Veterans Disability Info Blog

COVID-19’s Impact on Veterans’ Disability Claims: What’s New

COVID-19 impacted not only the U.S. at large, but also members of the U.S. Military. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that there were 453,456 total cases of COVID-19 in the military, resulting in 2,741 hospitalizations, and 96 deaths. When an active member of the military experiences an injury or illness while in service that leads to long-term, life-altering consequences after service, they may be eligible for disability compensation. The more that is learned about COVID-19, the greater the long-term impact of the initial infection seems to be for some people. 

When you are injured or become ill due to your qualifying service in the U.S. Armed Forces, and other covered organizations, you are entitled to benefits through VA disability compensation. These benefits cover the costs linked to any and all medical treatments linked to your illness or injury and oftentimes include tax-free monthly VA compensation payments as well. Whether or not you are eligible to receive VA disability compensation depends upon the rating your disability receives, which is informed largely by the evidence that you provide to the VA throughout the process. 

The amount in compensation that you are entitled to will depend upon the VA disability rating that your illness receives. Given that COVID-19 was so recent, and the world is still adjusting to the post-pandemic environment, you may have questions concerning how COVID-19-related illnesses may impact your VA disability rating, or how delays in applications due to COVID-19 will be addressed. There is currently no diagnostic code in the VA regulations that specifies VA ratings for COVID-19, but the VA would rate the residuals by analogy with another diagnostic code.

In this article we’ll cover the various aspects of your VA disability claim that COVID-19 (CV) may impact, and what you can do to ensure that your overall VA disability rating is accurate. The pandemic made things difficult for veterans seeking disability benefits, appealing denials, or looking to add supplemental claims, in a variety of ways. Now that the national emergency has ended, it is important that veterans begin to move forward with their claims to collect any compensation that should have kicked in many years earlier.

The VA Has Canceled COVID-19-Related Delays to Disability Claims

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported through the Office on Strategic Communication on June 7th of 2023 that the temporary COVID guidelines that were in place that denied claim exams and hearings are ending. These delays began in March of 2020 when a national emergency was declared as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. As part of the response to COVID-19, the VA was forced to change the way in which it processed claims. 

When claimants were unable to attend scheduled exams or hearings due to the national emergency that resulted from the pandemic, the VA held such claims until the claimants were able to attend their appointments. Lockdown orders, difficulties with public transportation, and in-between service providers like Uber and Lyft also complicated matters for veterans seeking care for their service-related injuries, and the assessment of any related applications or supplemental applications. 

It is important to understand that while this lifting of VA disability claims processing by removing the ability to delay exams and hearings for COVID-19 concerns might sound all positive, it also obligates you. As we’ll discuss in the following section, the speeding up of the process also includes the provision that if you fail to attend a hearing or exam related to your claim, the VA will continue processing your application anyway. This can deny you an important opportunity to share additional information with the VA to ensure that your VA disability claim is accurate. 

When you have a hearing pending for an appeal or a supplemental claim, working with a VA claims lawyer ensures that you have a representative at the hearing on your behalf. We understand that the difficulties of life can get in the way of making it to hearings, particularly if you are suffering from Long COVID or other service-connected issues. With a legal representative by your side, you can focus on recovering from and managing your condition while we handle the rest of the process.  And in many cases, we have found ways to accomplish winning outcomes for our clients without the necessity of a hearing.  Indeed, although hearings provide an opportunity for you to speak, they also provide forums where you could say something inconsistent and potentially harm your appeal. That is why when you have an appeal for VA compensation, consulting with a VA claims lawyer is important.

Claimants Can No Longer Delay Their Hearings and Exams Due to COVID-19 Concerns

Claimants will no longer have the option to delay scheduling a claim exam or hearing due to COVID-19-related concerns. Starting June 10th, 2023 the VA stopped delaying the scheduling of exams or hearings, and claimants were notified of their next scheduled obligations. According to the VA, “(c)laim exams and hearings are important to the claims process since they can provide additional information in support of a pending claim”. 

The shift in how COVID-19 will be allowed to impact veterans’ ability to reschedule hearings however is different for veterans with a COVID-19 diagnosis. When a claimant is unable to attend a hearing or exam because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, they maintain the right to notify the VA and request for certain time limit extensions given lengthy COVID-19 hospitalization. 

Can I Collect VA Benefits for a Service-Related COVID-19 Diagnosis? 

Whether or not you are eligible to collect VA benefits for contracting COVID-19 will depend upon the circumstances surrounding how you contracted the virus. Are you a veteran who became ill with COVID-19 while you were on active duty, and suffer from other chronic medical conditions because of COVID-19 ? When you suffer from COVID-19 which has resulted in or emerged alongside other conditions, you may be eligible for compensation through the VA disability rating that your condition is assigned.  Remember, you can only collect VA compensation for chronic conditions with lasting residuals.  If you had COVID-19 while on active duty but it healed without any lasting chronic health problems, it is unlikely you will be able to collect VA benefits.

Determining whether or not your COVID-19 symptoms and any related disabilities are connected to your active service can be supported through a nexus letter, a statement from a medical professional who has had a chance to review the unique facts and circumstances of your situation. Through VA Form 21-4138, you can file a “Statement in Support of Claim”, which your VA disability attorney can help you through the process of if you are filing a supplemental claim in relation to an existing condition. 

When your illness or injury worsens after you have received an initial VA disability rating, you are able to file for an increase which can substantially change the income that you are entitled to. While we cannot officially represent you in the filing of your initial claim as only VA-accredited representatives who are not paid can do that, we can help you through the appeals process. In relation to COVID-19, if you develop “Long COVID”, the severity of your symptoms and the impact they have on your ability to work may also increase. 

“Long COVID” May Lead to VA Disability Eligibility 

As explained by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), “Long COVID is a patient created term broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after initial SARS-CoV-2 infection.” The signs, conditions, and symptoms of this condition are present 4 weeks or more following the initial phase of the infection. They may also be multisystemic, and present the sufferer with a relapsing-remitting pattern and progression that can worsen over time.  

Long COVID can lead to the potential of severe and life-threatening events that develop months or even years following the initial infection. Long COVID is not a single condition, but rather presents as a number of potentially overlapping entities that often have a number of different biological causes and varying sets of risk factors and outcomes.  

The HHS uses the term “Post-COVID-19 Conditions” to describe the “Lay term Long COVID” and relates to the new, returning, or ongoing health issues that individuals can experience 4 or more weeks following an initial infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that is the cause of COVID-19. The term that is applied by the scientific and medical communities to these varying conditions is “Post-acute Sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection”, and is in reference to new symptoms or other health effects that happen following the acute phase of the infection.

COVID-19 Delayed the Processing of Claims and Assessment of Disabilities

Collecting the disability compensation that you deserve, in the full amount you are entitled to, when you are entitled to it, can be important.  COVID-19 resulted in a number of impacts on the VA disability claims process, namely:

  • Claim exams – for many claimants, a VA C&P Exam (Compensation and Pension) is sometimes requested of you within the context of your VA disability claims process. The exam helps the VA to determine whether or not you have a service-connected disability that qualifies you for VA disability coverage and to provide you with a VA disability rating if it is determined that you have a covered disability. 
  • Claim hearings – when you are assigned a VA disability rating that you do not believe adequately measures your disability and covers your costs, you have a right to an appeal. Alternatively, if your condition has worsened or changed and your VA disability rating is no longer accurate, you can also file an increased rating claim.

If you have been denied, you have several appeal options available.  You must exercise one of the three options within 1 year of the decision denying the claim.  If you wait longer than a year, you will have to file a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence.  But if you waited more than a year, the effective date may only go back to the date VA received the supplemental claim.  To file a supplemental claim you must have already filed a claim and received a decision that is not favorable, and you now have new and relevant evidence to submit or are requesting a review of your claim if there has been a change in the law. When you are filing a supplemental claim, you are asking for an appeal-level review of the denial of your claim. If your supplemental claim was delayed due to Covid, you may have missed out on a significant amount of compensation that your supplemental claim would have provided had it been filed within 1 year of the initial denial. 

One of the purposes of working with a VA claims lawyer is to ensure that you receive the full compensation you deserve, including any that you missed out on due to procedural delays. When your application is approved, you are generally entitled to the full amount in benefits that you are entitled to from the time of your application to the present day. 

A VA Claims Lawyer Can Help with Supplemental Claims and Appeals 

If your initial VA disability application was denied, or if your conditions have changed or worsened due to Long COVID or other similar causes, a VA disability attorney from our firm can provide you with assistance. We are able to refer you to our network of medical and occupational professionals who are able to provide you with expert analysis of your disability picture, and connect your disabilities to service if your claim involves service connection. 

The amount of VA disability benefits that you are eligible to receive depends upon the impact that the symptoms or disabilities that result from your service-connected illness or injury have on your earning capacity. This is why achieving an accurate VA disability rating is essential, and it is helpful to work with an experienced VA disability attorney for assistance with your claim. 

Discuss Your COVID-19 Service-Related Injury with a VA Claims Lawyer

Connecting with an experienced VA disability benefits attorney from our law firm can help you identify the best pathway forward. While VA-accredited attorneys cannot officially represent you for a fee in the initial filing of a claim as that element can be completed with free veterans service officer  assistance, we can help if you are denied and need to appeal. If you contact us about an initial claim, we can provide you with some free information and materials to get you started on your own, and we typically advise veterans to contact us if they get denied and need help with appealing.
Given that the long-term impact of COVID-19 is still being studied with new things being learned regularly, the way in which your evolved symptoms impact your day-to-day life and ability to work may also affect your VA disability rating. The most effective way to ensure that you receive the full benefits that you deserve is by working with an experienced VA claims lawyer, and we are here to answer any questions you might have about how we can help. Call us today at 1-888-878-9350 today.

We are Here to Help

If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.