The United States Supreme Court ruled in late January that service members must file Veterans Affairs claims within one year of separation, or they will not be eligible for retroactive payouts, per federal statute, 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(1).  

The Jan. 23 ruling in Arellano v. McDonough put even more importance on veterans knowing the disability claim process or seeking help in filing their claim. 

“The statute sets out detailed instructions that explain when various types of benefits qualify for an effective date earlier than the default,” wrote Justice Amy Coney Barrett. “Congress did not throw the door wide open in these circumstances or any other.”

A quick summary of the case: Adolfo Arellano was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1981 and suffered from a severe mental health condition connected to his service. Thirty years after his discharge, Arellano applied for Veteran Affairs benefits. 

Effective on the date the agency received his claim, the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him benefits, however denied retroactive benefits dating back to when he was discharged from the military.

With the Supreme Court upholding the one-year requirement, veterans being discharged must understand and file a claim before the end of the one-year grace period. Veterans who have not applied can’t wait! The sooner you file, the quicker you will begin to get compensated.  

The VA disability process is confusing and bureaucratic. It is in the veterans’ and their families’ best interest to seek assistance. You must gather as much information as possible and submit a complete packet the first time. Imagine going to the DMV seven times and how frustrating and cumbersome the process would become.   

Here are a few tips to get ready for your claim:

• For five minutes, forget your military training, and don’t be a tough guy/gal. Everything adds up, so list as many ailments, aches and pains as possible.  

• VA Math – Service members’ affectionate name for the Combined Ratings Table to calculate your combined VA disability rating. The VA assigns percentages to each medical condition, but 100% is not the magical number. It’s closer to 210%. Don’t question how! 

• Collect all medical records and evidence (such as doctor and hospital reports); this includes both military and civilian (if any) documentation.

• You should also attach any copies of your DD214 or separation documents.

• Gather all dependency records (marriage and children’s birth certificates). You can get extra compensation for your family, and your spouse can continue to get benefits after you pass away. 

The military always taught you to have a battle buddy, shipmate, etc. Do not go at this alone! Here are a few advocacy groups to help you file your claim with the VA:

• Beaufort County Office of Veterans Affairs’ mission is “to assist the Beaufort County veteran population and their dependents in obtaining their fullest Department of Veterans Affairs and state of South Carolina benefits.” They can be reached at 843-255-6880. 

• Many national organizations can also help, including the Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. 

Chris Ophardt is a retired Army Lt. Col. living in Okatie. He served 20 years with three combat tours to Iraq.