Debunking Myths About VA Disability Claims - Don't | South Portland, ME

Listen On

Debunking Myths About VA Disability Claims – Don’t Assume Your Condition is Too Mild

Atty. Kristian Terison: [00:00:00] handling the volume of cases that we do, we certainly hear our share of myths. The first one that I wanted to start with, and sadly one of the most common is the myth that you know, Somebody’s condition isn’t severe enough for disability benefits.

The myth that you know, that because they’re not missing a limb or some horrific accident happened that they don’t qualify they shouldn’t apply.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, that’s simply not true. The VA benefits system is designed to encompass every kind of medical condition or disability that exists.

And the VA comes at that in a very gradiated way. They have a schedule of benefits, and if the particular condition that you have [00:01:00] or you’re concerned about for a loved one is not on the schedule of benefits, The way the VA deals with that is they analogize to what they consider to be the closest listing in their chart.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Welcome to Victory Over VA. This is our podcast series for [00:02:00] veterans. If you’re a veteran who is dealing with the VA seeking compensation benefits, then tune in every week for the latest developments in VA disability. Today, we’re talking about various myths that have arisen about VA compensation. Now, Let’s talk for a minute about who we are and why we’re here and what this show is about.

I’m Francis Jackson. Today with me is Kristian Terrison. We’re attorneys at Jackson McNichol, where we focus exclusively on Veterans Benefits Law in the United States. We cover the entire country. So, what’s this show about? Well, it’s about veterans. It’s about helping veterans get justice on their claims for VA benefits, how to deal with the red tape, how to deal with the bureaucratic delays, how to get to the end result and [00:03:00] get the benefits that they deserve.

Who’s this show for? It’s for veterans. It’s for everybody that is a veteran. Knows a veteran, cares about a veteran, wants to help a veteran. So, with that, let’s launch into myths about VA disability.

Atty. Kristian Terison: All right. So, I mean, handling the volume of cases that we do, we certainly hear our share of myths. The first one that I wanted to start with, and sadly one of the most common is the myth that you know, Somebody’s condition isn’t severe enough for disability benefits.

The myth that you know, that because they’re not missing a limb or some horrific accident happened that they don’t qualify they shouldn’t apply.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, that’s simply not true. The VA benefits system is designed to encompass [00:04:00] every kind of medical condition or disability that exists.

And the VA comes at that in a very gradiated way. They have a schedule of benefits, and if the particular condition that you have or you’re concerned about for a loved one is not on the schedule of benefits, The way the VA deals with that is they analogize to what they consider to be the closest listing in their chart.

So, for example if you have a problem with radiculopathy in one leg, they would probably analogize to a damaged nerve, because that’s similar in their view. And they do that with any condition you can think of. They will look at the listing chart and say, [00:05:00] okay, this is not in the chart, but it’s closest to this particular condition that is in the chart, so we’ll rate it under that.

But going back to what I was saying about they have a graduated approach, VA disability ratings. can be as low as zero or as high as a hundred. And there can be pretty much any combination or permutation of those levels of disability. So, it doesn’t matter how severe a particular condition is at this point in time.

So, for example, if you are just getting out of the service and You’ve had an injury to your knee. It’s healed up pretty well and you’re not having a lot of trouble with it. The VA would service connect that condition, but they might well give you a zero percent rating. Now, fast forward 20 years, now you’re having a lot of trouble with that knee.

You go back to the VA [00:06:00] and you say, gee, you know, I’ve got this zero percent rating for my knee, but it’s gotten a lot worse. They’d look at it again and they might well rate it at 20 percent at that point in time. The point is that there is no service connected condition that is not severe enough to be considered by the VA for disability.

The question of severity only comes in when you talk about what the rating should be for a particular condition at a particular point in time. Keep in mind that many conditions, particularly as veterans age, become more severe. That’s just the nature of modern life. Even with current medicine many conditions, particularly conditions involving the back, involving joints in the ankles, knees, hips, arms, elbows, Those things just tend [00:07:00] to get worse over time.

So, it’s not a question of it not being severe enough to be considered. It’s always severe enough to be considered. The severity really only comes into play in determining the rating for the condition right now.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Are there some common I guess for lack of a better word, milder conditions or less symptomatic conditions that you see veterans overlooking but that, you know, can potentially qualify for benefits?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, two that people don’t pay enough attention to, I guess is the best way to put it, are hearing loss and tinnitus.

Tinnitus is that ringing sound that some people get in their ears. Hearing loss is obviously just exactly what it says. It’s a diminution in the ability to hear. But, for many people, if you were exposed to serious noise in the military, and think [00:08:00] about it for a second, many military activities generate a lot of noise.

Artillery firing, obviously, is obvious, being on the firing range, even with small arms. But, working around heavy machinery all kinds of activities within the military generate loud noise. It’s particularly true of folks who work around aircraft in the Air Force or in the Army Air Force.

There are lots of different activities that generate loud noise. For many people, when they leave that environment and get into civilian life, they don’t recognize the level of damage to their hearing because most settings in civilian life are relatively quiet. The sounds are directed toward you in terms of speech primarily.

And there’s not a lot of confusing background noise that makes it [00:09:00] harder to understand and in turn to recognize that you’re having a problem understanding. So for lots of folks, it simply doesn’t become obvious to them for often a number of years that they have sustained hearing damage. And the VA as with every condition, rates hearing damage on a 0 to 100 scale.

So, with particular kinds of hearing loss, the VA may determine that you get a 0 percent rating. It’s not severe enough that they would award even 10%. But, if you establish that hearing loss is service connected. Even a 0% as life goes on and time goes on and the hearing gets worse, as it often does over time, then the VA will adjust the level of the rating, the percentage rating [00:10:00] to the current level of disability and hearing loss can be as low as 0% for your entire life, or it can progress to the point that some people are rated at 50, 70, even 90 percent for hearing loss because it is so severe.

So, hearing loss is one that often gets overlooked early on. Tinnitus is a little different. The VA has recently changed their approach to rating tinnitus to kind of tie it to hearing loss. But tinnitus is never rated at more than 10%.

So, it’s again a condition that sometimes gets overlooked. There are obviously many others, but those are a couple of the most common.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I wanted to ask you about one condition in particular that I often see veterans forget about and that’s diabetes, because it is so prevalent and widespread.

A lot of people don’t think about it as, service connected or potentially service connected.[00:11:00] In particular, secondary service connection in a number of cases and the ratings for diabetes, if you’re taking medication to manage it, things like that you know, it may be part of daily life for a veteran but merits a disability rating in terms of the VA.

Atty. Francis Jackson: It certainly does. And as you say, many veterans as they get older develop a variety of conditions. But a couple of the most common for folks of my generation who are the Vietnam War era a lot of those folks have diabetes and hypertension. Those are both conditions that, sort of creep up on people and often are not recognized as conditions that are service connected and should be claimed as service connected and awarded the appropriate level of benefits.

As you were saying, with diabetes, it tends to have a gradual onset so that people kind of, [00:12:00] yeah, I start having these symptoms but those symptoms often get progressively worse over time. So, It’s important to get the service connection as early as possible. And then as the symptoms worsen, if they do, go back to the VA and ask the VA to change the rating to reflect the current level of severity in each case.

And it’s the same with hypertension. Many Vietnam veterans in particular suffer from hypertension. That’s also true of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Vietnam folks in particular have a very high rate of hypertension. And again, it tends to be one of those conditions that starts out very gradually and people kind of don’t notice and eventually it gets to the point that the doctor says, gee, you know, you might want to think about some medication for this, it’s creeping up.

But again, it’s a condition that often is tied to service and merits [00:13:00] a disability rating and again should be looked at as part of the overall service connection package because what the VA does is they have what they call a combined ratings chart. So, they take every service connected condition that a veteran has been shown to have.

And they aggregate those in a combined rating. And it’s not it’s not additive. So, for example, if you have a 30 percent rating, another 30 percent rating, and three 10 percent ratings, it doesn’t add up to 90%. The VA combines the rating for the conditions into an overall rating and they do it based on this theory.

If you have a rating for 30%, the VA’s theory is that means, based on their analysis, that you have lost [00:14:00] 30 percent of your earning capacity. But if you have another 10 percent rating on top of that, they don’t view that as 40%. They view that as you’ve now lost 10 percent of the remaining 70 percent or 7 percent rather than 10.

And it continues on up through the chart as you add conditions and combine them. But it’s a, process that really requires a veteran to make sure that in order to get justice on their claims, they have to demonstrate every service connected condition that they have and make sure that each of those conditions is rated at the current level of severity.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And if you actually you know, have questions about VA math combined disability rating we have a number of blog posts and even a a combined rating calculator on our website.[00:15:00] If you want to check that out we’ll put the URL up on the screen for you.

Atty. Francis Jackson: But in the in the short version, it’s veteransbenefits. com.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Yeah, and you can use Google search the site, poke around This is a perennial topic. A lot of the veterans I work with, they call it VA math. Two plus two does not equal four, as Jack was explaining. But can you give some examples, I guess, From your experience in your own caseload, where a minor condition, something seemingly you know, a zero percent, a ten percent condition you know, made the difference to a successful disability claim and I guess the factors that went into that?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Sure. I mean, this, happens all the time and, What happens is that as a veteran approaches higher levels of disability, 70, 90 percent, the additional claims have less and less impact. [00:16:00] So, if you’re at 70 percent and you get a 10 percent rating for something, That may well not change your rating. You may still be at 70%. But the importance is that as you aggregate these claims, the combined rating table does acknowledge that the ratings are increasing.

The VA only adjusts the ratings in 10 percent increments. So… Okay, if you’re at 70% and you get a 10% rating, which would be 3% of the remaining 30%, because it’s 10% of that 30%, it works out to 3%. That only takes you to 73%. They won’t adjust a 70% rating to 80% because you haven’t you’ve only gone up 3%.

But as you aggregate those, say you’re at 70 [00:17:00] percent and you get three 10 percent ratings. It doesn’t take you to 100, but it will take you to 80%. So, in each incremental addition of a condition or an increased rating, it pushes the ultimate rating up. And obviously the goal in in our practice representing veterans is always to get the veteran to the highest possible rating.

Usually, we’re hoping to get people to being paid at the 100 percent rate. There are a couple of ways to get to that, but if you’re just doing it based on the combined ratings table, it’s actually quite difficult. Usually, a number of conditions have to be proven to be service connected and aggregated in order to get to a combined 100 percent rating, but it can be done, and each condition that’s rated at 10 percent or more does contribute.

Atty. Kristian Terison: I had one case where a relatively mild [00:18:00] hypertension, which was service connected, had a number of secondary service connected conditions. So the hypertension was there and it had led to other complicating factors, cardiovascular problems, circulatory problems, that merited very high ratings.

And but for the service connection for the hypertension you know, these other severe conditions couldn’t have been service connected. So that can also be a big reason for looking at seemingly mild conditions for service connection.

Atty. Francis Jackson: That is true. And the VA, in the way they look at ratings often can be Persuaded to look at secondary conditions and to rate those as part of the underlying condition.

For example it’s not at all uncommon to see folks with back problems who also have radiculopathy in each leg. And, you know, they may only get a 20 percent rating for the back, but [00:19:00] they may well get a 20 percent rating for each leg as well, plus consideration of the bilateral factor, and end up with a rating of 50 or 60 percent.

So, it’s important to understand how critical it is to put each condition into the proper perspective with the VA and get every condition rated at the highest level that is reflective of the current level of disability.

Atty. Kristian Terison: We’re coming up on time for today but what would your advice be to veterans who, you know, think their condition’s too mild, not severe enough to apply and what steps can they take to, you know, explore potential benefits for their condition?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Sure. Well, there are lots of possibilities. My advice is if you have a condition. Even if you think it’s a mild condition, but you believe that it’s service connected and you can [00:20:00] explain to the VA how it is service connected, then I advise everybody to put in the claim. The worst thing that’s going to happen is the claim’s going to be denied.

Even though, You, you can’t possibly be worse off than you are without having put it in. So, I advise people to put in the claim. And then look to see what the VA does with it. If the VA rates it as service connected but 0% if you think it’s more severe than that, you can appeal that rating. If you’re content that, in fact the symptoms are not particularly severe at this point in time, then accept the 0%, and if the condition gets worse, go back and demonstrate that it’s become worse for a higher rating.

But whatever you don’t just ignore it. If you are a veteran, you deserve veterans benefits. That’s why they exist. Because you served and you’re entitled to those benefits. [00:21:00] So, what we suggest to everybody is, if you have a condition that you believe is service connected, submit it. If you need help with an initial claim, there are lots of folks around.

The VA will provide you with help. There are a number of service organizations that are happy to talk with you about an initial claim. And go ahead, explore that, submit it. And the worst that will happen is the claim is denied. If you think the claim was improperly or unjustly denied, there are many ways you can appeal now.

There’s higher level review, there’s supplemental claims, there’s appeal to the board. There’s lots of options for further exploring the claim if it gets turned down, but the place to start is submit the claim.

Atty. Kristian Terison: All right. Well, thanks very much, Jack. This has been another episode of Victory Over the VA, Jackson McNichols podcast on [00:22:00] all things veterans disability benefits.

You know, please subscribe and be sure to tune in next time.

Atty. Francis Jackson: And tell your friends.

Many veterans incorrectly assume their condition is too mild to warrant VA disability benefits. This leads them to miss out on the compensation they deserve. On this week’s episode of Victory Over VA, attorneys Francis Jackson and Kristian Terison debunk common myths about VA disability claims.

They explain why severity determines your rating level, not your eligibility. Just because you aren’t missing a limb doesn’t mean you don’t qualify. They provide examples of seemingly minor conditions like tinnitus, hearing loss, and diabetes that led to successful claims. The key is linking your current condition to an in-service event or injury.

Even if your condition appears mild now, file a claim and appeal if denied. As you age, minor conditions often worsen over time. Don’t leave money on the table that can provide future security. Tune in to Victory Over VA now to understand your options and get the benefits you’ve earned!

Other subjects we covered on the show:

  • The VA’s got you covered – even if your condition isn’t listed, they’ll compare it to a similar one that is!
  • Disability ratings are on a sliding scale – from 0 to 100%. A little problem now could turn into a big payout later.
  • Hearing loss & ringing ears slipped under your radar? Don’t worry, the VA’s got you on that too.
  • Creeping blood pressure and diabetes are sneaky – claim them early!
  • VA math is funky but can work for you – multiple conditions get you bigger benefits, you can initially check it out on
  • Got secondary conditions from the primary? The VA wants to know!
  • File even little things now to get your foot in the VA’s door. You can always appeal for more later!

AND MORE TOPICS COVERED IN THE FULL INTERVIEW!!! You can check that out and subscribe to YouTube.

If you want to know more about Attorneys Francis Jackson and Kristian Terison, you may reach out to them at:

Need Legal Assistance?

See How Our Attorneys At Jackson & MacNichol Can Help You

Social Security

Social Security Disability Insurance payments are available to wage earners who have become disabled. Supplemental Security Income payments are available to those with limited income who are disabled.

We represent SSD cases in Maine, Boston, and the whole of New England.

Veterans Disability

As a proud member of the National Association of Veterans' Advocates (NOVA), we offer representation at all stages of the benefits claim process.

We represent Veterans in their disability benefits cases nationwide.

Estate Planning

Estate planning involves more than just writing a will. It’s an active process of evaluating your needs, keeping track of your assets, and determining what legal actions need to be taken to meet your goals and protect your loved ones.

We offer a no obligation, complementary estate planning and asset protection review.

Contact Us Today!   Call toll free (888) 492-2941 or

Get started!