“Wherever you are at, whether in civilian clothes or in uniform, we work together, we never let each other down.”
—Master Sergeant Raul (Roy) Perez Benavidez, CMH recipient and bona fide neck snapper
Throughout the years, I have noticed the stunning number of veterans who fall somewhere between confused and oblivious when it comes to utilizing VA services. Reasons abound; “it’s too time consuming,” “I don’t really need it,” or “I just don’t want it.” Fair enough. But time and time again I hear from friends how they want to get more involved with VA services, but don’t know where (or how) to begin. Sure there is a lot of generic literature out there, pamphlets and stickers, but that doesn’t seem to punch through the bureaucracy enough. In truth, most veteran’s first step toward the VA is soon followed by a step heading back to their car. The system is clogged, riddled with delays, lingering wait-times and even the occasional malignant, anti-veteran employee. In light of these facts, I wanted to present this article as a resource. This not an opinion-piece howling on about VA ineptness, poor treatment of veterans, or what have you. For that just go on damn near any blog or news source. This article is a free step-by-step guide to assist with one of the more common resources; disability compensation. *Please understand that this in no way encompasses the totality of compensation-related information. This addresses the main body. If you do not find a direct answer in here, please continue to seek the appropriate answers from additional sources.
Malingerer Disclaimer: disability compensation is an entitlement. However, not in the pejorative sense that the word “entitlement” often gets portrayed during hot-button political debates. You actually ARE entitled to compensation for injuries while in the military, legally, whether you ethically align or oppose. Before you ever swore in at MEPS, before you ever held strong that you never smoked pot during “the moment of truth,” policies existed that basically say. . . if you get banged up while in military service. . . you will be compensated. However, like any entitlement program, there will be those who fraudulently capitalize off it. The VA knows it, policy-makers and economists know it, and combat veterans damn sure know it. Will the following advice be used by malingering pussies? Maybe. But hopefully so to by veterans who legitimately rate compensation that they’re not currently receiving—if that is the case; then well worth it.
Mental preparation. There are some things to understand about navigating the waters of the VA. Appointments. . . GO TO THE SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS, especially if the appointments are for Compensation and Pension exams (usually indicated by “CNP” typed next to the confirmation letters sent in the mail). Sounds obvious, right? It is, yet quite regularly a buddy of mine will tell me, “Uh yeah, that audiology exam, yeah I didn’t go. . . I had shit to do.” That low-priority way of thinking will only result in you just wasting whatever dismal amount of energy you actually did put into the process. And that brings me to this; planning. Plan to dedicate a half-day per VA visit. If the appointment is before noon, then your morning is dedicated to the appointment, if it is afternoon… same applies for your day until early evening. The inconvenient appointment times, coupled with the very real issue of waiting for long periods at the VA, seem to be the two-punch combo that has turned a lot of my veteran friends away from services that they rate, and frankly—could use. Somewhat jokingly, I relate taking on the VA to a grueling MOS school. It requires the combination of patience, proactivity, and dealing with the immediate task in front of you while maintaining focus on the end-state. In short, you’re saying to the government you deserve some of its money—it’s not going to be made convenient for you. Accept it. Move forward.
Obtain a copy of your service and medical records. If you are still in, and anticipating a near-future EAS, it is crucial you get these copied. If you are out and do not have them there are several ways to obtain them, easiest is likely via this link here . Even if you are not utilizing the VA, these records are just good to have.
How to file a claim. There are two ways, online and postal. Online, set up your account here . Once your account is set up you can go through a comprehensive list of disabilities the VA recognizes and file for the ones that are appropriate for you. Note that the online process has the ability to scan and upload supporting documents (i.e. letter from a doctor, or a sheet out of your military medical records). There is also now the “fully developed claim” option. I will be honest, I have never used it—so I am not going to risk any misguidance, maybe in the comment thread someone can shed some needed light.
If you opt for snail mail, google “VA Form 21-526”. Print it, fill it out, and mail it to your regional office. Regional offices are here .The site takes a bit of navigation, but you will be able to find the regional office for your area. Send a copy of your DD214 and copies of all relevant service and medical records related to the issues you are claiming (e.g. if you are claiming an ankle issue, copy the page(s) in your medical record that state the training incident, IED blast, etc., highlight the relevant portions). This is best done if you mail all this in as a single packet.
Statement in support of claim. Did you know that you can provide testimonies from others? You can. This, of course, is not as pertinent for a claim regarding something like the loss of a limb. However, if you have something like back or knee issues, important details such as level of pain, missing work days, and negative effects on daily life are considered by the VA when the Caesarian thumbs-up or thumbs-down is given on your rating. Google “va form 21-4138” and a printable pdf file is available. Simply have your; wife, mom, terrified neighbor, former platoon mate, and/or priest write their testimony about your issues. Mail to your regional office (this can be sent in the same packet as in Step 3).
That’s the steps. Afterward just be diligent with appointments. They will (eventually) mail you letters containing your appointment times, a tiny description of what they are for, and the location you need to go to. JUST F’N GO.
Now, I would like to address a few important areas of the disability compensation arena. Include these in the step-by-step process as you see fit.
What talk about VA disability would be complete without it, right? Let’s just air out the dirty laundry now, a lot of combat vets are suspect of some PTSD cases they’ve seen, and who they originated from. It’s a popular topic in the inner circles of the veteran community, and it’s understandable. However, sorry to disappoint, that aspect of the discussion isn’t my focus. The following are some technical details regarding the nature of a PTSD claim.
There are three elements that must be met for a successful PTSD claim; (1) in-service incident (a firefight, for example), (2) a current diagnosis (a doctor must agree that you have PTSD), and (3) a nexus. This nexus is what links the current diagnosis to the in-service incident. Those of you who have what are called “conceded stressors” should have no problem. Conceded stressors are verifiable things such as a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, or Combat Action Ribbon. Those of you who do not have any conceded stressors in your records must explain how your military service directly relates to your current PTSD issues. In short, it has to be due to the RPG that whizzed by you, not the car accident you were in once back in the civilian world.
To get an idea of how the VA assigns PTSD ratings, check out the following link here . You need to understand something—it took me several years to realize this, but something that sabotages a proper PTSD rating is the inability to let go of the same psychological frame work that allows one to perform efficiently in the uniform. For me, and for the other special operations types, this seems to be especially true—nothing hurts, no tears, no pain, jump out of a plane with a sandbag in the ruck to later fight behind, err yut kill. It has its place in the battle space, but has no place when you are trying to adequately convey the totality of PTSD symptoms. In short, tell the truth; and I recommend scanning through the aforementioned link and jotting down what symptoms apply to you.
Independent Medical Examiners (IME)
IME means you seek medical care for service-connected claims from establishments outside the VA (family doctor, for example). It’s a great way to build your case, if you insist on physically avoiding VA clinics. . . at least for a while. Using IMEs is one of the most common tactics employed by the droves of law firms that have popped up like mushrooms in recent years, offering legal assistance with “Veterans Affairs claims”. Well, fuck the man— I am here to tell you they do little more than ensure themselves to the usual 20% of your back pay. If you want to use IMEs, remember this—awesome way to pad your case, but—and I can’t emphasize this enough—all the beneficial diagnoses in the world from IMEs are utterly worthless without a VA diagnosis. Look at anything IME-related as merely support, because it is.
Alright, that’s it. Once a service-connected disability is established all related medicine, therapy and various forms of assistance (glasses, insoles, etc.) are either totally free or damn near it. For those of you struggling financially and having to strictly adhere to a budget. . . you know these little numbers can add up.
I can’t help but end this on a nostalgic note: you fuckers are the 1% that allow the USA to retain its status as, what some have referred to as, a quasi-imperialistic super power. All the cute, sheltered comfort and exuberant standards of living that we all can’t help but scoff at from time to time—in some twisted, heroic way. . . it’s because you defended it. If you are owed compensation for it, get it.