I received a letter recently from a client expressing his gratitude for helping him finally win service-connection VA disability benefits. He had been trying for 56 years to obtain benefits. Just several weeks ago I helped a veteran win past due benefits of almost $400,000. He had been fighting VA for 23 years. These are some of the rewards of being a veterans disability benefits lawyer.
Sadly, the tragedy of veterans fighting VA for decades is all too common. In my many years of practicing law as a veterans disability lawyer, I have discovered that lengthy appeals and repeated denials can be avoided with proper strategic planning in the beginning. This article discusses some basic strategies for winning VA disability claims.
Strategy One: Proper Research. It is most important that a veteran understand the basic elements he must prove. For service connection, he must be able to establish (1) an in-service event or occurrence; (2) a present disability; and (3) a link between his present disability and the event in military service.
A proper strategy involves ensuring there is credible and competent evidence to meet each one of the three elements. Keep in mind that to prove an in-service event, the VA will weigh heavily the service medical records or personnel records. Too, when trying to show a link to service, the VA will generally not accept your own opinion on the issue unless you have medical training.
Strategy Two: Evidence Analysis. Once a veteran familiarizes himself with the basic elements of proof, he must take steps to acquire and review all of the existing evidence. To analyze what evidence is needed, the veteran needs to obtain a copy of his claims file, a copy of all private medical records and, if relevant, Social Security records. By doing so, the veteran will be able to determine what elements of his case need work. In most cases, the linking evidence is missing. This is also the most difficult evidence for a veteran to obtain who is not represented by counsel.
Strategy Three: Evidence Acquisition. Once the veteran determines what’s missing, he must acquire–to the extent possible–any missing evidence. By way of example, if a veteran’s service medical records show an injury to his low back, and the current medical records show a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, then the veteran should recognize that to win his claim he needs a medical opinion from a doctor indicating that his current degenerative disc disease was caused by the injury in service.
Strategy Four: Follow Up. Once you make your initial submission of evidence and argument, the VA will often continue to deny the claim. Sometimes the VA will send you for unwanted and unnecessary VA examinations. It is important that you obtain copies of any additional VA exam reports and have your doctor provide a rebuttal. The principle I promote is that the veteran should always have the last word. Further, keep appealing. If VA continues to deny the claim, which it will try to do, then keep appealing. It is often through the continuation of the appeal process that victory is often achieved.