February 11, 2016, by Anum Yoon – Seeking a service-related disability claim with Veteran’s Affairs can be intimidating, especially with all the bad press they’ve had in recent years. There have been attempts to fix the very broken system, but they haven’t had a significant impact yet. However, that doesn’t mean you should hold off or question doing it.
You should file a claim any time you have an injury or illness that is a direct result of military experience, or if you feel a preexisting condition was made worse by your time in the military. The second option is likely to be more difficult to prove, but if it’s a legitimate concern, then you should certainly get whatever benefits you’re entitled to.
How to File
The first steps are pretty simple. You just need to fill out the appropriate forms, or you can work with a Veterans Service Officer who will help you fill them out properly. Keep in mind that you are legally not allowed to pay anyone to help you at this point, so if someone is trying to charge you for it, they are not a legitimate officer. Look somewhere else!
Once you get through the paperwork, you have to provide proof. It should be a pretty straightforward process. You need the appropriate documents that show you served in the military and that you have a current condition or illness that is a direct result of military duty. It sounds so simple when you look at it like that, but many people find this area difficult to navigate. Keep in mind that most of this is due to bureaucratic red tape, and is often not the fault of the individual.
It’s important to remember that Veteran’s Affairs is a part of the Social Security Administration. This creates problems, since it’s not considered a section of the military, but has so much overlap. If your claim is not approved right away, and many are not, then you will have to pursue the claim through a federal judge. This is where problems tend to get worse.
Federal judges are overburdened, and SSA claims and wait times for a hearing are outrageous. It’s significantly faster to sign up for the military, which takes about two months, than it is to receive any VA benefits you could be entitled to, which can take more than 24 months. Keep in mind that many people are diagnosed with a condition or injury within six months of leaving the military, but must wait another 18 months to receive any state-funded care.
Working the System
There are things you can do to prevent that from happening to you. Being well-prepared is vital to having your case succeed. In other words, you need all the information the VA has. You need a copy of your VA claim file, called a C-File. The C-File is all of the most important documents for your claim. If you don’t have it, get it, because if your claim is denied, the reason is likely to be somewhere in that file. It will save you scads of time searching and should help you prevent a denial before it happens. If you send the VA a written request for the file, they must send you a copy. If they don’t, you can take them to court, which they usually don’t care for.
Then you need to make it easy for them. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but if you make your case strong and clear, you’ll get better results. This means getting them good, strong evidence of your illness or condition, all the correct dates for service and diagnosis, and most importantly, a ridiculously strong connection between your injury and your service. By that, I mean that if you think it’s good enough, find more evidence.
You basically need to prove four things to get VA benefits: your eligibility or proof of your illness or condition, a service connection, the effective date and an impairment rating. Proof of your illness should be fairly simple, so long as you’ve been to see a doctor. The most important thing is to establish a service connection, or prove that your injury was caused or made worse by your time in the military. Once you have that information, don’t hide it. Label it, use doctor’s reports, list medications and prescriptions you’ve been given and above all, include the dates.
Keep in mind that the effective date can change, based on either the receipt of the claim or whenever you received the injury. Of course, it’s the government, so they’re legally allowed to use whichever date is later. That means if you’ve been getting treatment for a problem before you sent in the claim, they don’t have to reimburse you for it, so get your claim in as soon as possible.
Other than that, most of the battle to get your claim approved will be mental. There will still be long waits, and there’s not always anything you can do about that. If your claim is denied, get a lawyer and ask for advice. Just remember, you went through boot camp. You’ve fought battles, been deployed, jumped out of helicopters or airplanes, treated wounded comrades and protected your family and loved ones. You can sure as hell get the benefits you deserve.