Veterans assume that once they’ve been approved for monthly disability payments, their work with Veterans Affairs (VA) is finished. In reality, there are scenarios in which the VA can reduce a veteran’s compensation. If you’ve been notified of a benefits reduction, you’re probably worried about what happens next. Generally, the VA issues the veteran a proposed reduction letter, before a possible Rating Decision reducing benefits, explaining why they believe the veteran should be reduced and to what rating or percent. In any case, it’s critical to read through any proposed reduction, or decision reducing benefits, for your appeal rights.
Disability Law Group is here to help. We know how critical your monthly payments are, and we understand the fear and frustration you may be feeling if faced with a reduction in benefits. We’ll review the circumstances surrounding your proposed benefits reduction, let you know your legal options, and fight to reverse the VA’s decision.
Reasons The VA May Try To Reduce Your Benefits
There are many scenarios that could result in reduced VA benefits. First, it’s important to remember that veterans with service-connected disabilities are assigned a disability rating between 0% and 100%. The rating you are assigned will affect your compensation. Therefore, a reduction in that rating could result in lowered monthly payments.
For most veterans, a reduction in their disability rating (and, therefore, monthly payments) will involve one of the following elements:
- Unprotected ratings
- Protected ratings
We’ll describe each one of these in detail below.
How Incarceration Can Affect Your VA Benefits
If you are incarcerated in any federal, state, or county jail or prison for more than 60 days, the VA can reduce your benefits. If you had a service-connected disability rating of at least 20%, the VA can lower your benefits to 10%. On the other hand, if your rating is 10%, the amount will be reduced by one-half. These are the current percentages as allowed by law, and they could change in the future.
In the event your benefits are reduced due to jail or prison time, you’ll need to speak with an attorney to see what options you have. While every case is different, you will want to ensure your benefits are protected under the law. However, once you are released from incarceration, you may be able to have your benefits reinstated.
Unprotected Ratings And What They Mean For You
An “unprotected rating” is a rating that is less than 100% or one that has been in place for less than five years. The VA can reduce an unprotected rating, but there are rules it has to follow.
First, to reduce an unprotected rating, there must be an improvement in the veteran’s condition. That means something more than simply a temporary change in the veteran’s symptoms. The reduction has to take into account the veteran’s work and medical history, along with the veteran’s ability to function under the ordinary conditions of life and work. However, the way in which this criteria is applied by the VA may seem subjective and unfair.
Second, the VA has to send notice to the veteran of its intent to reduce benefits. A pre-reduction examination must be scheduled, along with a hearing in which the veteran can submit evidence against the proposed reduction. It is strongly advised that you consult with an experienced VA attorney for these critical steps.
Rules For Protected Ratings
Some disability ratings – those considered “protected” – have special restrictions on the VA’s ability to reduce them. There are three main types of protected ratings:
Stabilized ratings. A stabilized rating happens when the disability, and the rating assigned to it, continue for five or more years at the same level. Compensation for this rating may not be reduced unless all of the evidence in the VA’s possession shows there has been a “sustained improvement” in the veteran’s disability. The VA is obligated to review the veteran’s entire medical and employment records, including those pertaining to post-service treatments, before making this decision.
100% disability ratings. For the VA to reduce a 100% disability rating, and thereby lower your compensation, it is required to show a “material improvement” in the veteran’s condition. That means both a material improvement in the disability and a change in the veteran’s ability to function under the conditions of life. Before making this determination, the VA must schedule an examination and compare the results thereof to the one that led to the original 100% disability rating.
The VA sometimes lowers a 100% disability rating because it claims, after a re-examination, that the veteran’s current symptoms match a lower impairment level. However, this is invalid as a matter of law and the veteran should immediately challenge a reduction in this circumstance.
Continuous ratings. These are ratings in which the veteran has received benefits at or above a certain percentage for at least 20 years. The VA may not legally reduce this rating unless it can show that it was the result of fraud.
How To Fight Reduced VA Benefits
Veterans typically receive a letter that notifies them of a proposed reduction and sets a date for a re-examination. Don’t miss this date. If you miss the re-examination, the VA can reduce your rating with no further action.
You have the right to request a hearing within 30 days of receiving your notice. If you make a request for a hearing on time, the reduction will not take place (if at all) until after the hearing. Requesting a hearing may, therefore, delay a decision in your case and allow you the necessary time to gather evidence to oppose a reduction.
Even if you do not win your case, you can receive an additional two months of benefits at your current level because the reduction will not go into effect until at least 60 days after the final decision has been sent to you.
Let Disability Law Group Help with Reduced VA Benefits
As with any other matter, the VA can and does make the wrong call. The most important step you can take is to retain the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Disability Law Group. Our team will work with you on gathering the evidence necessary to fight your rating reduction. But don’t wait to respond, since proposed reductions are best tackled in the early stages. Call us today to find out what we can do for you.