OP-ED: WE ARE THE MIGHTY - Veteran Benefits Guide: The roadmap to getting your benefits by Michael Licari

November 28, 2023

When it comes to applying for disability benefits, it’s important to remember one thing: These are benefits that veterans have earned from their years of service. It’s honorable to provide them to veterans, and every veteran deserves to receive them.

That may seem obvious, but the numbers say otherwise. Currently, only 5.2 million of 19 million eligible veterans receive benefits—that’s less than a third. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faces a backlog of more than 300,000 claims and a claims inventory of more than 1 million—and rising.

Why is it so challenging for veterans to obtain their benefits? Practically speaking, veterans often receive insufficient and rushed medical exams, which result in inaccurate claims applications. Then, when they submit their claim, the process within the VA is slow. The inaccurate exams mean veterans are often denied their full benefits initially and may have to wait years to reach the correct outcome that they have earned.

My own story is a good example of these challenges. In addition to being the Vice President for Government Affairs and Chief Legal Officer for Veteran Benefits Guide (VBG), I am a disabled Marine Corps veteran. When I was honorably discharged in 2002, I was suffering from chronic back and leg pain that resulted from my service. Navy doctors misdiagnosed me with knee strain, and as a result I received a disability rating of only 20%.

The doctors had failed to discover that I actually had a herniated disk and a pinched nerve that would require back surgery. In 2006, two years after my surgery, I was still suffering from chronic pain and returned to the VA to have my rating reassessed. I was seen by a VA doctor and was denied an increase. In 2008, I tried again but received only a modest increase—from 20 to 50%. It was not until 2021 that, with the help of expert guides at VBG, I finally received the correct rating. By my estimates, living with the incorrect rating for 19 years cost me more than $400,000.

Stories like mine and hundreds of thousands of other veterans are exactly why VBG was founded. The company was started by fellow Marine Corps veteran, Josh Smith, who left his job at the VA, where he served as a Rater, to start the company in 2015. The company’s goal: To ensure that all veterans receive the full benefits they earned in a timely manner. Since then, the VBG team has helped more than 35,000 veterans across the U.S. obtain an increase in their benefits at an estimated combined value of $5.5 billion.

VBG provides an important service that gives support not only to veterans, but to the VA and to taxpayers because it makes the submission process more efficient. By helping veterans submit thorough, accurate claims to the VA, VBG makes it easier for the VA to evaluate applications and to ensure that veterans receive the correct disability rating and related financial support.

To help veterans, VBG provides specially trained, case managers who guide veterans through the entire claims process. veterans also receive thorough and timely medical exams from a trusted nationwide network of independent, qualified medical service providers. All of the providers undergo a credentialing and due-diligence protocol that matches the VA’s compensation and pension exam. Through VBG’s streamlined process, a veteran’s claim takes into account potential injuries and service history, painting a complete picture to determine if the injury was service-connected or not.

Once the forms are complete, veterans file their own claim, guided by VBG. The VBG process is fully compliant with federal law, providing veterans with a private, legal option that is outside of the VA and nonprofit space. Notably, more than 70% of VBG’s clients first tried navigating the VA process on their own or with the help of a VSO representative but were either denied the full benefit they earned or felt the process was too slow.

VBG’s process typically takes about eight months, which is far less than the time it would take to get a similar result using an attorney or agent. VBG’s clients receive an average increase in monthly benefits of $1300, or about $15,600 per year over their lifetime. In exchange for the service, VBG is paid a risk-free one-time fee, only if the veteran receives an increase in their disability benefit.

When it comes to navigating the complex VA system, veterans deserve the option to use a service that helps guide them through the process. VBG has provided an important resource for disabled veterans, and the company’s team remains committed to serving those who have served.

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