By Anthony “Doc” Ameen, Founder/CEO of Wings for Warriors
The process is a challenge, but there are ways to increase your odds of success
Those who have served in the U.S. military are likely familiar with the concept of a disability rating: a percentage (from 0% to 100%) applied to a veteran to describe just how disabled they are. But for the rest of the world, the concept of a disability rating may be a new thing—or maybe you’re newly injured and just beginning your disability journey—so let me break it down for you.
Your military branch’s medical board
If you are wounded in service—either while serving in the U.S. or in an active combat situation—each branch of the U.S. military has a medical board that determines your level of disability. A key determination the medical board tries to make is if your disability is so severe you can’t serve in the military anymore. If that’s the case, you become retired—a veteran.
Once you’re retired from service, you are no longer under the jurisdiction of your military branch (health-wise, anyway)—you are now served by the Veterans Health Administration, otherwise known as the VA.
The Veterans Health Administration medical board
Once you’re under the umbrella of the VA, you no longer have anyone assigned to hold your hand or wipe your butt or otherwise take care of you—that is, until you get yourself to the nearest VA facility (usually a hospital) and receive an assignment for a case manager. This is one of the first challenges disabled vets face, because sometimes VA facilities are very difficult to get to—they can be far away, you may need special transportation, and the wait times are very long.
Eventually, you get in. You meet with your case manager, who assigns you a primary care physician, who examines you and then appoints you to a new disability medical board—the VA’s—for a “rating appointment.” No matter what percentage your branch gave you, the VA can rate you differently; this can cause confusion and frustration for veterans and their family.
This rating has direct bearing on your benefits—the amount of money you receive for your injuries and/or illnesses, the amount of help you receive in finding employment outside the military, the amount of assistance your family receives, and much more.
You receive your rating. Let’s say it’s a 90% disability rating, but you feel you’re 100% disabled. Get ready for a fight. In fact, nine out of 10 veterans fight their initial VA disability rating.
Fight honorably for your benefits
You may have read stories about corrupt veterans who try to game the system, and it’s true—there are a handful of bad folks who appeal to get 100% benefits, when in reality, they could do fine with a lower rating. It’s a shame that these folks taint the rest of us, who are simply fighting for what’s fair. The system is clogged for so many, and vets who really need help are getting lost in the shuffle—we can’t let that happen.
Whenever a veteran contacts Wings for Warriors, we help them determine what’s appropriate to appeal—we don’t just automatically fight for a 100% disability rating for all of our vets. We believe in fighting honorably for benefits.
Tips for filing a successful appeal for your disability rating
One of the most powerful things a veteran can do to achieve a successful appeal is to work with your legislator. Start by Googling your zip code to pinpoint your local representative; their offices all employ a special staffer whose job it is to work with veterans. Their offices are usually open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, and they will inform the representative about your challenge.
In my experience, taking this step—getting your representative on your side, having them write a letter to boost your appeal—helps eight out of 10 vets win their disability rating appeal.
Documentation is also really important in filing a successful appeal. Keep a daily journal of everything:
- The medications you take, including dosages and times
- The symptoms you feel
- The limitations you’re facing, with details about what you are and are not able to achieve day-to-day
- The people you call and/or email regarding your healthcare and your appeal, including their names, numbers, dates, and times
- A list of all your healthcare providers with their contact information
Also, keep a carefully organized file that includes every piece of paper, medical report, scan, x-ray, etc. regarding your military service, injury, and subsequent healthcare. Having too much documentation is simply an organizational challenge; having not enough documentation can cause you to lose your appeal.
Don’t rely strictly on your civilian case manager. While you were still in service for your military branch, your active duty case manager likely had your back in every way. Unfortunately, civilian case managers are often overloaded, and not as thorough or diligent. It’s up to you to stay organized.
If you find this challenging (many of us do, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury), enlist the help of friends, family members, and organizations like Wings for Warriors.
By taking these steps, you boost the chances of winning your disability rating appeal and receiving the support you need and deserve.
Want to get involved?
Wings for Warriors offers services to veterans who are struggling to get their disability rating; we need personnel who work in the legal field who can donate services, and funds to help pay for other services. The organization also helps wounded veterans with healthcare and financial disability benefits counseling, and provides travel assistance to their families. To get involved, visit WingsforWarriors.org.