Experienced Washington veterans’ benefits lawyer Christopher Lyons offers assistance to veterans seeking Washington VA benefits
I handle Washington veterans’ disability claims and claims of veterans across the United States. I am a Department of Veterans Affairs accredited attorney, which means I may prepare, present and prosecute claims for veterans’ benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Veterans Affairs is often referred to as the VA. I am also admitted to practice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
I am a member of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Bar Association and the National Organization of Veterans Advocates. I have also done work for the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium. I have litigated cases in the state of Washington’s Superior Courts as well as Washington’s Court of Appeals, Federal District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. I have also served as a pro tem judge and court commissioner.
I also practice Social Security disability law; and I am a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), an association of almost 4,000 attorneys and paralegals who represent Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income claimants.
Do I need a Washington veterans’ disability attorney?
Attorney representation in a veteran’s disability case can be very helpful. Veterans’ disability law is a dynamic area of the law. The body of law is growing and it changes quite often. Most of the legal precedents are developed by the U.S. Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in their written opinions. Thus, it is helpful to have a veterans’ disability attorney on board who can navigate the case law.
In addition, an attorney who deals in other areas of disability law such as Social Security disability can be helpful. I handle Social Security disability cases in addition to veterans’ disability cases. I find that these two areas of law compliment each other and my experience in Social Security disability cases is helpful in veterans’ disability cases. In addition, many of my Washington veteran clients can qualify for Social Security disability and don’t even know it. I also find that many of my Washington Social Security disability clients have VA ratings that can be increased to their benefit.
Many Washington veterans apply for benefits, are rated or denied, and then give up. It is important to utilize the many levels of appeals in veterans’ law as well as the ability to sometimes re-open or revise claims.
Washington veterans’ disability compensation benefits
Washington veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service may receive disability compensation benefits. Such Washington VA disability benefits are paid monthly.
You must be found to be at least 10% disabled as a result of your military service to be eligible for monthly compensation from the VA. The amount of veterans’ disability benefits a Washington veteran is paid depends on the percentage of his or her disability and the number of a veteran’s dependents. For example, a Washington veteran that is found 80% disabled receives more money than a Washington veteran that is found 30% disabled.
What is required to get Washington VA disability compensation?
In most cases, you will have to persuade the VA of the following three things to establish entitlement to service-connected benefits:
- You currently have a medically diagnosed physical or mental disability.
- Something happened to you while in the service or shortly after discharge. This could mean that you contracted a disease, suffered an injury, etc. In addition, it may be that you had a condition prior to service that was aggravated during service.
- There is a nexus between your disability and what happened to you in service. The event(s) in service may be the direct cause of your disability or your disability may be created or aggravated by a service-connected condition.
In addition, your service must have been terminated through separation or discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.
If you have certain severe disabilities you may be eligible for additional special monthly compensation. The benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax.
Some conditions are presumptively “service-connected.” This means that, if they appear within a certain period of time after service (called the presumptive period), the VA will assume that the disease is service connected. As long as a veteran can show that the disease was severe enough within that period, he or she may get the service-connected presumption.
Presumptive periods vary. They range from one year to any time after service. There are many chronic diseases that are presumptively service connected, such as arthritis, psychoses, and leukemia. In addition, specific ailments are presumptively service connected for veterans who: were exposed to radiation, served in the tropics, were prisoners of war, are veterans of the Persian Gulf War or were exposed to Agent Orange (certain Vietnam veterans).
Presumption of good health
Under federal law, a veteran is presumed to have been in good health when he or she entered the service unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. This presumption is important when the VA denies a claim on the grounds that the veteran’s claimed condition existed prior to service. This presumption applies unless the VA can show by clear and convincing evidence that the condition pre-existed service.
In addition, federal law provides that if a veteran is treated in the service for a condition that pre-existed service, the condition will be presumed to have been aggravated by service in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
The VA has a duty to assist and notify Washington veterans of what is necessary to substantiate their Washington VA disability claims
The VA’s duty to assist and to notify veterans was strengthened by the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000. This remains one of the most litigated areas of veterans’ disability law. Pursuant to this law, the VA has a duty to notify the veterans of what is necessary to substantiate his or her claim and to assist the veteran by obtaining important records.
Veterans’ pension benefits
Wartime veterans may receive a monthly pension if they have limited or no income, and are age 65 or older, or, if under 65, are permanently and totally disabled. Unlike the veterans’ disability compensation benefits discussed above, for the pension, the disability does not have to be service-related. The pension is needs-based and the veteran must have limited income. These pension benefits are available to those who served during a period of war.
Process of applying for Washington VA disability benefits
You can apply for VA disability benefits by filling out the form “VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension” at your regional Washington VA office. You can also apply online through the VA’s website at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp.
After submitting your application, you will then get what is called a Ratings Decision. The Ratings Decision includes what the VA has determined to be the percentage of your disability. If the Rating Decision finds you to be 50% disabled, for example, you will receive benefits from the VA based on this 50% rating. Your disability rating will be based on the VA’s guidelines dictating what your disability percentage is as a result of your injuries.
Notice of Disagreement
If you do not believe the VA has rated your injuries correctly, you can appeal by filing a Notice of Disagreement at the regional office that made the decision within one year of the decision. This is the first step in the appeal process.
After the VA receives the Notice of Disagreement, the VA may ask you if you would like a re-review of the case by a Decision Review Officer. A Decision Review Officer is a mediator assigned to review your case, and he or she can make a finding to modify or even reverse a VA decision with regards to your rating. It is your choice whether you want your case reviewed. You don’t lose your right to appeal as a result of the review as you are able to appeal any decision made by the Decision Review Officer. The only downside of the review is that if you are not successful then you have added some time to the overall VA decision process.
If the VA does not offer you a review of the case, you will receive a Statement of the Case from the VA, which is a decision that describes what facts, laws and regulations were used in deciding the case and a discussion of any evidence submitted after the Rating Decision. If additional evidence becomes available (from either you or the VA) after the Statement of the Case has been issued, a Supplemental Statement of the Case is required. The most significant aspect of the Statement of the Case is that it triggers the tolling of time for when a formal appeal must be filed by you. You have to file a formal appeal 60 days from the date of the Statement of the Case, or one year from the date of the original Rating Decision.
You have the right to a hearing before the hearing officer, at which time new evidence may be submitted and must be considered. It can often take up to a year or more for the VA to issue the Statement of the Case.
Board of Veterans Appeals
If you disagree with the decision in the Statement of the Case, you can appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or BVA, at your regional Washington VA office. You must appeal by filing a VA Form 9 within 60 days from the date of your Statement of the Case or one year from the date of your Rating Decision, whichever period is later. This is where you have the opportunity to request a hearing before the BVA. You may present your case in person to a member of the BVA at a hearing in Washington, D.C., at your regional Washington State VA office, or by videoconference.
At the BVA hearing you may be represented by an attorney, veteran service officer, or you can appear alone. Witnesses may testify and you may submit additional documents, including affidavits. However, the BVA may only consider this additional evidence if you waive review by your regional office. Otherwise, when you submit additional information, the case must be returned to your regional Washington State VA office. Your regional Washington VA office will then issue a Supplemental Statement of the Case, re-adjudicating the claim based on the new evidence.
It can take the BVA as long as two to three years to issue a decision. In its decision, the BVA can do a few things. It can deny your claim, remand your claim back to your regional office for a new decision, or grant your claim in whole or in part. If your claim is successful, your case has to be sent back to your regional office for calculation and payment of your disability benefits.
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
If you are unhappy with the BVA decision, you can file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims or CAVC. I am admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. CAVC is an independent court in Washington, D.C. that is not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. You have 120 days from the date of the BVA decision to file an appeal.
In this appeal, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is the appellee and is represented by the Office of the General Counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Briefs must be submitted by you as the appellant and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as the appellee. The CAVC may affirm, remand or reverse the BVA decision.
Either party may appeal a decision of the CAVC to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and may seek review in the Supreme Court of the United States. This is your last opportunity to appeal.
When can I hire a Washington veteran’s disability lawyer to help with my VA disability claim?
New legislation was adopted in 2007 that allows a veteran to hire an attorney to represent him or her in a veteran disability claim in front of the VA. Prior to this legislation, attorneys were prohibited from charging a fee to represent veterans at the administrative level. This new legislation gives veterans the same benefit of legal representation that Social Security disability claimants have had for years.
Pursuant to the 2007 legislation, if you filed your Notice of Disagreement before June 20, 2007, you can hire a lawyer to help with your VA disability claim after the BVA’s first decision in your case so long as you hire the lawyer within one year of the decision. If you file your Notice of Disagreement after June 20, 2007, you can hire an attorney anytime after filing your Notice of Disagreement.
What are the attorney fees?
Generally, the usual fee, following the regulatory scheme, is 20% of your back benefits if you win your VA disability claim. Thus, this is a contingency fee basis. You do not pay attorney fees unless you win and such fees would be automatically withheld from any retroactive award. No fees come out of future benefits.
You will be expected to reimburse Truitt & Lyons for any costs advances, such as the expense of gathering medical records, obtaining medical opinion letters, and the like.
I am available to answer any fee questions you have.
Assistance from an experienced Washington disability lawyer
I handle claims for disabled veterans in the state of Washington and throughout the United States. I am more than happy to evaluate your VA disability claim without charge or obligation.
If you want my help with your veteran’s disability claim, you may contact me at:
Truitt & Lyons, Attorneys at Law
Christopher Lyons, Esq.
Washington disability lawyer
Representing Washington State Social Security disability claimants and veterans with disability benefits claims throughout Western Washington.