board” (“DRB”) and a “Board for Correction of Military Records” (“BCMR”). Both of these Boards have their own procedures for reviewing cases of veterans looking to change an unfavorable character of discharge and it is beyond the scope of this KNOWLEDGE BOOK to describe the processes. Veterans who believe that their character of discharge was improper or unfair are encouraged to contact an advocate or attorney experienced in the upgrade process.

Regardless of the character of discharge, individuals are not eligible for VA benefits for conditions that result from “willful misconduct” or substance abuse. Willful misconduct includes intentional acts such as self-inflicted injuries to avoid duty or deployment. Health conditions arising from the abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol abuse are also excluded. As questions of willful misconduct are very fact specific, claimants potentially affected by this requirement are encouraged to discuss the matter with an experienced advocate. There is one very important exception to the substance abuse exclusion. An individual is eligible for VA benefits for conditions related to drug or alcohol abuse arising from another allowable service-connected condition. For example, an individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of an incident during service can receive benefits for the adverse health effects of alcoholism if the alcoholism is determined to be a result of the PTSD. Alcoholism unrelated to another service-connected condition would not be eligible for compensation.

VA “compensation . . . is not payable unless the period of service on which the claim is based was terminated by discharge or release under conditions other than dishonorable.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.12(a).  “A discharge or release because of one of the offenses specified in this paragraph is considered to have been issued under dishonorable conditions[:] . . . An offense involving moral turpitude.  This includes, generally, conviction of a felony.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.12(d)(3).  38 U.S.C. section 101(2) defines a veteran as a person who “was discharged … under conditions other than dishonorable.”

While no statute or regulation generally states that dishonorable conditions are equivalent to conditions other than honorable, section 3.12(d)(4) states as follows:

(d)   A discharge or release because of one of the offenses specified in this paragraph is considered to have been issued under dishonorable conditions.

. . .

(4)   Willful and persistent misconduct.  This includes a discharge under other than honorable conditions, if it is determined that it was issued because of willful and persistent misconduct.  A discharge because of a minor offense will not, however, be considered willful and persistent misconduct if service was otherwise honest, faithful and meritorious.

The law, however, contains an exception that “if it is established to the satisfaction of the Secretary that, at the time of the commission of an offense leading to a person’s court-martial, discharge, or resignation, that person was insane, such person shall not be precluded from benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.”  38 U.S.C. § 5303(b); 38 C.F.R. § 3.12(b).

VA regulations define an insane person as one who, while not mentally defective or constitutionally psychopathic, exhibits, due to disease, a more or less prolonged deviation from his normal method of behavior; or who interferes with the peace of society; or who has so departed (become antisocial) from the accepted standards of the community to which by birth and education he belongs as to lack the adaptability to make further adjustment to the social customs of the community in which he resides.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.354(a); see Zang v. Brown, 8 Vet. App. 246, 253 (1995) (stating that phrase “due to disease” applies to all three circumstances provided in section 3.354(a)); see also VA Gen. Coun. Prec. 20-97 (May 22, 1997) (clarifying VA’s definition of insanity).  Although insanity need not be causally connected to the misconduct that led to the discharge, it must be concurrent with that misconduct and requires competent medical evidence to establish a diagnosis.  Beck v. West, 13 Vet. App. 535, 539 (2000); Zang, 8 Vet. App. at 254-55; 38 C.F.R. § 3.354(a).

When determining whether a veteran was insane at the time of an offense, the rating agency “will base its decision on all the evidence procurable relating to the period involved.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.354(b).  The Court reviews the Board’s factual decision in this regard under the “clearly erroneous” standard of review.  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4); Beck, 13 Vet. App. at 539; Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 49, 52-53 (1990).

Acceptance of an undesirable discharge to escape trial by general court-martial is considered a discharge or release “under dishonorable conditions.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.12(d)(1).  Such a discharge generally “is a bar to the payment of benefits.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.12(b).  Further, an honorable or general discharge awarded under the Department of Defense’s special discharge review program (“SDRP”) generally “does not remove any bar to benefits.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.12(h).  When a veteran has multiple periods of service, it is the character of service for the period in which the medical condition arises that determines eligibility.

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

What Disabled Veterans Must Know About Finality and Revision of Decisions of VA Disability Claims

Finality and Revision of Decisions

Where a claimant does not file a Notice of Disagreement, the benefit decision becomes final.  38 U.S.C. § 7105(c).  When a prior adjudication is final, a claimant may only seek a revision of that decision on the basis of clear and unmistakable error.  38 U.S.C. § 5109A; 38 C.F.R. § 3.105(a) (2009); see also Cook v. Principi, 318 F.3d 1334, 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2002).  In order to properly seek revision of a prior final decision, the appellant must allege either (1) that the correct facts in the record were not before the adjudicator or (2) that the statutory or regulatory provisions in existence at the time were incorrectly applied.  See Damrel v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 242, 245 (1994); see 38 U.S.C. § 7111 (authorizing revision of Board decisions); Cook, 318 F.3d at 1342 n.2 (noting that, before the enactment of section 7111, final Board decisions were not subject to motions for revision based on CUE).

The only exceptions to the rule of finality are the statutory provisions concerning CUE and the section 3.156(c) regulation described above.  See 38 U.S.C. § 5109A (revision of decisions by the Secretary, including rating decisions, on the grounds of CUE); 38 U.S.C. § 7111 (revision of Board decisions on the grounds of CUE).  Both provisions state that a revision of a prior decision on the basis of CUE has the same effect as if the corrected decision had been made on the date of the prior decision.  The Court has defined CUE as follows:

Either the correct facts, as they were known at the time, were not before the adjudicator or the statutory or regulatory provisions extant at the time were incorrectly applied …. [CUE is] the sort of error which, had it not been made, would have manifestly changed the outcome … [an error that is] undebatable, so that it can be said that reasonable minds could only conclude that the original decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made.

Russell v. Principi, 3 Vet. App. 310, 313-14 (1992) (en banc); see also Bustos v. West, 179 F.3d 1378, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (expressly adopting “manifestly changed the outcome” language in Russell).  In order to constitute CUE, the alleged error must be “based upon the evidence of record at the time of the original decision.”  Cook v. Principi, 318 F.3d 1334, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (en banc).  A claimant alleging CUE must do so “with some degree of specificity.”  Pierce v. Principi, 240 F.3d 1348, 1355 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

A challenge to a regional office decision assigning an effective date with which a claimant disagrees may be made through a direct appeal of that decision, beginning with the timely filing of a Notice of Disagreement.  See 38 U.S.C. § 7105(a).  Where a claimant does not file a Notice of Disagreement, the regional office’s decision becomes final.  38 U.S.C. § 7105(c).  Once a regional office decision is final, a claimant may attempt to overcome the finality of that decision in one of two ways:  by a request for revision of the decision based on clear and unmistakable error or by a request to reopen based upon new and material evidence.  Cook v. Principi, 318 F.3d 1334, 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (en banc); see 38 U.S.C. § 5109A(a) (“A decision by the Secretary … is subject to revision on the grounds of clear and unmistakable error.  If evidence establishes the error, the prior decision shall be reversed or revised.”); 38 U.S.C. § 5108 (“If new and material evidence is presented or secured with respect to a claim which has been disallowed, the Secretary shall reopen the claim and review the former disposition of that claim.”).

Only a request for revision based on CUE or a newly discovered service record can result in the assignment of an earlier effective date for the award of disability benefits because the effective date for an award based on a claim to reopen can be no earlier than the date on which that claim was received.  38 U.S.C. § 5110(a); see Leonard v. Nicholson, 405 F.3d 1333, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (“[A]bsent a showing of [clear and unmistakable error, the appellant] cannot receive disability payments for a time frame earlier than the application date of his claim to reopen, even with new evidence supporting an earlier disability date.”).  Further, the Court has made it clear that VA cannot adjudicate, a freestanding claim for an earlier effective date because to do so would be to compromise the rule of finality.  Rudd v. Nicholson, 20 Vet. App. 296, 300 (2006).

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 Veteran Must Know About Rating Reductions

There are circumstances where the VA can reduce your disability benefits. When the VA proposes to reduce a Veteran’s disability compensation, it is of the upmost importance that the Veteran act quickly by seeking the services of either an aggressive Veterans Service Organization or an Attorney accredited by the VA.   The law is very clear that to assist a Veteran in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim for VA benefits, the individual must be accredited by the VA as an agent, attorney, or representative of a Veterans Service Organization, VSO, 38 U.S.C. §§ 5901-5902, 5904; 38 C.F.R. § 14.629.   There is a one time only exception for a non-accredited individual to assist a Veteran in processing a claim under 38 C.F.R. § 14.630.

To verify the VA accreditation of an Attorney, Claims Agent, or VSO Representative, go to website:  http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/

Some of the most common reasons for the reduction of you VA disabiltiy Compensation are:

  I.   Failure to Report for the “Pre-Reduction” Examination.

 II.  Unprotected Benefit Rating and Your Condition Improves

An Unprotected Benefit Rating is when your disability rating is above the minimum for the disability but below the 100% rating and you have been receiving the rating for less than five (5) years.

When reducing a total disability rating based on the severity of an appellant’s condition, the burden falls on VA to show “material improvement” in the veteran’s condition from the time of the previous rating examination that assigned the appellant’s 100% disability rating.  Ternus v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 370, 376 (1994); Hohol v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 169, 172 (1992); see also Dofflemyer v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 277, 280 (1992); 38 C.F.R. § 3 .343(a).  The reduction must be based on “[e]xamination reports showing material improvement[, which] must be evaluated in conjunction with all the facts of record, and consideration must be given particularly to whether the veteran attained improvement under the ordinary conditions of life.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.343(a).

Pursuant to 38 C.F.R. section 3.105(e), when the RO determines that a rating reduction is warranted, it is required to issue a proposed rating reduction, setting forth the reasons for the proposed reduction, and to allow the veteran a period of at least 60 days to submit additional evidence to show that the rating should not be reduced.  Furthermore, when, after such period, the RO issues a decision reducing the rating, that reduction does not become effective until the “[l]ast day of [the] month following 60 days after notice to [the] payee” of the reduction decision.  38 C.F.R. § 3.400(r); see 38 C.F.R. § 3.105(e).  The effect of sections 3.105(e) and 3.400(r) combined is that a rating reduction cannot be made effective for a minimum of 120 days after it is proposed in writing to the veteran.  Brown (Kevin) v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 413, 418 (1993).

An important right that can easily be overlooked in the notice of a proposed reduction (because VA buries it in the notice), is the right for a “pre-determination hearing” under 38 C.F.R. section 3.105(i).  A claimant has a right to this hearing if he or she requests it within 30 days of the notice of proposed reduction.  Requesting a pre-determination is important because VA cannot implement the proposed reduction until after the hearing and it reaches a decision based on the evidence and the hearing.  In practice, this means that a claimant can delay a reduction and continue to receive full payments for some months in order to obtain evidence or assistance.

There is a risk, however, in continuing to receive full benefit payments under these circumstances.  Should the VA still conclude that a reduction is appropriate, it will create a debt against the veterans for the “overpayments” during the time waiting for the pre-determination hearing and decision.  This means that a veteran can end up with lower benefits payments andowe the VA a large sum.  Veteran’s requesting a pre-determination hearing are, therefore, strongly urged to be careful with their finances until the reduction issue is finally decided

In every rating reduction case, the Board must “ascertain, based upon review of the entire recorded history of the condition, whether the evidence reflects an actual change in the disability and whether the examination reports reflecting such change are based upon thorough examinations.”  Brown v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 413, 421 (1993); see also Schafrath v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 589, 594 (1991) (requirements “operate to protect claimants against adverse decisions based on a single, incomplete[,] or inaccurate report and to enable VA to make a more precise evaluation of the level of disability and of any changes in the condition”); 38 C.F.R. §§ 4.1, 4.2, 4.13.  Where the Court concludes that the Board has reduced a veteran’s rating without observing applicable laws and regulation, such a rating is void ab initio and the Court will set it aside as “not in accordance with the law.”  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(3)(A); Kitchens v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 320, 325 (1995); see Brown, 5 Vet. App. at 422; Horowitz v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 217 (1993).

When determining whether VA was justified in reducing a veteran’s disability rating that has continued at the same level for five or more years, “the Board is required to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence and in compliance with 38 C.F.R. § 3.344, that a rating reduction is warranted.”  Sorakubo v. Principi, 16 Vet. App. 120, 123–24 (2002) (citing Brown v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 413, 421 (1993)); see also Kitchens v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 320, 325 (1995) (holding that when the regional office reduces a veteran’s rating without observing the applicable VA regulations, the reduction is void).  The regulatory requirements for reducing a disability rating that has continued at the same level for five years or more are more stringent than the general requirements for increasing or decreasing a disability rating that has been in effect for a shorter amount of time.  See 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.344(a)-(c); Collier v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 247, 249–50 (1992).  “Such disabilities are considered ‘stabilized,’ and the regulation thus requires a high degree of accuracy in decisions reducing those ratings.”  Schafrath v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 589, 594 (1991) (citing 38 C.F.R. § 3.344(c)).  In addition, certain regulations “are applicable to all rating reductions regardless of whether the rating has been in effect for five years or more as required by section 3.344(c),” including 38 C.F.R. sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.10, and 4.13.  Brown, 5 Vet. App. at 420.

Pursuant to sections 4.1, 4.2, and 4.13, VA is required in any rating-reduction case “to ascertain, based upon review of the entire recorded history of the condition, whether the evidence reflects an actual change in the disability and whether the examination reports reflecting such change are based upon thorough examinations.”  Brown, 5 Vet. App. at 421; see also Schafrath v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 589, 594 (1991) (such requirements “operate to protect claimants against adverse decisions based on a single, incomplete[,] or inaccurate report and to enable VA to make a more precise evaluation of the level of disability and of any changes in the condition”).  In addition, “in any rating-reduction case not only must it be determined that an improvement in a disability has actually occurred but also that that improvement actually reflects an improvement in the veteran’s ability to function under the ordinary conditions of life and work.”  Brown, 5 Vet. App. at 421; see also 38 C.F.R. §§ 4.2, 4.10.

The Court has specifically required VA to follow its own regulations when it attempts to reduce a veteran’s rating.  See Fugere v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 103 (1990) (holding that VA was required to give notice and opportunity to be heard prior to deleting provision of VA Adjudication Procedure Manual M21–1MR that had provided regulatory-like procedural protections prior to reducing veteran’s rating, and noting: “Where the rights of individuals are affected, it is incumbent upon agencies to follow their own procedures.” (citations omitted)), aff’d, 972 F.2d 331 (Fed. Cir. 1992).  The Court determines de novo whether VA has followed and applied its own regulations in reducing or terminating VA benefits.  See Wilson (Merritte) (making determination de novo without so stating) and Fugere (same), both supra; Brown (Kevin) v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 413, 416–21 (1993) (same); cf. Buzinski, supra (reviewing de novo compliance with VA regulation regarding mortgage foreclosure).

If VA affords to a veteran the applicable procedural protections and nonetheless determines that a reduction in rating is warranted, the determination as to the degree of disability under the applicable diagnostic code is a finding of fact subject to the “clearly erroneous” standard of review.  See Smallwood v. Brown, 10 Vet. App. 93, 97 (1997); Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 49, 53 (1990); Faust v. West, 13 Vet. App. 342, 348 (2000).

In reducing a rating of 100 percent service-connected disability based on individual unemployability, the provisions of section 3.105(e) apply but caution must be exercised in such a determination that actual employability is established by clear and convincing evidence.  If a veteran with a total disability rating for compensation purposes based on individual unemployability begins to engage in a substantially gainful occupation during the period beginning after January 1, 1985, the veteran’s rating may not be reduced solely on the basis of having secured and followed such substantially gainful occupation unless the veteran maintains the occupation for a period of 12 consecutive months.  For purposes of this subparagraph, temporary interruptions in employment which are of short duration shall not be considered breaks in otherwise continuous employment.  38 C.F.R. §§ 3.343(a), (c); Faust v. West, 13 Vet. App. 342, 352 (2000).

There is a clear distinction between a claim challenging a reduction in a schedular rating and one involving a claim for a restoration or an increase in a schedular rating.  See Peyton v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 282 (1991); Dofflemyer v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 277, 280 (1992).  “The initial procedural burden regarding proposed rating reductions [pursuant to section 3.343(a) ] … falls squarely on the VA to show material improvement from the previous rating examination that had continued a veteran’s 100% disability rating.”  Ternus v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 370, 376 (1994).  “[T]he circumstances under which rating reductions can occur are specifically limited and carefully circumscribed by regulations promulgated by the Secretary.”  Dofflemyer, 2 Vet. App.at 280.

That the Court has jurisdiction to review the BVA’s failure to decide the improper reduction claim is clear.  See 38 U.S.C. § 511(a) (“The Secretary shall decide all questions of law and fact necessary to a decision by the Secretary to veterans …”); In the Matter of Fee Agreement of Smith, 10 Vet. App. 311 (1997) (BVA failure to adjudicate veteran’s claims properly before it was a final adverse decision with respect to that claim); Suttmann v. Brown, 5 Vet. App. 127, 133 (1993) (Board erred in failing to adjudicate a claim reasonably raised to it); see also Carpenter v. Gober, 11 Vet. App. 140 (1998) (an implied claim which is not reviewed by the BVA is considered a denial).  Thus, while the Court may not review nonfinal BVA decisions to remand, it clearly may—indeed, must—review claims explicitly or implicitly raised by the appellant and not adjudicated by the BVA.

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

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