News

The VA giveth, and the VA taketh away

By Jeremy Wolfsteller
The Minnesota Legionnaire

Have you ever received that daunting letter in the mail from the VA that states they are proposing to reduce your disability rating?

What a slap in the face, right?

After many years of receiving VA compensation it has become a critical part of your monthly budget, and now it is being threatened to be taken away.

Jeremy Wolfsteller

The VA, as a federal agency, is held accountable by the Office of Management and Budget, which overseas performance of federal agencies and has an obligation to ensure U.S taxpayer’s dollars are being spent responsibly. OMB’s focuses on critical areas like, budget development and execution, financial management and human capital.

While the Veterans Administration has one of the largest budgets within the federal government, requesting $243 billion in FY21, OMB focuses heavily on the agency spending.

VA estimates that there are around 5.7 million veterans and survivors receiving disability compensation, with a payout per year around $97 billion. In FY19 the VA paid out approximately $1.3 billion to Minnesota veterans and survivors alone.

When it comes to VA ensuring they’re not paying out disability pay when there’s no longer an existing condition or a correct percentage, the issue veterans and stakeholders like The American Legion have is that a fair amount of the time the veteran’s condition has remained the same or in some instances the condition has gotten worse.

So, it makes you wonder: Are there VA employees across the country assigned with this reduction mission? Do they randomly pick and choose certain claim files reviewing for a few minutes and then sending these letters out when they see one medical note that is positive?

Regardless of how or why VA is sending these proposed reduction letters out, I want to share with you the options you have in case this happens to you.

First, there are some rating protections that can help you. If your rating has been in effect for five years or more, it is considered “stabilized.”

In short, VA cannot reduce based on one exam finding when the health records indicate otherwise.

At 10 years, a veteran rated condition cannot be severed but can be reduced.

Next is when the veteran has 20 years of a continuous rating. Example is a veteran has a 50 percent rating for a back condition for 20 years, the VA cannot reduce below that rating. The only exception would be if there was fraud.

Once VA issues the proposed reduction to your disability the veteran has 60 days to submit evidence to show the disability has not gotten better and 30 days to request an informal hearing.

This is especially important, by requesting a hearing that can take VA months to conduct, it can buy the veteran more time to gather medical evidence necessary to use against the proposed reduction during the hearing. If a veteran fails to submit evidence or request a hearing within those timeframes, VA will issue the final decision and it will take effect another 60 days from the final decision.

Some other key rules the VA has to apply when trying to reduce a rating that may assist veterans is that a reduction cannot be based only on whether the condition has improved but the ability to function under ordinary conditions of life and work has improved.

Also, VA must base the reduction on a full review of the veteran’s medical history, not just one compensation and pension exam.

As always, never go into this alone. There are County Veteran Service Officers in all 87 MN counties ready to assist, along with The American Legion Claims Office if you choose us as your VA Power of Attorney Representative.

Jeremy Wolfsteller is the Department of Minnesota service officer. His email is jwolfsteller@mnlegion.org.

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