Whether you served two years or thirty, as a member (or former member) of the Armed Forces of the United States, you are entitled to compensation for injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the service of you country. As the years pass from the filing of your original claim, you can expect that some service-connected disabilities shall worsen and as a result, you can file additional claims for increase or, should secondary disabilities arise, you may also file for additional disability benefits for those secondary conditions. There are also some unique benefits available based on needs that may stem from your disabilities. These include special housing and automobile adaptation as well as housebound and aid and attendance.
Filing a claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is your way to obtain tax free disability compensation benefits. However, many Veterans experience significant and largely avoidable delays in the processing of their claims because of careless errors, omissions or conflicting information throughout several key phases in the life of your claim.
I wrote this book to remove some of the mystery behind VA’s disability claims process and share with you some insight that will help guide you through your own claim---from start to finish. As you read this book, try to see me as your “coach”, walking you through your claim. As you progress, I will warn you of the obstacles that lie ahead and also share some little-known smart moves you can pick up along the way. During the span of my seven-year career with the Veterans Benefits Administration, I served as a Veterans Service Representative (VSR), an employee responsible for developing claims and also as a Rating Veterans Service Representative (RVSR), one who actually rated disabilities and granted or denied service connection for claimed conditions. Later, I became a coach, managing other VSRs and RVSRs. Through my unique experience, I shall provide a roadmap for completing your own claim.
Before my career in the VA, I served for almost 27 years in the Air Force working Physical Exams and Standards, which included working as a Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO) and writing Medical Standards within the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General; specifically, as a member of the Aerospace Medicine Operations Agency. My military and VA careers have afforded me considerable depth and breadth of knowledge in both DoD and VA disability procedures that has been very helpful in compiling this published work. I hope you find that in reading this, you have gained a greater understanding of the process in which you are about to begin.
If one knows how to tap into it, the Veterans Benefits Administration, one of three organizations under the Department of Veterans Affairs, has a great deal to offer. Together, we will focus specifically on VA’s Disability Compensation Benefits claims processing. Within these pages, I will do my best to give clear and detailed information that should clarify, simplify and bring to light some of the lesser-known nuances about the claim process, as well as where many hang-ups and delays result that you can evade by avoiding careless errors and understanding how the process works.
You will also gain a basic understanding of how the ever evolving and changing law, policy and guidance drives and changes the VA claim process and leverage these to your advantage as we work through your claim together. In addition to the frequent changes in guidance, there have been, and continues to be fast and relatively agile advances in how VA is developing technology to improve their own internal processes. Soon, VA will be completely paperless and as a result, more rapid consolidation of your supporting claim documentation will facilitate significant improvements in the completion of most claims.
Throughout this how-to book, I have included many references. I refer to these as the “dry goods” and it will not take you long to appreciate why I have coined them as such. A thorough reading of each may provide you better understanding of the forces that give rise to some of the policy-driven reasons behind the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD). Although some of the reference material is included, I tried not to fill the pages of this book with anything more than those I believe you should have in your back pocket. Where references are cited, they are included in their entirety and so much may not specifically apply to you but may to another Veteran. A few are quite lengthy and about as juicy as chewing on sawdust. While the policy and instructional references are the nuts and bolts of the VA’s Disability Compensation Benefits claim process, I did not want to risk boring you to death by including every detail of the regulatory jargon. Nevertheless, the references noted herein and a great many more are readily available and not too hard to find using simple Internet search engines. If you want to really get a good perspective on all the moving parts, even a causal review will increase your understanding of DoD and VA’s responsibilities—as well as your own in navigating your way through a claim from beginning to end.
Last but certainly not least, I will share with you some simple ways to get achieve a higher rating by understanding the evidence in your file and what you demonstrate during your VA examination. By leveraging and using VA policy and laws in your favor, many of these tips can indeed earn you a higher award with relative ease. I will also provide you with strategies and tactics to get some immediate attention on your claim if you come to believe it’s languishing in the bureaucracy—some of which VA would likely rather you weren’t aware of as a claimant.
While this book is intended to be helpful to every reader contemplating or in the process of filing a VA Disability Compensation claim, within these pages, you shall soon see that filing a claim before you get out of the military through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) and Quick Start programs have significant advantages I can’t over emphasize. For those of you preparing to hang up your uniform for the last time, there are some true jewels included for you to seize upon and apply in your favor. More than a few of these are identified as an “INSIDE TIP” and are certain to irritate some VA management and policy making officials.
So enjoy the journey you’re about to take with me, your personal insider “coach”. Whether you are still in the military and contemplating your transition to a life out of uniform or, you have already left the Service and want to initiate your first (or subsequent) claim. There is something for every Veteran to gain within these pages and it is my hope you find it revealing, informative and interesting. If you are getting ready to file your claim, read all of this book first because to do some steps intelligently requires some prep work beforehand and I have provided emphasis throughout target in these areas for the potentially best outcome on your claim for VA Disability Benefits.