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How to Read Your VA Disability Award Letter

How to Read Your VA Disability Award Letter

Video Transcription

Michael Lostritto: Hi, everyone.  Thanks for tuning in to another edition of CCK Live.  My name is Michael Lostritto and today I am joined by Nicholas Briggs and Alexandra Gamache.  In this video, we’re going to explain how to read your VA award letter.  So, Alex, starting with you.  Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly a VA award letter is?

Alexandra Gamache: Yes.  A VA award letter is issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs when a decision has been issued regarding a veteran’s claims for benefits.  Specifically, the letter will indicate a veteran’s disability rating or ratings along with the corresponding amount of monthly compensation.

Throughout this Facebook live, we’ll talk about different sections contained in the award letter.  It’s important to note that some decisions may look different, and the order in which these sections are listed may vary between the decisions.  However, what’s explained below is the general content of what’s contained in each award letter.

Michael: Yes, and that’s really important to note, Alex.  Because I know in my experience, I have seen different versions of an award letter.  Things are organized differently, updates to how things are templated.  So, Nick, turning to you, can you tell us though, generally, what does an award letter look like in your experience and what do those sections include?

Nicholas Briggs: Sure.  So, first and foremost, they’re going to tell you that they made a decision, that will be the first line of the letter.  Typically, the next section will be a “what we decided,” and it will include a brief summary of the claimed conditions, as well as what VA did with those conditions, be it granting service connection and assigning an effective date, granting an increased rating, or denying the issues altogether.

So, for example, if you were granted an increased rating for your PTSD, the section might read something along the lines of “evaluation of post-traumatic stress disorder, currently evaluated at 30% disabling, is increased to 50% effective from January 29, 2012.”  And again, the key pieces of information here are always going to be: what the rating was, what the rating is now, and then what the effective date is going to be.

Moving on, following from that written description, which again will be fairly brief, they may also include a table showing you your combined ratings and their corresponding effective dates, but that doesn’t always happen.  Realistically, all you’re going to see is a second table regarding your payment level, meaning, how much you get paid per month and the effective dates of those effective pay increases.

The important information to note here is largely going to be one year amount of monthly compensation and that will, generally speaking, reflect what your combined ratings are from those dates, as well as the effective date that you were assigned that new monthly amount of compensation.  And then there will also be some changes, some occurring year by year.  Those often are done to reflect the cost-of-living adjustment that happens as well as any dependents or other people coming on and off your award.

Finally, the award letter will talk about your dependents themselves.  They’ll let you know if your spouse is on your award as well as the number of children that are currently active because that also affects the amount of money that you’ll receive each month.

Michael: Thanks, Nick.  And really next then in the award letter, what veterans will see, is an explanation of options to appeal.  So, this is essentially what do you do if you disagree with VA’s decision.  And so, if you’re dissatisfied with the outcome that’s listed on your VA award letter, you have rights to file an appeal.  If veterans received a rating decision and VA award letter after – on or after, I should say – February 19, 2019, their appeals will be processed in the new Appeals Modernization Act system, which is the AMA.

So, under the AMA, there are three appeal options to appeal an initial rating decision, and those will be outlined for you in your award letter.  The first option is to select the Higher-Level Review lane; the second option is to file a Supplemental Claim lane appeal; and the third option is to file a Notice of Disagreement, which is an appeal filed directly at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.  Your award letter will list your appeal options and the corresponding forms that should be used for each option.  And so, one thing that’s very different under AMA is that there are different forms that must be used to file an appeal for each one of those different review options, those appeal options that I just outlined.  So, it’s critical that if a veteran receives a decision and they’re looking to appeal, they disagree with the outcome, that they take a look and see what specific form is listed on the reward letter to know how to properly file their appeal.

And for help filing an appeal, you may want to consider seeking an accredited attorney or representative.  An accredited rep who understands the complex nature of VA’s appeal process can help secure benefits and can navigate through, particularly, the complexities of the new AMA system.

Alex, turning back over to you, is there anything else included in the Veterans letter that we should know about?

Alex: Yes.  So, aside from what we’ve already mentioned, you’ll also find a section for additional benefits that kind of outlines other benefits VA offers.  Some of these additional benefits include education, training, student loans, medical care and treatment, home adaptation and different loans for that, automobile benefits, life insurance, payment for travel, and state-specific benefits.  Aside from all of the information listed on what we call a cover letter, you’ll also get an enclosed rating decision narrative, which kind of details why VA is granting, denying, or differing the different issues, and it sort of gives an in-depth explanation as to VA’s decision.

And you’ll also get included a code sheet, which is essentially a sheet that displays the veteran’s conditions, as well as their diagnostic codes and their ratings, plus any additional benefits such as TDIU or SMC.

Michael: And Nick, how would a veteran get their hands on a copy of their award letter?  How typically would they receive this?

Nick: So, by in large, veterans are going to receive their decisions via mail.  VA is obligated to provide you with a copy, and they’ll mail it out as soon as it’s finalized.  However, if for some reason it doesn’t come via mail for one reason or another, there are still additional ways that they can get a copy.  For one, you can log into your e-Benefits account and print and digitally save a copy of the letter. If you are represented by a national service organization or by an attorney, you can reach out to their office and ask for a copy.

And then finally, if for some reason VA’s copy didn’t make it to you, you can reach out to your local regional office either via telephone or in writing and request a copy that way as well.  So, one way or another, it’s pretty easy to get a copy.  You just need to take the initiative and request one if you didn’t receive the one they mailed to you.

Michael: Great.  Thank you, Nick.  Thank you, Alex.  I think that about does it actually for this edition of CCK Live.  Thank you all for joining us.  More information on VA award letters, appeals, accredited representation can all be found on our website,  We have a number of videos, blog posts – all of this information and other information that can be very helpful and useful in prosecuting your case.

Also, be sure to check us out on social media and on our YouTube channel.  And until next time, thank you for joining us and we look forward to seeing you.