The Tangled Threads of Service-Connected Disability, Incarceration, and Immigration Status

11 May 2017

Service-connected psychiatric disability and traumatic brain injury are commonalities among veterans with substance abuse challenges and involvement with the criminal justice system. While these facts may point to a failure of the system to support service members who are injured in the line of duty, and the generalized failure to provide adequate treatment and support for substance abuse, the system is a catastrophic failure when the veteran faces deportation because of immigration status.

Many enlistees assume that serving in the military, and receiving an honorable discharge, entitles them to citizenship. It does not. There is a procedure for applying, and a timeline, but there is no automatic entitlement. Veterans who served honorably, and who do not apply for the expedited citizenship and residency while on active duty, can be, and are, being deported regularly. They will be allowed back in the US when they die, to be buried in a veterans' cemetery.

While deportation of undocumented veterans has become common, the real challenge is for those veterans who are eligible for VA health care and are deported. VA eligibility still exists, though there are no VA treatment centers in Mexico or Central America. With no assistance for working through the system, that eligibility for services is often lost and veterans go without care.

The most common deportation practice with veterans who are undocumented are for those with a criminal justice conviction. The VA can stop pensions for veterans incarcerated in federal facilities, and families do not automatically receive the stopped pensions. Many families, afraid of becoming known to the system and being deported, never apply for benefits or assistance due to families.

Veterans and their families who are undocumented are facing challenging times. Many are afraid to access the system that has been put into place for their service connected injuries, because of the threat of deportation if they become identified by the system. Legal counsel can assist veterans and family members to access the VA system, and provide advice and assistance with issues of immigration status and threatened deportation.

For more information on psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.

Incarcerated Veterans with Service-Connected Disability

30 Mar 2017

Veterans with service-connected disabilities, treated or untreated, are frequently in conflict with the justice system. What services are available to veterans who are under threat of incarceration, and what happens to VA benefits when a veteran is incarcerated?

The VA has a program called Veterans Justice Outreach Program. It is part of the homeless prevention initiatives, but veterans do not have to be homeless to receive services. The goal of the program is to provide mental health and substance abuse services to veterans who are involved with the justice system, to avoid unnecessary criminalization of mental illness.

There is also a program called HCRV, Health Care Re-entry for Veterans. This program is designed to reduce homelessness among veterans leaving prison. This program involves giving veterans information while incarcerated about how to plan for their re-entry.

VA pays disability and pensions. They are treated differently when incarcerated. Disability payments for those at the 20% or higher level are reduced to the 10% level. Those at 10% have their payment reduced by 50%. These reductions occur if a veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days. Pensions are terminated on day 61 of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor.

For both programs, veterans have to reapply for benefits upon release and meet eligibility requirements again. There is a program that allows disability payments to be apportioned to a spouse, dependent parent, or child during incarceration. It's not automatic; the eligible family member needs to apply.

The compensation is not stopped for work-release programs, community control, or halfway houses. 

For more information on psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.

Treatment and Compensation for Psychiatric Disability

29 Dec 2016

Veteran disability applications can take months.  If the application is for a psychiatric disability, the process can take much longer and include multiple appeals.

Most veterans getting treatment for a psychiatric disorder are getting that treatment for conditions other than PTSD. Many are also eligible for a disability rating and compensation.

Veterans and those helping them to access services and disability compensation should know that treatment is available for a variety of psychiatric conditions including: depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, schizophrenia and others.  Disability compensation can be awarded for psychiatric conditions which are acquired as a result of service or during service.  There does not have to be a direct link between an actual military related event that caused a particular psychiatric symptom or disorder.  One requirement is only that the symptoms began during military service.  Some conditions, such as schizophrenia, may have occurred whether a person served in the military or not.  If a service member is diagnosed or presented with symptoms of schizophrenia (or other conditions) during military service, they may very well be eligible for a disability rating and compensation because the illness began in the service. 

Veterans who are suffering from a psychiatric condition can benefit from having their case evaluated for a connection to their service.

Treatment for a psychiatric disability can be hard to find.  Access to psychiatric care varies across the country regardless of veteran status.  Getting treatment for psychiatric symptoms is important for quality of life and overall wellbeing.  Treatment can be life-saving.  It is important to get treatment from the VA or elsewhere even while waiting on a claim.  Veterans may be eligible for treatment in VA healthcare facilities without regard to service connected status.

 A record of continuous treatment for a psychiatric condition provides for continuity of care and provides documentation needed to properly adjudicate a claim.  Don’t hesitate to get treatment for any psychiatric symptoms. 

Getting help with a claim for a disability rating for a psychiatric condition can greatly improve your success. Contact us to get expert, professional legal help processing your claim.

Veteran Unemployability After Spinal Cord Injuries

14 Oct 2016

Spinal cord injuries are obviously serious but can cause lasting effects that you might not originally think about. Veterans who suffered a service-connected spinal cord injury may like to find out more about life after a SCI.

Extended Hospital Stays

The National SCI Statistical Center highlights how impactful SCIs are as their research indicates that fewer than 1% of people with these injuries make a complete recovery by the time they are discharged. Around 30% of patients return to the hospital at least once for an average stay of 22 days after being discharged the first time. This means veterans might need disability benefits for a variety of medical reasons relating to a SCI even years after the initial injury.


A veteran might also need to make a TDIU claim as those with SCIs often suffer partial or total loss of function in the arms, legs or torso. More than half of those with SCIs were employed before the injury, but only 12% of people still had a job one year after receiving the injury. The employment rate for those with a SCI rises as time passes but is still fairly low as 34% are employed after 20 years. Veterans may have trouble finding a job for a long time after this injury, especially when coupled with other physical or mental conditions.

Every year after an incident, a minor SCI may cost around $42,000 while a severe SCI could cost $185,000 annually. If you are a veteran who needs assistance getting the help you deserve after a spinal cord injury, contact us today.

Psychiatric Disability & The Problem Faced by Veterans

30 Sep 2016

Veterans with psychiatric disabilities face the daunting task of applying for both help for their problem and benefits to enable them to take care of themselves and their families. Because of the stigma that still surrounds mental health in this country, it's often hard for a veteran to even admit he has a problem, let alone apply for benefits because of it. Imagine being forced to prove that you're chronically depressed, or that you have a debilitating anxiety disorder so you can get the benefits you desperately need to enable you to continue to provide for your family.

This is a problem too many veterans are facing, and as statistics sadly show, many of them end up in despair and decide to end their lives instead of being forced to prove the severity of their illness. According to Vets National, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 1 in 10 veterans face mental issues after combat. These veterans are must see a military psychiatrist for a diagnosis and a rating for their disability. If the doctor finds that their problem is causing total social and occupational impairment, they are given a 100% rating, entitling them to full disability compensation. Problems arise when the doctor assigns a rating that is too low. (Ratings below 100% range from 0% to 70%.) Because of a misdiagnosis, perhaps caused by a fear of fully exposing their struggles, the veteran will receive a lower rating and be thrust into the unfortunate position of being unable to work or function normally in society, and unable to provide for his family, which only causes more mental anguish.

If you're a veteran in this difficult situation, you can turn to the Veterans Law Group for help. We consider it our duty to help veterans win maximum benefits for their total disability claim, whether it's for physical or mental impairments. Contact us today for more information about how we can help.

VA Medical Malpractice and Claims Under 38 U.S.C. § 1151

09 Sep 2016

When a veteran suffers disability or death as a consequence of VA sponsored medical treatment, that veteran or their surviving family is entitled to compensation under 38 U.S.C. § 1151. Unlike other VA claims, these are not considered "service related," however they are compensated in a similar manner. Similar laws provide compensation when a veteran is disabled or dies as a result of VA sponsored vocational rehabilitation or work therapy.

A major benefit of this law is that claims under §1151 may be brought at any time. There is no statute of limitations for these claims. This contrasts with traditional medical malpractice claims, which can be brought against the VA under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA), which are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

Compensation under §1151 is also easier to get than a FTCA claim. Unlike FTCA medical malpractice claim, under this law negligence need not necessarily be shown. Compensation is due if there was medical malpractice or if the harm was unforeseeable. A veteran claimant need only prove one of those things.

Veterans that have suffered harm can file claims under both the FTCA and §1151, however they will not be allowed to double-recover. The amount granted by one claim will simply be deducted from the award of a latter claim.

If you have suffered harm as a result of VA sponsored medical care, it is important to have an experienced veterans rights attorney evaluate your case to determine if you have a valid claim under 38 U.S.C. § 1151. If you have lost a loved one, Similar claims are available if the harm came as a result of vocational rehabilitation or work therapy. The Veterans Law Group is dedicated to helping veterans exercise and protect their legal rights. Please, contact us if you would more information.

Psychiatric Disability & VA Benefits

04 Aug 2016

recent study found that nearly 25% of all veterans suffer from a mental illness of some kind. In many of these cases, veterans have a psychiatric disability that entitles them to disability benefit payments from the VA. Psychiatric disabilities are presumed to be service-related. Even in cases where a veteran had a pre-existing mental illness, VA benefits are still possible if there was a service-related aggravation of that illness.

The VA only recognizes disabilities that are found in the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities. For mental disorders, this schedule is largely based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Common illnesses that entitle veterans to benefits include (among others):

  • depression;
  • anxiety or panic attacks;
  • cognitive disorders such as dementia or amnesia;
  • mood disorders;
  • somatic symptom disorders; and
  • eating disorders.

Getting benefits from the VA often requires going through a complicated claim appeal process. This can involve the compilation of employment and personal information, medical evaluations, and even court appearances. Navigating the process and providing the right evidence can be a daunting task, especially for a person suffering from a cognitive or emotional disability. An experienced attorney can help a veteran prove a psychiatric disability by providing the VA with the correct medical evidence and with testimony from a credible evaluating psychiatrist.

At the Veterans Law Group, we are familiar with the VA Schedule of Ratings Disabilities and we understand what medical evidence is required to get our clients disability compensation. We also carefully seeks out psychiatrists who will provide the best reports for our clients. If you are a veteran suffering from mental illness, but have been denied disability benefits, contact us today for assistance. If you are a family member of a veteran suffering from mental illness, you can find useful resources here.

Chronic Pain and Veteran Disability Benefits

04 Jul 2014

Apart from the more widely-publicized injuries like brain injuries and conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder that veterans returning home from combat duty struggle with, many also struggle with chronic pain. In fact, approximately 50% of all soldiers who return home to the United States after combat duty overseas find themselves struggling with consistent and chronic pain. This has contributed to a disturbing trend-the increasing risk of dependence on pain killers in veterans who use these medications to cope with their pain.

According to the results of the study which were published recently in the Journal JAMA Internal Medicine, approximately 44% of veterans who returned from duty in Afghanistan and Iraq reported chronic pain. That was more than double the estimate for the civilian population. Veterans are also more likely to use prescription narcotic drugs for pain treatment. About 15% of soldiers who returned from combat duty used painkillers within the last month.

The primary cause of this chronic pain was combat-related injuries among the veterans. Veterans, who suffered a combat-related injury were three times more likely to report pain and also twice as likely to report the use of narcotic painkilling medications for their pain. They were also twice as likely to report pain if they were also suffering from other conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

There are cultural and other factors that are responsible for the low level of management of pain among veterans. In the military, admitting to pain is seen as a sign of weakness, and many vets fail to report pain. That leads to under treatment of the problem.

If you are a veteran who suffers from chronic pain or any other consequence of your combat-related injuries, you are likely eligible for disability benefits. Speak with a California veterans benefits lawyer about your options for compensation.