The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: May 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Supporting Documents—The Key to a Successful VA Disability Claim

I’ve stressed numerous times throughout this blog just how important supporting documents are when submitting a VA Disability Claim.

No evidence = a denied claim. Period.

To ensure that your claim is successful, compiling and submitting the necessary supporting documents is essential.

There are different kinds of supporting documents; some everyone will need, while others are only needed in special cases.

Here is a list of some of the most common supporting documents needed for a VA Disability Claim:

     - Service Treatment Records (STRs)
     - Civilian Medical Records
     - VA Medical Documents
     - DoD Disability Documents (MEB and PEB decision docs)
     - Military Personnel Records (deployment orders, exposure documentation, separation docs, etc.)
     - Other documents that support your case

Service Treatment Records:

Everyone needs to submit their service treatment records. No exception. The number one way to prove service-connection (a requirement all conditions must meet to be eligible for VA Disability) is to provide medical records that show that the condition existed while you were in the military. Just saying you had the condition when you were in the military but just never went to the doctor is not enough. You have to have proof. No proof = no service-connection.

This is also why I encourage service members to get examined for every condition they have, even if it isn’t a big deal at the time. If it worsens in the future, as long as it can be found in the service treatment records, it will qualify for VA Disability.

There are, of course, other ways to prove service-connection, but they are much more tricky. By far, the easiest is service treatment records.

Civilian Medical Records:

If you have gone to a civilian medical provider for treatment separate from the DoD and VA health systems for the conditions you are claiming, then you need to submit those medical records along with your claim. The VA needs to see all the evidence you have regarding your condition.

Now if it was a referral, then those records should already be on file, but double check just to make sure that the VA does have everything. The VA’s getting better at requesting and acquiring records, but it’s still far from flawless. And, besides, you want to keep a copy of everything in your own records anyway, so getting your own copy is always good.

VA Medical Documents:

Although the VA looks at and uses all submitted evidence to rate conditions, the VA’s C&P Exams are directly designed for rating purposes, so they are very important. These medical records will already be in the system, but it is a good idea to get copies for yourself in case there is ever a hitch in the system. Plus having them on hand will make it easier for you to build a strong appeals case, if needed.

DoD Disability Documents:

If you were medically separated from the military, then you’ll have gone through the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), so you’ll need to submit all documents pertaining to their decisions to the VA. Make sure to include supporting documents you submitted to the Boards, like your commander’s letter, other testimonies, etc. Pretty much anything the Boards needed, the VA will need.

Now if you were separated between 2009 and the present, then you’ll have gone through the IDES and the VA will already have all of these since the IDES combines the DoD and VA disability processes. Again, keep a copy in your records and check to make sure they have everything.

Military Personnel Records:

Military personnel records are other duty records, like deployment orders, exposure documentation, and separation docs that provide evidence on aspects of your military service that is important for VA Disability purposes.

Everyone needs to submit their separation/discharge docs (DD Form 214, and the like) because your date of separation directly impacts when the VA should start providing compensation.

The majority of other military personnel records should only be submitted in special circumstances. These are used mainly to prove service-connection for conditions that develop after discharge but were caused by circumstances in your military career.

For example, if you were deployed to Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange between 1962 and 1975, and now have a condition on the VA Presumptive List, you need to submit your deployment records in order to prove that you were deployed to Vietnam during the right time frame. Otherwise, the condition will not be approved.

Similarly, if you were exposed to radiation, you’ll need to submit the documents that clearly outline the details of your exposure.

Do not, however, submit all of your military personnel records. No one cares if you were stationed in Boise. Only submit ones that directly support your case.

Other Documents:

If you have any additional documents that support your case make sure to submit them, but be smart. Do not just submit a random document unless it is truly pertinent to your case. You want to make the Rating Authority’s job easier, so extraneous paper is never a good idea.

Now that you know what documents you need to submit with your VA Disability Claim, let’s talk about how to get them all.

In most cases, the VA should keep digital records of the majority of your documents, including your military personnel file and other service documents. Before trying anything else, log in to your eBenefits account and see what you can access from there. Your VA Medical Documents will definitely be there. Most of the rest should be there too, especially if you separated more recently. This document gives step-by-step instructions on how to find these docs within the eBenefits portal: eBenefits Records.

Now if you couldn’t find everything you needed through eBenefits, there are other options.

Service Treatment Records are kept at the medical facility where you were last stationed for up to a year after separation. They are then sent to an archive facility. Contact the medical record department at your last medical facility. If they still have them, you can request a copy straight from them. If not, they can tell you where they sent them to be archived. You can also check out, although their website isn’t terribly user-friendly.

To get your Civilian Medical Records, just contact your civilian doctor/facility directly.

DoD Disability Documents are a part of your Military Personnel Record, so you should be able to get both from the same place.

Click the following link to take you to information on how to access your records:

     Air Force
     Army  (Note on this one: it’s a third party site, but a comprehensive list too long to 
        reproduce here. Army always has to be more complicated…)
     Coast Guard

At some point, records are all sent to the Custodians of each branch, so for older records, check the Custodian List for contact information.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Top 10 Things To Do To Maximize Your Military Disability

We first published these tips back in 2014, but they are still as pertinent today. 

So, 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—To maximize your disability, you have to know how things work or you’ll just be floundering in these complicated systems. Luckily, we give complete descriptions of the DoD disability and VA disability processes, how they work, and how they work together (the IDES) on our site. Take the time to give our site a thorough read so that you have a foundation to stand on.
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, and while VA physicians utilize DBQs, there are still situations where they fall short. You need to know what tests or information are needed to rate each of your conditions so that you can make sure the physicians record the proper things. This will also speed up the processing time 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, more often than not, it won’t be rated (see our Service-Connected page for details and exceptions). In the majority of cases, there must be concrete medical records that note that a condition existed while in the military in order for it to be rated. So, if you have headaches, but feel you can tough them out and decide not to go to the doctor, then if they become severe migraines in the future, they won’t be ratable since they were never officially recorded 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, deployment record, exposure record, etc. These 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 as part of the IDES, but if you aren't medically separating, then you still want to get into the VA's system as soon as possible after separation. 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 and pertinent service records—While the DoD will only rate conditions that make you unable to do your job (Unfit for Duty), the VA will rate every condition that can be directly linked to your military service (service-connected). 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. Similarly, the VA will sometimes rate conditions that develop after service as long as documents that show that it is still service-connected can be provided. 
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, despite the use of DBQs. 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 important that you have copies of every documentation of your conditions. Documentation is your weapon in the disability war. Get them. If you end up having to appeal the VA's Rating Decision, having them on hand for your own reference will be very beneficial when building your case. 
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 the correct rating decisions.

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