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In 2002, the VA reorganized and streamlined its processes in an effort to deal with the increasing volume and complexity of disability claims, according to Thomas Pamperin, assistant director for policy of the compensation and pension service of the VA. There are six work groups in each VA regional office that each handle a different aspect of disability claims, including the initial processing of claims; making an initial determination of the disability; assigning a disability rating; processing ratings; appeals, and interaction with the public.

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Violante of the DAV claims that, in some cases, the military and VA are lowballing disability ratings. Any rating of a disability below 30 percent results in the affected service person receiving a severance package and discharge from the military with minimal disability payments and limited medical benefits. Appealing a claim rating can take years and requires a lot of time and effort on the part of the disabled veteran, in terms of attending hearings and keeping track of paperwork.

"Five years isn't unheard of," Violante says.

In reply, Pamperin says that many service members count the time from when they filed for disability, while the VA counts from when an appeal was filed. He notes that the VA is working toward improving its current average of approximately 622 days to resolve appeals.

He advises veterans to seek assistance from national service organizations such as the DAV, the state VA office or a local county veterans services office.

"The disability claims process is one with many legal requirements," Pamperin says. "Working with a representative, claimants can better understand the rules, what conditions can be compensated and which cannot, set reasonable expectations both as to the time required to decide the claim and the potential outcome of the process that is most likely to occur."

Appeal resources include:

Civilian employer responsibilities
Many civilian employers may be unfamiliar with federal and state regulations designed to prevent discrimination against disabled reservists and veterans who can work, leading to potential problems and, in the worse case, lawsuits. Hartwig's report notes that state worker's compensation benefits, state programs called second injury funds or the VA will in most cases cover veterans whose previous service-related injuries are aggravated by workplace injuries.

Employers must be aware of and comply with laws related to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Basically, employers can't discriminate against applicants with handicaps or disabilities and they must make reasonable accommodations for either returning reservists with service injuries or new employees with such injuries or disabilities. For more information on ADA provisions for both employers and employees, go to www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada.

One in four homeless adults in this country is a veteran. For more information, see "How to help a homeless vet."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: July 19, 2006
 
 
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