“Anytime you have a service connected disability that has increased in severity you can apply for an increase in your evaluation providing that disability is not at the maximum percentage for that disability according to the rating schedule,” advises Phil Kraus, Claims Benefits Advisor (CBA) who heads up the Texas Veterans Commission’s (TVC) Houston Regional Office “Strike Force”.
He also notes that if a new disability is created that is caused by a service connection condition, that new condition may be service connectable secondary to his/her service connected disability with additional compensation. “An example would be if you are service connected for your right knee and have put more stress on your left knee to compensate for your disability and as a result have been diagnosed with right knee problems which are attributable to your service connected knee. You should file a claim for the right knee.”
Pictured is Phil Kraus, TVC CBA.
The Strike Force specializes in claims development, file reviews and assistance to veterans, County Service Officers, and other Claim Benefits Advisors in all VA product lines. “We work for corrective action on any error we find to successfully adjudicate claims.”
The cases the Houston Regional Office Strike Force work on come from referral by TVC CBAs, Veterans County Service Officers (VCSOs) and completed VA rating/ dependency or other actions from the National Work Queue.
TVC’s Houston Strike Force is a 10 member team. According to Kraus, all are retired VA employees with many years of VA experience in Claims from development to rating determinations. Experience as Senior Claims Specialist to Rating Specialists and Decision Review Officers. This experience “makes them all very familiar and knowledgeable with Claims and VA processes” said Kraus. “We stay up to date on the latest changes and additions to VA Regulations and allows us to know which is the best way to present the claim to the VA for successful conclusion.”
TVC established a Strike Force Unit at the regional Office in Waco and Houston to serve Texas Veterans. These were initially chartered over a decade ago to alleviate the backlog of VA Claims in Texas. By ensuring Claims are filed correctly and effectively documenting and advocating for veterans, the strike forces was instrumental in moving Claims through the VA system and reduce the backlog.
“We use everything we can to benefit the veteran. Our reviews will find issues that may have been overlooked, filed incorrectly, have an incorrect effective date or other issue that we can point out and advocate for the veteran. This includes the reason for the denial of Claims and or the rating criteria.”
He also noted that over time, VA rules change. “Things that veterans were not able to claim, can now be claimed or refiled for compensation.” A recent example of this was the high profile Blue Water Navy Agent Orange exposure claims and the recently passed legislation which added presumptive conditions of Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the list of herbicide exposure disabilities acknowledged by the VA.
Kraus noted that though it is better not to be disabled, veterans who have disabilities due to service should claim their benefits. His team is successful. “We have had some payouts in the high six figures. Some Claims and the veterans who filed them have been sitting waiting for an answer and that is where we come in. If you have continuous prosecution of an appeal and are still waiting for an answer, we can help bring action and a decision. We stand ready to help whether it’s a new claim, a Supplemental (reopened) claim or to see if there have been any updates or changes in VA Regulations. I addition to the veteran, this includes dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for surviving Spouses and children. We encourage veterans or claimants to make an appointment with a CBA and find all the resources available for Texas Veterans in addition to Claims.”
“Veterans may wonder why their Claims were denied or why they received their rating,” said Kraus. When veterans bring these questions and concerns to their local TVC CBA or VCSO, the case may move up to the strike force for resolution.
Once a Claim is being handled by the strike force, Kraus keeps up with its status. “I check on cases every morning to see where they are.”
Kraus encourages veterans to make an appointment with a CBA and find all the resources available in addition to Claims. These include vocational rehabilitation and VA grants for home modifications per disability rating status.