Stateside Legal Help For Veterans

Jim Strickland is a Vietnam era Army veteran and nationally recognized expert on VA disability benefits.

Jim writes extensively about VA and Social Security disability benefits. 
Jim's Mailbag is a regular column featured at  Stateside Legal  where veterans, servicemembers,
and family members can  ask Jim their questions  about VA and Social Security disability benefits. 

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Presumptive Disability Conditions

Means Testing

​Question:
If a disabled Veteran (100%) is earning 3k+ a month, can the vet still get snap? Does it matter what disability % they are or how much they are earning?

Jim's Reply:
Like many low income assistance programs SNAP benefits are means tested. Whether you are eligible is going to depend on your household income when you apply. Your VA benefits count as real income so if you're a veteran alone, you likely have too much income to be eligible for SNAP. If you have a family and the VA benefit is your main or only source of income, you may be eligible. You'll need to apply before you know for sure though. Good luck!

Medical Malpractice?

​Question:
I was, and am, under the care of the VA for service-connected injuries. In 2014 my primary care doctor finally decided to remove my tonsils to help with my obstructive sleep apnea. Before the procedure, the surgeon noticed after looking at my imaging that I had a deviation in my right sinus. The surgeon asked me a couple of days before my procedure if I would like him to correct it as well since it would take a short time and I would already be under general anesthetic. He said he would be working in that same location and that he could do it within 20 minutes or so. I agreed and the surgery on my tonsils and septum was done in 2014.
After surgery, I had problems breathing out of the right side of my nose. Of course, they said this was due to swelling after surgery and other issues post procedure. This went on for quite a while and after many visits to the VA hospital it was discovered that the procedure was not done correctly and my septum was actually worse than it was before the procedure. I was then prompted to have a corrective surgery for the surgery that was supposed to fix the problem in the first place.
Since the surgery couldn't be done within 30 days, I was able to go outside the VA. I went to a plastic surgeon at a non-VA facility who did a septoplasty on my nose to correct the previous surgery done by the VA surgeon. The septoplasty took around six hours and the post surgery pain and other issues were very bad. I now have a very crooked nose after the second procedure, my sinus (and the area of my nose closest to the sinus opening) constantly itches and feels as though there’s something in there, and I am constantly rubbing or scratching it. If I put my glasses on and you look at my face, my nose is completely bent and disfigured and it’s an issue for me every time I look in the mirror.
I am a service-connected veteran but the surgery was not done for anything service-connected so I’m wondering if I can claim this as some kind of disability rating under my current disability rating. Any answer you have or information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.  Please forgive me for any mistakes in punctuation, grammar, and spelling as I am doing this on my smart phone.

​Jim's Reply:
No worries about typos, misspellings, punctuation or any of that here. Typing on my desktop is hard enough and I don't even try on my (not so smart) phone. We're just glad you took the time to message us so we can help.
You're describing what may well be medical malpractice. I'm not qualified to determine whether what you've experienced is malpractice or just the breaks of being operated on and I think you should speak to an expert.
VA health care is well insulated from medical malpractice claims. There are a few hoops to jump through when you set out to sue the federal government and a lot of experience counts. For those reasons I only refer to a single medical malpractice group  
https://verdictvictory.com/medical-malpractice/va-malpractice/ 
These folks are located in California but they can represent you anywhere. Medical malpractice lawyers will typically work with you on a contingency fee basis and they won't take any money from you unless and until they win the case.
Please get in touch with them sooner than later and let them know where you got the referral.

Good luck sir.

VA income and HUD subsidized housing

​Question:
If VA disability is not counted as income, why do I have to give my HUD housing 30% of my disability pay?

Jim's Reply:
I'm not sure who told you that VA disability pay isn't income but it's usually seen as a part of our overall total income. VA disability pay isn't taxed, but it is usually recorded as income.

Presumptive Disability Conditions

Presumptive Conditions
A "condition", in the language of the VA, is any disease, illness or injury. To be service connected and eligible for a disability compensation rating, the condition must be caused, aggravated by or contributed to by an event that occurred during service.

If the condition existed prior to service, it must be shown to have been aggravated (made worse) by military service. 

If you believe that you may be eligible for any presumptive condition and rating, the best way to find out is to file a VA disability claim.

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Convalescent ratings

​Question:
Hi, Jim. Is there a VA regulation that says when a veteran must file a convalescent claim? Is it 6 months after the convalescent event took place, or is there no time limit such as 10 or more years later? If there is a regulation, can you give me the regulation number? Thanks!

Jim's Reply:
A convalescent or recuperative rating must be filed at the time of discharge from surgery or other treatment modality that necessitates a period of convalescence. Periods of convalescence are covered at each diagnostic code here 
https://www.benefits.va.gov/WARMS/bookc.asp  Once the need for convalescence or recuperation has passed you are no longer eligible for the benefit. There is no retro pay like you mention.
The specific topic of convalescence ratings can be found at: 
4.30 Convalescent Ratings
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A & A

Question:
I was told my father could qualify for aid and attendance. Which form needs filled out, the 21-526ez or the 21P-527EZ and how do you let them know that is what you are filing for? Or is there an entirely different one that needs to be sent in for aid and attendance? If so which form number is it?

Jim's Reply:
Thank you for helping your father in his time of need. Detailed instructions about how to apply for the A & A benefit are here 
https://www.va.gov/pension/aid-attendance-housebound/ 
Good luck.
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DIC Benefits

​Question:
I am TDIU P&T for 11 years now. If I die, what does my spouse (wife) have to do to claim her compensation?

​Jim's Reply:
She will notify VA of your passing...often enough the funeral director will do that for her. Details are here https://www.vawatchdog.org/dic---survivor-benefits.html 

​PS From StatesideLegal:
You can also find out who qualifies and how to apply at 
StatesideLegal's DIC webpage.

Travel Pay

​Question:
Since the VA adopted the new mileage application via the internet, I haven't received any travel money. I checked with my travel clerk and he told me that there is a big back log here in Florida. Have others experienced this problem? Thank you Jim.

Jim's Reply:
I'm in Florida so I feel your pain.
We're supposed to be reimbursed a per mile amount for certain travel to and from medical care. In my time with VHA I've seen long lines and over an hour wait to receive a few dollars gas money. Then we went to a fill-out-the-form system. The check-in kiosks were introduced a few years back and those worked well other than you had to remember to sign out and sign in again to submit the travel voucher.
Not all that long ago I checked in to my small clinic and the kiosks were unplugged and parked in a corner. I was told to check in the old school way and only when I asked, I was given an old form to complete for travel pay. I was told the kiosks were gone forever.
I returned to that clinic 2 weeks later and the check in kiosks were back, plugged in and ready to go. There was no option for travel reimbursement, I was told to go to the Internet and figure it out. I haven't seen any deposits either.
I don't have any answer for you other than...welcome to your VA. They care!
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