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What To Do When The VA Proposes To Reduce Your Benefits

VA ratings are based upon the severity of the service connected disability. In certain circumstances, the VA may reduce your ratings or remove them entirely. It is important to note that the steps the VA must take to reduce a disability rating are complex and, needless to say, the VA frequently reduces benefits improperly. So, why do VA benefits get reduced and how can you stop it from happening?

Static disabilities versus disabilities that are likely to improve

A disability which has continued at the same level for 5 years or more – or one that is, by its nature, considered unlikely to improve – is considered ‘static’ or stabilized. That means that, generally, the VA will not order future examinations to determine the severity of the disability. However, the VA may still decrease a static disability if there is evidence of improvement under the ordinary conditions of life and employment.

Many times, the VA will determine a disability is likely to improve with treatment and time. In these cases, the VA will schedule and order routine future examinations to determine the severity of the disability.

The 5, 10, and 20 year ‘rule’

One common misconception is that disabilities become “protected” after a certain period of time. To be clear, this is not the case. The only protected ratings are those ratings that are in effect for 20 years or more. A 20 year rating can only be reduced via a showing of fraud.

Instead, the longer a disability has been ‘static’ – i.e., rated at a certain level – the more persuasive and thorough the evidence supporting a reduction must be. The common VA rule of thumb (which isn’t exactly accurate) is that after 5 years they cannot reduce a rating based off of just one exam.

VA reduction general rules

The VA may not reduce a rating unless:

  • The proposal is based on a thorough review of the entire medical history
  • The VA demonstrates an ACTUAL change in the disability, not just episodic improvements
  • The change in disability must reflect material improvement under the ordinary conditions of life and work
  • The examination report must be based on at least as thorough an examination as the one which lead to the initial ratings

The reduction process

How your benefits may be reduced depends a lot on what effect the reduction will have. If the reduction will NOT change your overall compensation rate, the VA is not required to afford you any due process to contest the reduction. However, they must still follow the rules and law pertaining to reductions.

If a reduction will reduce your overall benefits, the VA is required to follow certain procedural steps before reducing the benefits. These steps are, generally, as follows:

  • Issue a notice of the proposed reduction, advising the veteran of their right to request a hearing and affording 60 days to provide evidence that shows the reduction is improper
  • If a hearing is requested, the reduction is stayed until the resolution of the hearing
  • After 60 days, if no hearing is requested, the VA will review the file and any submitted evidence and the make a decision.
  • If they decide to continue the reduction, they will issue a rating decision advising of the reduction, which will take place 60 days after the date of the final decision.

How to fight VA reduction proposals

The best way to fight a proposal to reduce is to prevent the reduction from going into effect in the first place! That means that, within the first 30 days of receiving the notice, a pre-determination hearing must be requested. This will stay the reduction and afford the veteran additional time to develop evidence of the condition’s severity.

After requesting a hearing, then its time to get to work gathering evidence – lay and buddy statements about a condition’s severity, medical records or independent medical examinations, and employment records or time off logs can be powerful evidence to contest a reduction.

What can an Attorney do to assist?

Hiring a VA-accredited attorney to assist in contesting a proposed reduction is almost always a smart move. Attorneys – like the VA accredited attorneys here at Stone Rose Law – can help develop and gather evidence, obtain medical examinations, and assist in preparing you for the pre-determination hearing. If the proposed reduction goes into effect, the attorney can assist in choosing and filing the best appeal option and pursuing the appeal on your behalf.

Has the VA proposed to reduce your hard-earned benefits?

Don’t let the VA take away your benefit without a fight! Contact the expert VA disability attorneys at Stone Rose Law today for a free consultation.