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Chapter 1: Introduction

For your convenience, you can download the complete chapter as a PDF file for reading offline. Before you can take the quiz, you must mark complete on each topic below.

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This course is an introduction to veterans law and advocacy. The authors hope that anyone who helps veterans and their family members get benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will find helpful information here. The course is also intended to make claimants for VA benefits better, more informed consumers.

This course does not attempt to cover every topic or issue in VA law. The authors have omitted some complicated issues. This course will discuss many VA benefits, but will focus on entitlement to compensation, because this benefit is most commonly claimed and is often difficult to obtain. For example, most of the cases that come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims deal with entitlement to compensation. We do not discuss the many state veterans’ benefits programs.

We hope that many veterans, as well as those providing (or interested in providing) informal advice about VA benefits, will take this course. However, veterans should not expect to be able to represent themselves even after successfully completing this course. That would be a major mistake. But a claimant who takes this course will be better able to assist his or her representative. An informed veteran is far more likely to obtain his or her rightfully earned VA benefits.

There are 12 chapters in this course. This chapter is an introduction and overview. Chapter 2 deals with eligibility requirements. Chapter 3 covers service-connected compensation benefits, including benefits due to a veteran injured by VA medical care. Chapter 4 explains how the VA evaluates disabilities and discusses claims for increased ratings and rating reductions. Chapter 5 covers service-connected death benefits. Chapter 6 deals with non-service-connected pension and death pension. Chapter 7 explains the VA claims process, including the options claimants have after a denial by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Chapter 8 gives a general overview of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Chapter 9 covers VA debt collection, including how an overpayment is created and how to ask for a waiver of debt. Chapter 10 explains how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correct a military record. Chapter 11 covers VA health care. Chapter 12 offers a summary of some lesser known VA benefits.

Although this is a basic course, it contains a great deal of information. You may find it helpful to read each chapter more than once, and to take the short self- quizzes that appear at the end of most chapters. (Answers are under the page called Self-Quiz Answers). These self-quizzes are designed to let the reader test his or her knowledge of the chapter before moving on in the course. You should also take the comprehensive test that comes with the course. We will grade the test and inform you of the results. If you pass, you will earn a Basic Training Course Certificate. Passing this test will not make you an accredited service representative. Formal accreditation from the VA must come through a veterans service organization or state department of veterans affairs, but many veterans service organizations require their representatives to pass this course as a requirement for accreditation.

If you want to learn more about veterans law we suggest you purchase the latest edition of the Veterans Benefits Manual (VBM). This treatise is user-friendly, well-indexed, and packed with practical information. It includes sample forms and briefs, flowcharts, checklists, citations to legal authorities, and other documents designed to streamline the claims process and save you time. Click here for a more detailed description of the VBM: http://www.nvlsp.org/store/veterans-benefits- manual-2014
On a practical note, we have also included a number of sample “intake forms”— forms that veterans can complete to organize the information that their advocates need. These intake forms should help advocates identify VA benefits for which a veteran may be eligible, even benefits they may not have realized existed.

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