The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: June 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fighting the VA – Billy’s True VA Disability Story

Billy woke up one morning to find himself, a Disabled American Veteran, trapped in a web of technicalities created by the VA Disability system. The VA only gave his condition a 0% VA Disability Rating, but he lived every day in pain from his disability. What could he possibly do to get the proxper compensation his condition deserved?

While Billy was serving on active duty, he began to develop serious skin infections that caused large, painful boils all over his body, including his head, torso, buttocks, groin, arms, legs, and feet. His physicians treated his symptoms by lancing the boils and giving him antibiotics. With this treatment, his infections would clear up, only to recur again in the future. He was officially diagnosed with “recurring abscesses”.

During this time, Billy also noticed patches of dry, irritated skin, but they were basically ignored since the infected areas were much more problematic. He noted, “These dry skin conditions could have been eczema/dermatitis for all I know, but no one bothered to call it that in my medical record. That was the unfortunate part, because this oversight still haunts me to this day.”

The only condition mentioned in his medical records, and thus the only condition eligible to receive Military Disability, was skin infections.

Billy’s first C&P Exam after leaving the military unfortunately occurred at a time when he had no obvious skin infections. He had recently been treated, the sores had all been cleared up by the antibiotics, and they had not yet come back. Because of this, the VA gave him a rating of 0% for Infections of the Skin, code 7820. 

Code 7820 is one of the conditions in the VASRD, the law that determines how conditions are rated, that is rated analogously as something else. In Billy’s case, the VA decided to rate his condition analogously with Dermatitis/Eczema, code 7806. So his final rating was Infections of the Skin rated as Dermatitis/Eczema, code 7820-7806.

Years passed. Billy’s skin infections continued coming back, and they were getting worse over time. He saw numerous doctors for treatment. One physician officially diagnosed him with dermatitis, and reported that his infections could be spreading across his body because of scratching the patches of dermatitis while sleeping. Dermatitis was now his main diagnosis.

After years of skin problems, Billy also began to develop painful and unstable scars, meaning that the scars also became infected regularly.

With his condition continually getting worse, Billy’s ability to function normally in his day-to-day life also worsened. He now definitely needed VA Disability Benefits, so he decided to contact his local VA about having his rating increased.

He contacted his local VA and filed a claim, but it was denied. The only official diagnosis he had at the time was Dermatitis, and there was no proof in his military medical records that he had had dermatitis while he was in the military. If a condition is not recorded while in the military, it is not considered service-connected and thus not ratable.

The only other way Billy could prove his dermatitis was service-connected was by providing definite proof that the dermatitis was caused by the skin infections. Unfortunately, his type of skin infections doesn’t necessarily cause dermatitis, and vice versa. Could it have, though? Absolutely, but there is no definitive proof. The VA’s loophole.

Billy tried to file VA Appeals numerous times to have his rating increased, but was always denied.

Now it may seem very clear to you and I (and I hope the majority of people) that all Billy’s skin conditions are very closely related, even to the point of being basically inseparable, regardless of what they are called. Yet, based on the laws in place, the VA denials are technically justified. Would another person reviewing his case decide that he does indeed qualify for a higher rating? It is quite possible. There are rules that the VA raters are required to follow, but there is still quite a lot left up to interpretation. Another rater may look at everything, see it as we do, and decide that he does qualify. Billy is literally being harmed by a mere technicality.

So, what can he do?  

First, he should go back to his current physician and try to get him to change the diagnosis back to skin infections. They couldn’t argue with the same diagnosis that is service-connected.

If the physician decides that his current condition is better defined as dermatitis than skin infections, then Billy should at least try to get his physician to change the diagnosis to dermatitis caused by skin infections, or something to that effect. What Billy needs to do is make it harder on the VA to say no than yes. The skin infections are service-connected, so having his doctor claim that his current condition was caused by those skin infections could be enough to sway the VA rater.

Another tool that could help influence the VA rater would be to submit images of his skin conditions with his claim. Each image should be clearly dated. If an image of his skin infections while he was in the military looks pretty close to the current images, they might agree that they are basically the same condition.

Another option would be for him to stop trying to get a better rating for his dermatitis/infections and instead focus on getting a rating for his scars. Since his scars are pretty extensive, painful, and unstable, he could get a pretty high rating for them alone. Again, though, the key to this is to have the physician claim that the scars were caused by his skin infections, not his dermatitis. Everything must link back to his skin infections in order for the VA to rate them.

All in all, Billy is in a really tough and unfortunate spot. The VA isn’t technically doing anything wrong, but Billy is definitely not receiving the disability compensation he deserves for a legit condition.

The main lesson to learn from this is to guarantee that every single condition you have, no matter how small, is properly recorded while in the military.

Service-connection is the key.

While this may not seem fair, it is actually a very good law that protects the system from being abused by the users out there. Why should taxpayers’ money go to pay for conditions that had absolutely nothing to do with military service? Military disability should be given for military disabilities.

It’s a good law overall, but it can unfortunately backfire on the honest veterans who unquestionably deserve the proper compensation.

Sadly, it may be too late for the majority of you to have their conditions properly recorded while in the military. If you are not fully separated from the military yet, though, make sure to get this done. You will definitely not regret it, and it may make all the difference in the future.

For all those stuck in the web of technicalities right along with Billy, know that you need to carefully choose your battles. There are some battles that may be easily won, but if you cannot find a way to prove service-connection, you will only be fighting a loosing battle. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rating Military Sexual Trauma (MST) for Military Disability

The VA uses the term Military Sexual Trauma (MST) when referring to any sexual harassment or assault that occurs while an individual is serving in the military. A “traumatic event” is defined as any event in which a person experiences circumstances that conflict with their understanding of what is right and good or which involves being forced into situations or activities against one’s will. 

Military Sexual Trauma could range from negative treatment or attitudes relating to a person’s gender to full-on sexual abuse, and it can happen to both men and women. It can also include being forced into sexual situations due to threats of punishment or promises of rewards (faster promotions, etc.).

Rating Military Sexual Trauma for Military Disability can be rather difficult and confusing. In and of itself, Military Sexual Trauma is not a disability since it is just an event or experience, but it can potentially cause mental or physical conditions that could develop into very serious disabilities.

The VASRD, the law that determines how conditions are rated for DoD Disability and VA Disability, does not give a military disability rating just for experiencing Military Sexual Trauma. Instead, ratings are given for each of the medical conditions that it causes.

The most common conditions caused by Military Sexual Trauma are Mental Disorders, including PTSD, Depression, etc. Physical conditions could also occur depending on the type of traumatic event. These could include physical wounds, sexually transmitted diseases, and more.

Each condition caused by Military Sexual Trauma can be rated independently as long as they are definitely separate and distinct from one another. The laws state that a single symptom can only be rated once, so if two conditions are technically diagnosed, but each cause similar symptoms, then only one can be rated. For example, a person may be diagnosed with both PTSD and Depression, but since Depression is a very common symptom of PTSD, then a rating for PTSD would already cover the Depression. It cannot be rated by itself.

When trying to determine how to rate the conditions caused by Military Sexual Trauma, it is standard to rate one Mental Disorder, and then any other conditions, like STDs, that are separate and distinct. Just remember that if a rating for one condition already covers another, then both cannot be rated separately.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Top 10 Things To Do to Maximize Your Military Disability

Again, back by popular demand:

Here are the top 10 things you can do to maximize your military disability ratings.

1.)  Know exactly how the disability process works for both the VA and the DoD—You have to know exactly how things work or you’ll just be floundering in this complicated mess. Luckily, we give complete descriptions of the DoD disability and VA disability processes. Give them a quick read so that you have a foundation to stand on as you jump into this crazy disability stream.
2.)  Know exactly how your conditions are rated—It is vital that you are able to make sure that the necessary information needed to rate your conditions is properly documented. The majority of DoD and VA physicians do NOT know how the VASRD rates conditions. You need to know what tests or information are needed so that you can make sure that the physicians record the proper things. This will also speed up the process since your case won't have to be sent back because of incomplete information.
3.)  Go to the doctor for EVERY condition you have—If one of your conditions is not documented while you are in the military, it won’t be rated. There must be concrete medical records that note a condition for it to be rated. So, if you have headaches, but don’t want to be a baby and go to the doctor for silly little headaches, then if they become severe migraines in the future, they won’t be ratable since you never went to the doctor for them while in the military. Documentation is key. Get to the doctor and get it recorded.
4.)  Get complete copies of your medical records—While you won’t be able to get all your original medical records, you can request a complete copy of them. You may have to pay for the copy, but it is worth it. Get a copy of every single test, x-ray, etc. These medical records are all the power you need to take control of your disability. Without the proper evidence, a condition cannot be rated. For an appeal or claim to succeed, you must be able to submit the evidence that proves your case, so make sure you get a copy of these. This is essential!!!!!
5.)  Make an appointment for your initial VA C&P exam as soon as possible—You can actually start the VA disability process as soon as you begin the MEB Process. This is a very good idea. Get the VA process started as soon as possible. As long as you have your first C&P exam within 1 year of your date of separation, the VA will give full compensation for the months between your date of separation and the date of your VA rating decision.
6.)  Make sure that the VA has all of your past medical records— While the DoD will only rate conditions that make you unable to do your job, the VA will rate every condition that can be directly linked to your military service. This is why it is essential to go to the doctor for every condition you have while in the military. As long as there is proof of the condition in your medical records, the VA will rate it.
7.)  Make sure that the VA physician performs all the proper tests to rate your condition—Just like with the DoD, it is your job to make sure that the VA physician performs all the proper tests to rate all your conditions. You may have to have numerous exams with specialists in various areas. This is good. The more documentation, the better.
8.)  Get copies of all your VA exams—It is super-important that you have copies of every documentation of your conditions. Documentation is your weapon in the disability war. Get them. If you are able to have your VA exams and get copies of the medical reports before the DoD has rated your conditions, you can submit the VA records to the DoD, and they will consider them when they make their rating decision. This is great! The more documentation for the Rating Authorities the better. Do this if at all possible.
9.)  Submit all the necessary information if applying for claims or appealing a rating decision—If your conditions have already been rated, you can appeal the rating decisions if you find that your conditions were not rated properly. This is where copies of your medical records come in handy. Do not submit an appeal unless you have full documentation of the conditions. You should know exactly what you need to submit after you find your conditions on our site and see how they are rated.
10.) Be proactive—The number one most important way that you can maximize your disability is being proactive and educated throughout the entire process. Don’t take somebody else’s word for it. Find the information you need and then be proactive in getting everything recorded and given to the people who need it to make rating decisions.

Unfortunately, the military disability system is very complicated and can take a long time. If you follow these 10 steps, however, you can take control of your disability and ensure that you get the proper ratings you deserve.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Top 10 Things That Could Hurt Your Military Disability

This is one of our early articles we're bringing back by popular demand:

Here are the Top 10 Things you should never do if you want a good military disability rating. This goes for both VA Disability and DoD Disability.

Before separation:
1.     Do not be macho—It is vital that your conditions are accurately recorded before you separate from the military, or you will not have the evidence to support a VA Disability Claim if your conditions get worse in the future. Do not try to act big and brave. It will just hurt you in the end. The doctor doesn’t care either way, so you really have nothing to prove.
2.     Do not be a baby—Do not try to play up your conditions to be worse than they are. Doctors have ways of testing this, so they may catch on to you without your knowing. Your conditions are rated on their reports, so if they infer that you are lying, you won’t get a good rating. You may have many legit conditions that deserve to be rated, but if you lie about one, the doctor will question your honesty about all of them. Don’t stab yourself in the foot.
3.     Do not go in uneducated—The only person fighting for your disability is yourself. You need to be educated on the military disability system and how your conditions are rated so that you can make sure everything proceeds as it should and you get the rating you deserve. We provide all this information. Just Find Your Condition on our site.
4.     Do not take someone else’s word for it—The military disability system is super complicated, and the DoD and VA do not require all their employees who work with the system to understand it completely. It is VERY likely that you will be given incorrect information or advice at least once during the process. The VA admits that they make mistakes in 25% of all cases. Be proactive. Read through our site and make sure you have the correct info so that your case is handled correctly the first time.
5.     Do not delay the VA C&P exams—The C&P exams should be conducted as soon after separation as possible. If the initial application for VA disability is not filed within 1 year of the date of separation, the VA will not give disability back pay for all the months between the date of separation and the VA Rating Decision. As long as it is filed within the 1-year mark, you will get full compensation for all these months once the VA issues their Rating Decision, no matter how long it takes.
6.     Do not assume that the physicians performing your exams know how your conditions are rated—I can guarantee you that the majority of the physicians performing your exams for disability compensation do not know how the VASRD rates conditions. Sad, but true. No wonder there are so many mistakes made. It is VITAL to your disability ratings that the proper tests are performed or the proper measurements recorded. The VASRD doesn’t require a million tests to be performed for a condition; just whatever is necessary to rate it. For example, if you have an elbow condition, the physicians might take a million x-rays, but really all that is required is the range of motion measurements. If all the x-rays are included in the report, but no range of motion measurements are taken, the condition will not be rated properly. Make sure you know how your conditions are rated so you can make sure that the physician records the correct information.
7.     Do not submit every medical record you have when submitting a claim or appeal—The disability system takes forever. Period. The VA takes a million years to get through a single case. It would be awesome to increase this time, so here is the only thing you can really do to help this: only submit the medical records that relate to the pertinent conditions. So, if you have a heart condition, they really don’t need your medical records from every tooth cleaning you’ve ever had. It’s just not pertinent, and it wastes their time since they have to sort through every page of your medical records to find the pertinent information. This comes from someone who has had to sift through thousands of pages to find the 50 or so that are pertinent to rating. It makes me feel like this guy.

Please have mercy on us. That being said, if you question whether something is pertinent or not, definitely submit it. It’s better for them to sort through a few more pages than not have the proper information in there at all. 
8.     Do not be macho—This needs a recap. They need to know just how serious your condition really is. Tell them the truth the first time and save yourself the headache of having an incorrect disability rating.
9.     Do not be a lying-son-of-a-biscuit—This also needs a recap. Don’t try to cheat the system. It’s just not okay, and it can actually come back to hurt you. Don’t steal from the people who really need the disability money. Tell the truth, and get what you deserve, just like everyone else. Cheaters also make me feel like this guy.

10. Do not sit around doing nothing after separation—Although some conditions are very black and white when it comes to how they should be rated, many of them are up to the judgment of the Rating Authorities. While the Rating Authorities are not supposed to let personal feelings affect their rating decisions, it happens all the time. For example, there was a man who had PTSD. His symptoms put him right on the line between a 20% rating and a 30% rating. While the man wasn’t currently employed, he was actively looking for work. At all examinations, he tried to be honest. He seemed on paper to be an overall great guy. They are definitely going to give him a 30% rating. On the other hand, if the same guy badmouths the military during his exams, obviously lies to the physicians, is sitting at home not trying to do anything to improve his life, just wanting to get the money he “deserves” from the military, he’s definitely going to be given the lower rating. You would give him the lower rating too. Having any sort of disability sucks. We totally get that. You do deserve the rating that is correct for you. So show us that you’re a good person. Get out and be proactive about moving on with your life as best you can, and the Rating Authorities will be more likely to judge in favor of your case if there is any grey area.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Healed Conditions Are Not Disabilities

Recently, we’ve had some questions about conditions that have healed or been cured. Why won’t the VA give VA Disability Ratings for them?

The military disability system only gives compensation for disabilities, and by definition, disabilities are physical or mental conditions that limit the functioning of the body or mind. Conditions that have fully healed do not limit the body’s ability to function at all, and thus are not disabilities.

The whole point of DoD Disability and VA Disability is to compensate the veteran for any loss of income he has because of his disability. Without a disability, he can work just fine, and so has nothing to be compensated for.

This goes for any condition at any time. So, if Bill breaks his leg and has to have surgery while in the military, but it heals completely and doesn’t limit him at all, then he will receive no compensation for that condition. If, however, it improves some, but he still has trouble moving the knee completely, then that can receive a military disability rating since his knee cannot fully function.

Military Disability isn’t about having a condition at one point or another. It is entirely focused on the ability of the body to fully function at a given time. The DoD only rates conditions based on their severity at the time of separation from the military. So in Bill’s case, all that matters to the DoD is how the knee could function when he was separated from the military.

The VA, however, will change their ratings over time if the condition changes. So if Bill was unable to fully move his knee when he was separated from the military, the VA would give him compensation at that time. If over the next few years, however, his knee continued to improve until it regained full function, the VA would then rerate his condition to 0%, and he would stop receiving compensation.

No disability = No compensation 

If, however, the condition comes back later, as many healed conditions can do as a person ages, then it would once again qualify to receive disability compensation from the VA.

While this may not be a pleasant thing for some of you to hear, it is completely fair. The government shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money to pay for nothing. At the same time, those disabled veterans who are limited by their conditions should absolutely, definitely, and completely receive compensation for those conditions. No question.