VA Disability Compensation for Veterans with Parkinson’s
What are Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation benefits?
VA disability compensation benefits are monthly, tax-free, benefits that are paid to U.S. military veterans with disabilities that are connected to their active duty military service. These benefits are administered and paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Information For The Veterans Community
In this booklet, you will learn about PD, its symptoms, how it is treated, and the benefits available to you as a veteran of the United States armed services.
Veterans with service-connected disabilities may be eligible for other VA benefits, including:
- Priority VA Healthcare
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Clothing Allowance
- Grants for Specially Adapted Housing
- Grants for Automobile & Adaptive Equipment
- Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance
- Federal Employment Preference
- State/Local Veterans Benefits
Am I eligible for VA disability compensation benefits?
You may be able to get VA disability benefits if you got sick, were injured or exposed to environmental toxins, or developed a mental health condition (like PTSD) while serving in the military. Even if your disability did not appear until years after your service, you may still be entitled to benefits so long as you can show that your condition is service-connected – resulted from (or was made worse by) an in-service injury, illness, or event.
To be eligible to receive VA disability compensation, you must have:
- served on active duty in the Uniformed Services, or served on active duty for training or inactive duty training, AND
- received a discharge under other-than-dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
In addition to meeting the above criteria, you must prove that your disability is service-connected – i.e. was caused by or aggravated by your military service. To establish service connection, you must prove the following with relevant, credible evidence:
- a current diagnosis of your disability by a medical professional;
- an in-service injury, illness, or event; and
- a medical nexus, or link, between the diagnosed disability and the in-service injury, illness, or event.
What determines my monthly VA benefit amount?
When you apply for VA disability compensation benefits, you will identify and provide evidence for each disabling condition in your claim. VA will then grant or deny service connection for each disability claimed. For each disability they grant (i.e. find to be service-connected), VA will assign a disability rating. The disability ratings range from 0 to 100 percent, in increments of 10.
After assigning these individual disability ratings, VA uses a special formula to combine the individual disability ratings into an overall disability rating, called the combined rating. Your combined rating determines what your monthly benefit amount will be.
The VA publishes information on its compensation rates online.
Additional levels of disability compensation: There are additional levels of compensation available to severely disabled veterans who meet certain criteria, including:
- Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) for veterans whose disability or disabilities prevent them from working (that is, the veteran cannot maintaining substantially gainful employment). This usually requires a single service- connected disability rated at least 60% or multiple service-connected disabilities where one rated at least 40% and the combined rating is at least 70%. In certain cases, however, exceptions to these rating requirements are possible.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) for veterans who, as a result of their military service, incurred the loss or loss of use of specific organs or extremities or, due to their service-connected disability or disabilities, are bedridden, housebound, or in need of the aid and attendance of another person.
VA Disability Compensation and Parkinson’s Disease
Presumptive Service Connection for Parkinson’s
Creating a presumption is VA’s way of making an exception to the usual requirements for service connection. Often used for toxic exposures that affected large groups of veterans, VA will automatically presume that veterans in a certain place during a certain time period were exposed to toxins (such as Agent Orange). Presumptive conditions are diseases or disabilities that VA automatically assumes are related to the acknowledged exposure, meaning the veteran does not have to provide a medical “nexus,” or link, between the toxic exposure and the resulting condition (in this case, Parkinson’s disease).
Parkinson’s disease is currently listed as a presumptive condition for veterans who served:
- in Vietnam (including aboard a ship on the inland waterways) for any length of time between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, or
- in the Korean Demilitarized Zone for any length of time between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971, or
- at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between the August 1953 and December 1987.
If you served in one of these locations during the specified time period, you need only show VA documentation of where you served and that you have a current diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to prove your claim.
Service Connection for Parkinson’s without a Presumption
You may still be eligible for service connection even if you did not serve at a location listed above. However, as your condition is not automatically presumed, you will be required to submit additional evidence proving your exposure and linking that exposure to your current condition. Specifically, you will need to submit a medical opinion stating that your Parkinson’s disease was caused by exposure (or Traumatic Brain Injury) in service. You may also want to submit a formal statement detailing the basis of your exposure. The following are some of the instances in which veterans may be eligible for non-presumptive service connection for Parkinson’s disease:
Exposure to herbicide agents: Although not considered presumptive, the following individuals may be able to prove service connection for Parkinson’s disease due to herbicide exposure, so long as they can provide evidence that they came into contact with herbicide agents while serving:
- Veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.
- Veterans who served on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Ships in Vietnam.
- Veterans who served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam or Korea.
- Veterans who were crew members on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War.
- Veterans associated with Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.
Exposure to burn pits: Parkinson’s can also present in veterans who were exposed to burn pits in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations after September 11, 2001.
In-service Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Additionally, veterans with a Traumatic Brain Injury are at an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
How do I file a claim for VA disability compensation benefits?
Timing: Typically, the VA cannot grant service-connection for a condition if there is no formal diagnosis on record. However, Parkinson’s disease is an exception to this rule. Parkinson’s is diagnosed by exclusion, meaning that a formal diagnosis is issued only when all other possible diseases have been ruled out. The VA determined that veterans should not have to wait for their condition to worsen before filing for benefits. Therefore, if you have documented symptoms of Parkinsonism but have not yet been officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you can still receive service connection for Parkinson’s disease. If this is the case, do not delay filing for VA compensation until you have a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis because, if VA grants you service connection, they will pay your benefits starting from the date they received your claim.
Organize your thoughts: When you are ready to apply for VA benefits, it is a good idea to take a moment to think about your symptoms and how they impact your daily life and your ability to work. Also, think about what aspects of your active-duty military service caused your illness/injury and disability. It can help to write yourself a note about this so it is in the front of your mind throughout the process.
Complete a claim form: Begin the claim process by completing a VA form 21-526 or VA form 21-526EZ. Both forms include instructions on when and how to use them. Here are links to VA’s website where you can download the forms:
- VA form 21-526 Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension
- VA form 21-526EZ Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits
You can submit your form online at VA’s eBenefits website or by mail or in-person at your local VA Regional Office (RO or VARO). Click here to find the address of your local VA Regional Office.
Gather evidence: When you file a claim, you’ll need to gather and submit supporting evidence related to your time in service and your current experience with Parkinson’s. The documents you must provide include:
- Your DD214 or other separation documents
- Your service treatment records (if you have them)
- Medical evidence related to the diagnosis and treatment of your Parkinson’s disease
VA is responsible for helping you obtain relevant records from any federal agency. This includes records from the military or Department of Defense (DoD), from VA Medical Centers (or private facilities where VA has authorized treatment), and the Social Security Administration. VA is also responsible for providing a medical examination or getting a doctor’s opinion, but only if they deem it necessary to decide your claim.
You are responsible for getting all records not held by a federal agency. This may include records from private (non-VA) doctors and hospitals, current or former employers, and state or local governments. In some cases, VA may help you obtain records from these places but ultimately it is your responsibility and gathering evidence yourself will likely be more efficient than waiting for the VA to help.
In addition to service medical and personnel records, current medical records, and records of employment, veterans may want to submit lay statements – written statements that do not require special expertise – from friends, family, coworkers, or employers. Lay statements can be particularly helpful in establishing just how much Parkinson’s disease affects your ability to work or perform daily activities. A buddy statement, a lay statement from a fellow service member, can be useful in showing that you were potentially exposed to toxins during service or that a specific event or injury occurred.
Contact and communication: The VA appeals process is often very slow as the VA has a backlog of pending applications. While there is not much a Veteran can do to speed the process along, there are steps you can take to avoid delays. First, if you have a legal representative or are receiving help from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO), it is crucial to contact them with any correspondence you receive from the VA. This will ensure that all paperwork is responded to in a timely manner. Second, be sure that you are only submitting relevant information. All information you send to the VA requires review and possibly an examination, both of which could slow down the process.
Attend examinations: Should you receive correspondence from the VA informing you of the need to schedule a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, you need to contact the VA Compensation and Pension Department in a timely manner. It is very important that you attend any C&P examination, if you fail to do so your claim will likely be denied.
What happens if my VA disability claim is approved?
The timeline for starting to receive benefits varies depending on which stage of the appeals process you were in when your appeal was approved.
If your claim was granted at the Regional Office level, you will be mailed a Rating Decision that lists your service-connected disability or disabilities, a disability rating for each, and an effective date (the date you started receiving benefits) for each. Your effective date is usually the date VA received your initial disability claim.
Within about 1-3 months, VA will send you a check for any retroactive benefits – back pay to make up for the compensation that you would have been receiving had your claim been approved on the assigned effective date . Typically, veterans begin receiving monthly VA compensation checks on the first of the month after their claim is granted. These timelines may vary somewhat depending on your VA Regional Office.
If your claim was granted at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA or Board) level, it must be sent to your Regional Office to be “implemented” before you will start receiving VA compensation benefits. In some cases, the Board grants a claim with a specified rating and effective date. In these instances, veterans can expect their claim to be sent the Regional Office for implementation and then to receive a finalized Rating Decision within about 60 days. From there, the timeline discussed above applies.
In other cases, however, the Board may simply grant service connection without specifying a rating or effective date. In these cases, the Regional Office must further develop the case to determine the appropriate rating and effective date. This can mean reviewing the claims file again or even scheduling a VA examination. Therefore, claims approved at the Board without specific ratings or effective dates take longer to process, often taking about six months to a year until the RO issues a Rating Decision. Veterans will, however, receive retroactive benefits back to their effective date to make up for the lack of monthly benefit checks during this waiting period.
Whether your claim was approved at the Board or Regional Office level, it is important to stay responsive to the VA to tie up loose ends. VA may send follow-up correspondence requesting financial information such as your direct deposit details. You may also want to double-check that you are receiving the correct amount of compensation (see Compensation Rates above). Relatedly, you should make sure VA is taking into account any dependents you have when calculating your compensation rate.
What happens if my VA disability claim is denied?
If your claim for service connection is denied you should appeal as soon as possible. Assuming you are granted service connection in the future, keeping your claim open will preserve your effective date, allowing you to collect retroactive benefits for the time spent waiting in the appeals process.
If your claim is denied, you will receive a denial letter from VA. The letter will tell you the limited time left to appeal your claim. Filing an appeal (with a Notice of Disagreement or a Substantive Appeal) as early as possible will keep the often-lengthy VA appeals process moving along. But most critical is filing for appeal before your appeal deadline, as missing the deadline may mean losing the rights to your benefits.
In your denial letter, VA should also list and explain the reasons for denying your claim. Looking closely at this explanation can help you prepare the necessary evidence for your appeal. Depending on which stage of the VA appeals process you are in, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer or working with a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative. The law does not require that you have a representative for your appeals, but an attorney or accredited claims agent may be able to identify legal errors made by VA or legal arguments that could help you win your case.
APDA makes this information available solely for the purpose of general education. It is not intended as specific advice for your specific circumstance or as legal, insurance or medical advice. APDA encourages those who find this information useful to contact a legal advisor for answers to specific questions and assistance. The following information was graciously provided by the disability law firm of Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD, with support from Douglas L. DuMond of Simian Advisors LLC. APDA does not endorse any disability law firm or have a formal affiliation with CCK or Simian Advisors LLC.