Veterans Disability Info Blog

Legislative Updates: How New Laws Impact Veterans’ Claims

If you are a veteran or family member of one suffering from a current diagnosis for a condition that requires health care, and may be impacting your ability to earn income, then it is important to keep up with legislative updates. Recent changes in law have expanded upon the level of VA disability access for a number of veterans and their family members.

If you already have a VA disability rating for a different condition, you may be eligible to file a new claim. Should you have tried to take advantage of recent legislative changes and been denied, you still have the option of appealing. An experienced VA disability lawyer can help with a denied disability claim; helping you navigate the confusing and often complex method of collecting the benefits you deserve. 

Our firm knows how legislative changes impact our clients, and we are standing by to discuss the following changes and how you might qualify for new or expanded benefits through them.  

The COLA Act of 2023 Provides You with Cost of Living Adjustments

In June of 2023 the COLA Act of 2023 was enacted, with “COLA” being an acronym for cost-of-living adjustment. Through this Act, the disability compensation and other benefits that you receive will be adjusted in line with the annual changes that the Social Security Administration (SSA). The adjustments that the SSA makes to the benefits they pay their recipients each year are based upon increases in the cost of living. 

Luckily, there are no steps that you need to take in order to benefit from the COLA Act of 2023. Rather than having to file any original paperwork applications, the changes instituted on January 1, 2024. Review the 2024 VA disability pay rates and schedule.

Emerging Legislation Protects Veterans from Benefits Scams

We mention that your COLA Act increases in benefits are automatic, and that the benefits below can be applied for without charge at your local VA office or online, because a number of scams have emerged targeting veterans and military families. In July of 2023 U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Ted Budd introduced the bipartisan “Veterans Protection from Fraud Act” in Nevada, which is meant to increase penalties against companies engaging in fraud to target veterans. 

It is an unfortunate reality that veterans are more likely than average Americans to be targeted by spam, junk messages, robocalls, and scam solicitations. The efforts undertaken by Senator Masto are meant to protect veterans by improving upon protections in place for them, as “the bill strengthens penalties for fraud against veterans and makes it more difficult for criminals to target them.” The Nevada bill is not alone, but has also been joined by national efforts to likewise protect veterans from scammers.

National efforts have been undertaken by a number of U.S. Senators including John Boozman of Arkansas and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, to hold scammers accountable for taking advantage of veterans. Through the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act, criminal penalties will be reinstated for unaccredited claim representatives who are charging unauthorized fees to assist veterans with their disability claims. 

Your initial disability claim can be filed for free with the VA, with the free assistance of trained VA representatives, in a variety of convenient ways including online or in-person at your local VA center. Scammers offering paid “assistance”, “coaching”, and “education” are targeting veterans, taking their money for things that should otherwise be free. While current law prohibits unaccredited businesses and persons from charging fees to assist veterans in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of their VA benefit claim, there are no criminal penalties in the statute. 

Through the GUARD VA Benefits Act, it is hoped that the VA and other federal agencies will again be empowered to pursue criminal penalties against scammers. These penalties were eliminated from the statute almost 20 years ago, a curious move given that it opened the door for many veterans to be taken advantage of and scammed out of their money. According to Senator Blumenthal, “(t)his legislation is needed because unaccredited claims representatives often extract exorbitant profits from veterans”. 

Through the strengthening of the enforcement authority of the VA, it is hoped that veterans’ benefits can be better protected. This act is currently passing through the government and has not yet been enacted. While the VA and federal agencies may not be able to pursue criminal charges against scammers at this time, if you were taken advantage of, you may be able to bring a civil case to recover your damages. 

New Legislation has Expanded VA Disability Access through “Presumptive Conditions”

When applying for VA disability benefits a service connection must be established. The elements of service connection include (1) an in-service event; (2) current condition; (3) a link between the in-service event and the current condition. The service connection is supported through the opinion of a medical expert who has reviewed your military records and your current diagnosis and finds a link. The nexus between your active service and current condition is communicated to the VA through a nexus letter, a Statement in Support of Claim to add information and evidence to your claim in support of your VA disability rating. 

If you or a loved one has served on active duty during particular places and times and developed conditions from a specific list, then you may be able to collect VA disability benefits without having to prove a connection between your service and current diagnosis. This is due to what is known as a “presumptive condition”, which means that the nexus between your service and current condition is assumed, removing the necessity of proving the link with an expert medical opinion. 

Presumptive conditions largely relate to chemical exposure. A broad range of negative health outcomes can occur as a result of chemical exposure, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine an exact incident in which the exposure resulted. In such situations, being present around the known area of contamination is often sufficient to qualify for the related benefits. These changes are particularly relevant to persons who served during the Vietnam War, or at Camp Lejeune or MCAS, New River, North Carolina, as we’ll explore below. 

Legislative Updates for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

The PACT Act is broad and a full consideration is beyond what we will be able to present here as it is covered more in-depth in another article. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the presumptive conditions around Agent Orange exposure and veterans qualified to collect benefits related to it have expanded. Additional conditions have been added to the list, and additional locations have also been added concerning service. This means that service members, and family members with related conditions, are able to apply for and receive VA disability benefits when they meet the presumptive conditions included in the legislative changes instituted by the PACT Act. 

Updates Impacting Military and Military Families Who Lived at Camp Lejeune or MCAS 

You may have noticed an uptick of television commercials about service members and their families having been exposed to harmful chemicals at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River. While some of these advertisements have been launched by the kind of scams the GUARD Act is meant to protect, it does accurately report an expansion of presumptive conditions linked to these locations. 

Explore Options on Your Appeal with a VA Benefits Lawyer

If your initial application has been rejected or if your condition has changed or you have developed new conditions, then an experienced VA disability lawyer can step in on your behalf to help with your denied claim. For your appeal, we provide a cost-free, risk-free assessment of your case prior to getting started. If your case is a fit with our firm and we take it, we only get paid if we win.
Keeping pace with legislation that may impact your VA disability benefits can be additional research and news gathering that you do not have the time for. If you have a VA disability claim that was denied in the past, don’t hesitate to connect with our VA disability law firm for assistance.

We are Here to Help

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