If you’re a veteran currently receiving VA disability benefits, you understand that getting your claim approved wasn’t easy. Often, there’s a serious appealed claims backlog (right now it’s a little over 50,000 claims). But if your medical condition worsens over time (as many do), you may be entitled to a monthly benefits increase. No one at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is going to automatically give you a raise, though. The only way to accomplish that is to get a higher VA disability rating for your medical condition.
Fortunately, getting your VA disability rating changed is simpler than applying for benefits the first time or filing an appeal. To get your own VA disability rating increased to secure more benefits, just follow the steps we’ve outlined below.
Step 1: Determine What Type of Reconsideration Request You Need to Submit
Before you take any necessary steps to increase your VA disability rating, consider when you initially had your claim approved. If it’s been less than a year, you’ll actually need to file an appeal with the VA instead of a reconsideration requests. (Not sure how to file your appeal with the VA? We’ll walk you through the appeals process and tell you whether you qualify for legal assistance before you file.) If it’s been more than a year, you must file a request for reconsideration with the VA. Luckily, the reconsideration process is much simpler than appealing a previously approved disability claim.
Step 2: Gather Medical Evidence Needed to Support Your Higher VA Disability Rating
Proving your condition’s worse is the most important thing you can do to boost your VA disability rating. Remember, it’s not enough for you to just feel worse. The VA needs documented proof supporting your request in order to assign you a higher disability rating. If you’re primarily treated by a private physician instead of the VA’s doctors, your request must also include Form 21-4142. This form authorizes your private physician to speak with the VA on your behalf about any changes in your condition. This form also allows your doctor to release your medical records to the VA for further examination.
Of course, if the VA’s physicians currently treat you, then this process is much easier. Just include the name and address of your current VA Medical Center (or other military facility) when submitting your request. They should have all medical records needed to prove that your condition now merits a higher VA disability rating.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to submit proper medical evidence to the VA supporting your reconsideration request. All your medical evidence should be straightforward, material, relevant, competent and credible. You should present it so the VA can readily assess your condition and how it affects you every day. Your doctor is the best person to effectively relay this information. However, you can always check with the VA to ensure they have all medical paperwork needed for your reconsideration request.
Step 3: Complete and Submit a Veteran’s Supplemental Claim for Compensation Form to Request a Higher VA Disability Rating
This form (also known as Form 526ez) allows all disabled veterans to request a compensation increase from the VA. Describe your increased disability, a new disability (must be service-connected), or secondary disability you want them to add to your original claim. You may also request the VA re-open a previously denied claim, if applicable. This form also allows you to include a written letter explaining why you should receive a higher VA disability rating.
Step 4: Weigh Any Possible Risks Before Contacting the VA
Before you take steps to boost your VA disability rating, remember that any reconsideration request comes with its own risks. Any time the VA receives an appeal or reconsideration request, they review your entire benefits claim all over again. It’s possible their analysis will result in a lower VA disability rating for your medical condition instead. Changes to your disability status or financial circumstances could affect the VA’s decision. If the VA discovers any technical errors while reviewing your claim during reconsideration, they could reduce your benefits.
Before you do anything else, weigh the pros and cons of requesting a higher VA disability rating. Medical evidence must clearly support your ratings change request and prove that your condition’s worsened since your initial claim’s approval. Make sure you have all proper documentation (including a doctor’s opinion) supporting your higher VA disability rating request.
Step 5: Get Professional Legal Help Filing Your Paperwork (Optional)
Not everyone needs professional legal assistance to successfully boost their VA disability rating and increase their monthly benefits. But for many disabled veterans, it can massively improve your odds — just ask the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. According to the 2015 chairman’s report, vets with legal representation had the lowest denial rates (just 10.1%). Our network of VA-accredited attorneys can help you, regardless if which state you live in. These legal professionals fully understand the ins and outs of the VA claims reconsideration process. They may be able to help you decide whether or not your medical condition justifies an increased VA disability rating.
Keep in mind the VA will insist you don’t need an attorney to file your request for reconsideration or appeal. However, the denial rates listed in the chairman’s report say otherwise, at least statistically. If you worry about dependents counting on your disability benefits or need to file an appeal, speak to an attorney. A lawyer gives you the best possible chance for a higher VA disability rating, increased benefits and avoiding technical errors.
Step 6: Appeal Your Denial, If Necessary
If the VA denies your reconsideration request for a disability rating increase, you have the right to appeal their decision. You may also appeal if the VA decreased your benefits after completing your reconsideration request. Because the appeals process is longer and more complicated than reconsideration, we recommend getting a legal consultation before you proceed.
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.