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.