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NVLSP Launches Project to Help Shortchanged Veterans Secure Retirement Benefits

Released 10/3/12 | Tags: Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR)

More Than 77,000 Veterans May Benefit from Physical Disability Board of Review


WASHINGTON – More than 77,000 men and women who served our country in wartime over nearly a decade may have been lowballed on disability ratings for their injuries when they left the military and never received the retirement benefits they are entitled to.

But the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and a team of volunteer attorneys are trying to help them, by assisting veterans in applying for an increase in their disability ratings to the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR).

Congress concluded from hearings held in 2007 that since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military often lowballed disability ratings it assigned to service members for injuries so severe that they could no longer continue to serve in the military. Over 77,000 veterans who were medically separated received a military disability rating of less than 30%.  Many deserved to be rated higher.

These disability ratings are important because they determine the level of benefits a veteran will receive for life. Service members who receive combined disability ratings of less than 30% from the military receive only a lump sum severance payment and no retirement benefits.  

Service members who receive disability ratings of 30% or higher receive significant retirement benefits:  monthly retired pay, TRICARE healthcare coverage for the service member and his or her dependents, and access to military commissaries and exchanges.  Retirement benefits can provide critical help for young veterans struggling to rebuild their lives after an injury halts their military careers.

To address the problem of lowball disability ratings, Congress enacted legislation in 2008 that established a new military review board – the PDBR. The PDBR has the authority to review the disability ratings assigned by the military to those medically separated from military service between 9/11/2001 and 12/31/2009 with a combined disability rating of less than 30%.  The PDBR has the authority to increase the veteran’s disability rating to 30% or above so that the veteran receives lifetime disability retirement benefits retroactive to the date of separation.    

Approximately 77,000 service members are eligible to apply to the PDBR.  But, as of August 2012, the PDBR had received applications from only 6% (4,700 veterans) of the 77,000 veterans eligible to apply.

To date, nearly 40% of veterans applying to the PDBR have received increases in their combined disability ratings so that they are entitled to permanent disability retirement benefits. 

Veterans applying to the PDBR must submit a detailed application and supporting documents to demonstrate to the board why their disability ratings should be increased.   While a veteran can apply to the PDBR without assistance from an attorney, veterans seeking to apply should very carefully craft their applications and could benefit from legal assistance.

NVLSP attorneys say that a persuasive application to the PDBR is extremely important for veterans. “Unlike other military discharge review boards, the PDBR does not permit any re-consideration of its decisions.  It is important to submit a persuasive initial application because the veteran has only one opportunity to convince the PDBR to increase the disability rating,” said attorney Tom Moore, who is overseeing the PDBR assistance project at NVLSP.   

Attorneys at NVLSP say that veterans are at no risk of losing other benefits they may be receiving from the VA for their injuries, if they apply to the PDBR. “There is no risk to veterans who apply for PDBR review. They cannot have any benefits they are already receiving from the VA taken away if their application to the PDBR is denied,” said Moore.

To assist veterans seeking to apply to the PDBR, NVLSP’s Lawyers Serving Warriors® project has recruited and trained hundreds of attorneys around the country.  These attorneys are standing ready to help veterans craft persuasive applications to the PDBR, so veterans who were shortchanged can take advantage of this one-time opportunity for an increased disability rating. All legal assistance by NVLSP and the attorneys volunteering with Lawyers Serving Warriors® is provided to veterans free of charge. 

After veterans apply for help with their PDBR application online at www.lawyersservingwarriors.org, NVLSP’s  Lawyers Serving Warriors® will screen the information. If the veterans qualify, NVLSP will connect them to volunteer attorneys trained to represent applicants for a review by the PDBR.  The volunteer attorneys will then assist veterans with completing and submitting their applications to the PDBR. 

“The entitlement to military retirement benefits that can result from a favorable PDBR decision can dramatically improve the quality of life for veteran applicants and their families,” said Moore. “If you are reading this and know a veteran who may be eligible for the PDBR, please refer them to our website at www.lawyersservingwarriors.org and encourage them to apply.”

To be eligible for free legal assistance with a PDBR application through NVLSP’s Lawyers Serving Warriors®, the veteran must have been medically separated from the military on or after 9/11/2001 with a combined disability rating of 0%, 10%, or 20% issued by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB).

To request free legal assistance with a PDBR application, veterans are urged to visit www.lawyersservingwarriors.org  to get more information and apply for assistance. Veterans with questions may call 202.265.8305, ext. 152.

Press and media interview requests should be directed to Ami Neiberger-Miller, ami@steppingstonellc.com.

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 25 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the federal benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVSLP offers training for attorneys and other advocates, connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help, publishes the nation’s definitive guide on veterans’ benefits, and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies, and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.


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