It’s granted that relationships can get complicated. That shouldn’t stop your VA disability benefits from taking care of step children or your newly adopted kids.
If you have a VA disability rating over 30 percent, the VA will base your compensation award in part on how many children you have.
When you’re dealing with your biological children, this is a fairly straightforward process. But how do you handle adding adopted children or stepchildren to your VA disability claim?
With the proper evidence, you can add non-biological children to your VA disability claim at any time. Read on to learn more about how this process works and how you can add your children to your VA award.
In This Article:
- How Do You Qualify for VA Disability?
- Getting a Diagnosis
- Proving a Service Connection
- Getting a Medical Nexus
- How VA Ratings Work
- VA Compensation Rates
- How the VA Compensates for Kids
- When You Can Add a New Child
- Establishing Adoption of a Child
- Effective Date for Adopted Children
- Why Effective Date Matters
- Establishing a Stepchild for VA Purposes
- Stepchildren Living Outside the Home
- Checking the Status of Your Stepchild
- Get VA Disability Benefits for Non-Biological Children
How Do You Qualify for VA Disability?
Before we get into how to add kids to your VA disability benefits, let’s talk some about how to qualify for disability in the first place. You need three primary things to get VA disability compensation. You have to have an official diagnosis, you have to be able to prove a service connection, and you have to prove a medical nexus linking the two.
When you get these three criteria, you can submit your disability claim to the VA. If you get a new stepchild or adopted child before your application is approved or denied, you can submit an amendment requesting an update to your claim. You can also submit an amendment at any time after your claim is approved.
Getting a Diagnosis
If you want to apply for VA disability, the first thing you’ll need to do is make an appointment with your doctor. You’ll need to get an official diagnosis for your condition, whether mental or physical, from a VA-approved physician. In most cases, your family doctor will either be able to provide this diagnosis or refer you to someone who can.
Before your appointment, you may want to make a list of all the symptoms you’re having and how often they occur. This can help your doctor reach a more reliable diagnosis more quickly. You may also want to get your hands on your military medical and service records before this appointment to speed along your VA application process.
Proving a Service Connection
Once you have an official diagnosis for your condition, you’ll need to be able to point to a specific incident in your military service that caused it. This could include an accident, injury, set of conditions you served in, or even treatment you received. In some cases, having served in certain areas during set periods of time can give you a service connection for your condition. These are called presumptive conditions.
In order to prove a service connection, you’ll need to get hands on your military service record. You should be able to download this through your free eBenefits account. You can also visit your local VA office for help getting a copy of this document.
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Getting a Medical Nexus
With your diagnosis and service connection in hand, the last step to qualifying for VA disability compensation is getting a medical nexus. This is effectively a statement from your doctor certifying that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by your military service. If you have your service record with you during your diagnosing appointment, you might get this nexus the same day as your diagnosis.
A medical nexus ensures that veterans only claim compensation for conditions related to their military service. You can’t get in a car crash five years after you leave the service and claim disability for a traumatic brain injury. However, if you got a concussion while you were in the military, you may have a viable claim with the VA.
One of our Veteran’s Disability Lawyers talks about the ‘missing link’ in most VA disability applications that are denied: The Nexus Letter
How VA Ratings Work
Once your VA disability application has been approved, the VA will assign you a disability rating. These ratings are expressed in percentages and are designed to reflect how severely your condition impacts your ability to live a normal life. The higher your percentage, the more your condition impacts your life.
Your disability rating will be based on which symptoms you display on a pre-determined scale. The VA will use your disability rating to determine how much compensation you receive each month. For the purposes of this compensation, your rating will be rounded to the nearest 10 percent.
VA Compensation Rates
For ratings below 30 percent, the VA looks only at what your disability rating is. For instance, if you have a rating of 10 percent, you’ll receive $152.64 per month tax-free. For a rating of 20 percent, you’ll get $301.74 each month.
For ratings above 30 percent, the VA also considers how many people are depending on you financially. For instance, if you have a disability rating of 50 percent and no dependents, you’ll get $958.44 per month, but the amount increases if your spouse or dependent children or parents also depend on you.
How the VA Compensates for Kids
The VA takes children into account when determining how much compensation you’ll receive each month. This starts with a baseline bonus for one child for ratings above 30 percent.
If you have more than one child, you’ll receive an additional stipend for each additional child under the age of 18. The amount you receive per child will vary based on your disability rating.
You can also get compensation for children over the age of 18 if they’re in a qualifying school program.
You can use our VA disability calculator to estimate how much you’ll get according to the current VA ratings table. You can add your dependents and spouse to our calculator also.
When You Can Add a New Child
VA disability claims can take months or even years to be decided. So what happens if you get married or adopt a child after you submit your VA disability claim? You can submit an amendment to your appeal any time after you submit it, but before the VA makes a decision about your disability claim.
If you add a new child to your household after the VA makes a decision about your case, you can always update your claim. You can send a request for amendment to the VA once you meet the requirements for adding a child to your household. You will need to submit the appropriate evidence, and the VA may take a few months to make a decision about your amendment.
Establishing Adoption of a Child
In order to claim an adopted child on your VA disability application, you’ll need to provide some evidence that you are that child’s legal guardian. The VA will need one of two documents to prove this: either a decree of adoption or an adoptive placement agreement. Informal oral or written certifications of the child’s adoption will not meet VA criteria.
You may be able to establish a child as adopted before the official adoption takes place. You can submit evidence of an interlocutory decree of adoption, which will not be final until some future event or date occurs. Your adoptive placement agreement may also specify that you, the adoptive parents, have custody of a child, pending final adoption proceedings.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Effective Date for Adopted Children
There are a few days you can establish as your effective date for claiming an adoptive child on your VA disability application. The VA will choose the earliest of the following dates. The most common effective date is the date your child’s final adoption goes through, provided you let them know about it within a year.
The VA may also use the date your interlocutory decree of adoption was issued as your effective date. They may look at the date of your adoptive placement agreement as well. They may also use the date of another legal action through an authorized agency that grants you custody of your child.
Why Effective Date Matters
Effective date is important because once your claim is approved, the VA may pay you back payments for the time before they reached a decision. Your effective date will determine how much time you get reimbursed for. The sooner you establish an effective date for your amendment request, the more money you can get to help support your new children.
Your effective date is the date on which you submit your application or amendment to the VA. If you apply by mail, your effective date will be the date of the postmark on your application. If you apply online, your effective date will be the day you submit your electronic application.
Establishing a Stepchild for VA Purposes
You’ll also have to establish to the VA that you provide support for any stepchildren you plan to claim on your application. The VA defines a stepchild as the legitimate or illegitimate child of a veteran’s spouse or the child of a surviving spouse whose marriage to a veteran the VA has deemed valid. This can allow the surviving spouse to collect VA benefits from their spouse on behalf of their child.
If you are in a same-sex marriage and you have a child while you are married, the VA may not automatically consider them to be a stepchild. In order for the VA to automatically recognize them as your stepchild, you’ll need to legally adopt the child. If you haven’t legally adopted the child, you’ll need to talk to your Regional Counsel about whether the child is a legitimate ward.
Stepchildren Living Outside the Home
In general, stepchildren must be living in the same home as the veteran in order for the VA to cover them on a claim. If the veteran has died, the stepchild must have been living in their household at the time the veteran died. However, there are a few situations in which the VA will still cover a stepchild even if they are not living in the same household as the veteran.
The VA will make an exception for stepchildren living outside the home if there are medical reasons for the separation. They will also make an exception if either the veteran stepparent or the stepchild is in jail. And they will allow a veteran to claim a stepchild if one of them is attending school or fulfilling a military service obligation.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm
Checking the Status of Your Stepchild
When you apply for a VA disability amendment, it may be a while before you hear from the VA about the status of your stepchild. Remember that even if this process takes some time, you’ll still get compensated for every month starting from your effective date to the present. But you can also check with the VA on the status of your stepchild.
The VA should review your case and make an initial call about whether your stepchild meets their requirements for coverage or not. If they do not, they may temporarily remove the child from your award while they review evidence. If they do, don’t worry; this decision is not final, and you’ll be paid for any months the child was erroneously removed from your award.
Get VA Disability Benefits for Non-Biological Children
Trying to navigate the world of VA disability benefits can be confusing enough. But when you’re trying to figure out how to claim non-biological children, things can get even stranger. Make sure you submit plenty of evidence that you’ve adopted your child, or that your stepchild lives in the home with you to keep the process as simple as possible.
If you’d like help getting the most from your VA disability claim, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, LLC. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today to start getting the compensation you deserve.