I’d like to welcome the first of hopefully many Guest Bloggers give their take and insight on the VA Claims Process. With that, let’s turn it over to Kent, who contacted us wanting to share his story.
How to Navigate the V.A. and Keeping it Non-Adversarial
After my third back surgery it became apparent to me that my days of physical labor in manufacturing was drawing to a close, and the need for securing the future of my family and our standard of living was at hand.
I was home recuperating after my third surgery when I happened across the veterans friendly website hosted by Jim Strickland, while I was looking up my wife’s 90 year old grandfathers WW II combat unit for him. It was then I had my epiphany and realized that I had been duped by the V.A. nearly twenty years earlier after my ETS from active duty in the Army.
I am a Gulf War I era vet, and I was injured while serving as a gunner in an artillery unit (13-B). I had fractured my spine after being rocked off the back of my 109 howitzer onto the metal spades during a fire mission. As we all know “toughing it out and driving on to accomplish the mission” is the first and foremost of our training and job while we serve. Injury is dealt with until we just can’t move anymore. This is exactly what happened to me. My medical care while in the army was fundamental and basic at best. Hot packs/therapy and Motrin, it wasn’t until weeks later that an x-ray was done and the fracture(s) had healed, did I know the extent of my injury.
I remember during my out-processing in 1992 being asked “if I had any injuries?” and pretty much shrugged it off, being eager to get on with my life and start my civilian job. I went as advised to the vet center in Jackson, Mississippi after I relocated for my new job to sign up for my post-military benefits etc. At that time I mentioned to the V.A. counselor I had a severe back issue and wanted to know about medical care. Knowing that most soldiers don’t have access to the CFR (code of federal regulations) this counselor promptly told me, “oh you don’t want the V.A. giving you medical care, you will need to go to Dallas (several hundred miles away) and will be there for a month or more. You have a good job, just let your insurance handle it”. So I did just that, for the next seventeen years.
I learned from Jim Strickland’s A-Z website (http://www.jimstrickland912.com/
) everything I needed to know about filing my claim and getting the benefits that I needed to preserve and maintain my family’s standard of living. I won a fair award and rating from the V.A. and also entered the Chapter 31 program. I have earned my bachelor’s degree from a top-tier business college, attending one night a week, and I am now working on my MBA, all through the V.A.
The first thing you must do is determine if you have an injury that occurred or was pre-existing and subsequently aggravated by your military service. To do this you will need a copy of your SMR’s (service medical records). Then you need to learn as much as you can about your injury. Do this by reading your medical records, military and civilian, the CFR, and all your doctor’s visits notes, post military. In my case I had all my doctors that treated me for back issues in the previous seventeen years write me a letter stating they had reviewed my SMR’s and my civilian medical records and agreed that my condition was “more likely than not” related to the injury while in service. This is called a “NEXUS” and it’s a vital step in getting your benefits.
When you have this “Nexus” letter(s) in hand, and your SMR’s, you can now start your claim. Download the form from VA.GOV (form 21-546) make a separate folder and keep copies of everything. ALWAYS mail to your regional office certified with return receipt, ALWAYS. No phone calls, no fax, those get lost or forgotten. It took me exactly one year to the day to get my claim resolved. I did everything myself. If you can navigate the web you can handle this.
To re-cap all of this I will simply state the following;
- Nobody cares about your claim but you!
- You must have an honorable discharge.
- Read all you can from the web about filing a disability claim with the VA
- Read everything Jim Strickland has ever written about filing a claim, his A-Z guide is the Holy Grail.
- Learn the CFR.
- Learn to navigate VA.GOV
- Read the VA.GOV claims appeals that are similar to your claim
- Study the forms from the V.A. before you fill them out and mail them.
- Make copies of everything and keep it organized.
- Contact a vet that has successfully completed a claim, they will gladly help a deserving brother.
- Learn everything you can about your injury or condition.
- Get letters from old military buddies that witnessed your injury.
- Get unit records if needed.
- PREP, PREP, PREP
- Anytime the V.A. contacts you after you file your claim, act on the request and follow through, the clock starts ticking and you can really create problems by not acting on the request.
- Never, I repeat NEVER get rude or cuss any VA employee that you come into contact with during this journey; doing so can complicate things in a completely unnecessary way. There are other more effective ways to handle issues.
- Be patient, take up a hobby, this will take time, do thing right the first time is the only thing to keep thing moving.
- This process is set-up to be non-adversarial, but you must educate yourself, and think of this as a second part time job.
Thanks for sharing, Ken! I encourage all of our readers that would like to share their stories and tips to let us know. This a page For Veterans and their supporters, By Veterans an their supporters.