Colusa Veterans Corner – March 2016

Read your VA letters carefully

Veterans receive a wide variety of correspondence from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for benefits such as disability compensation, pension, health care and education. It’s important to read these letters carefully, even though a large portion of these letters contain standard form-letter information required by federal law.

For example, a decision letter for a VA service-connected disability claim will state whether or not you’re being paid as a single veteran or as one with dependents. If you have a combined rating of 30% or more, you’re entitled to additional compensation for each qualified dependent. In the past two years I have come across quite a few veterans not receiving proper compensation for their dependents.  With supporting documents, such as your marriage or birth certificates for dependent children I can submit the proper forms to the VA for you to get all of your benefit. Sometimes the letter will say something like  “ we are not able to  pay for certain dependents because you did not provide all necessary information”, they may be over 18  and they will ask you to submit the missing data such as needing proof they are still attending high school or enrolled in college.

Veterans rated at 30% or more who receive an additional monetary amount for dependents will also be sent a form every so often, asking them to verify their dependents status. If you do not return the completed form, the VA will propose a reduction in your compensation to recoup dependent-rate compensation back to the date they last had dependent verification. The VA sends out these letters because veterans often forget to report a divorce or death of a spouse, for example. If you forget to report a divorce until years later, you will owe the extra payments to the VA, who will recoup the amount by reducing your compensation over a period of time. Every VA decision letter reminds every veteran that if there is any change in your dependent status it must be reported to the VA immediately.

A decision letter will also explain why the VA assigned a certain percentage for a disability and what medical evidence is needed in order to receive a higher rating. Veterans often open a claim for an increase without checking the criteria and evidence needed for a higher rating, running the risk of having their rating reduced if the subsequent VA Compensation and Pension exam (C&P) notes improvement. The decision letter may also state that a certain rated disability has a “likelihood of improvement” and that you’re subject to a future VA exam to assess the severity of the condition. This normally happens within a 5 year period from your last C&P exam. This means you should make sure to always keep your private or VA doctor aware of any symptoms changes related to your service connected disability.

For example, migraine headaches are rated on the number of “prostrating attacks” over the last several months. If you have a high rating, such as 50 percent, and have not been seeing a doctor to report and be treated for your severe headaches and get called for an exam, you will likely get a proposal to reduce your rating, as there would be no medical evidence to support a continuation of 50 percent rating.

The VA will also send out a form each year to veterans who are receiving compensation under Individual Unemployability (IU) award and ask them to verify they are not employed full-time in “gainful employment.” If you fail to complete and return the form, the VA will send a letter stating that you failed to return the form and they now have a proposal for a reduction of your monthly compensation. This could be a loss of anywhere from $1,163 to $1,847 for a single veteran from their monthly disability compensation and even more for a veteran with dependents if they take away your IU.

All VA letters contain a lot of information and may ask for additional information or documents related to a specific claim. Make sure to always notify the VA of any change in address or phone numbers and keep a file of all letters you receive from the VA. If you don’t understand any part of a VA letter, see an accredited County Veterans Service Officer, who can explain it to you.

Remember, the Colusa County Veteran Services office is here to serve veterans and their dependents. I can complete the DMV Veteran Status Verification Form for the new California Veteran Designation on your driver’s license. There are many state and federal benefits available to veterans and their dependents that they have earned. To find out if you are eligible for any of these benefits, visit or call our office.  I can and will assist you in completing all required forms and application.  You can get information on the Web from the Colusa County Veterans Service Office webpage at http://www.countyofcolusa.org/index.aspx?nid=180

Don Parsons retired Army is the Asst. Veterans Service Officer for Colusa County. Send your questions to the Veterans Service Office, 251 E. Webster St. Colusa, Ca 95932, email  don.parsons@colusadhhs.org   or call (530)458-0388.

 

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Don Parsons is the Assistant Veterans Service Officer for Colusa County. You can reach him at (530)458-0388 or don.parsons@colusadhhs.org. The Colusa County Veteran Services Office is located at 251 E. Webster St. in Colusa and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:30pm and 1:30 pm to 4:30 p.m.■