Playing the VA Disability Claim Game
The answer is in there somewhere, I know it is, it has to be. The Veterans Administration has made this so difficult and that seems to be that it was very much intentional.
In 1998, I was 29 years old and I had made the choice to leave the Marine Corps. When I did my exit physical the Navy LtCmdr doctor told me that I should be able to file for disability for my knees, right shoulder, and left foot and that was it. When I went through my TAPS class, they briefly talked about VA disability Claims. But, no one explains what they are and how to do it.
When you are leaving the military and someone tells you to go sign up for something, you run kind of away, because you are not going to be “voluntold” anything again, after all, you are leaving the military. Another thing about the VA disability claim process, is there isn’t an office to go into or a phone number to call and someone will help you. Well, there is, but they aren’t well marketed and no one really knows that they exist. However, you can’t just walk in and have them start your claim process for you, it just doesn’t work that way.
So, like many that have exited the military, I didn’t do anything about my disability claim, but then again, I was a young 29-year-old, who spent the last 10 years being told to suck it up and pain is weakness leaving the body. You get used to eating Motrin like it is candy, in fact, it was distributed at medical like candy.
Fast forward, and now I’m 50 years old, in a shit-ton of pain so I started to do research on filing a claim.
The first thing I did was to officially request my Service Record Book (SRB) and my medical records. I drafted a post on how to do this.
As a result, I got a total of 6 pages back, and all but one was garbled and unreadable. Wow, 10 years 3 months, and 18 days of active duty summarized into 6 unreadable pages, lol. It is a good thing that I have a copy of all my records, thanks to a Captain, who suggested that I do it.
I then scanned in every record, so I could review them easier and index them, plus I could send them to the VA more easily. I sat down and looked over all of my medical records and worked to see if any of my current medical issues, were either caused by my time in the Corps or aggravated by my time in the Corps.
What I did was first list all of my medical issues that I currently have and then I went through all my military medical records and listed all of my visits and exams. Then came the cross referencing to see if anything matches.
Now, there isn’t a VA-operated website that will tell you what you need to do and what to expect. The information is out there, just not all in one spot. I was expecting to go to a website, and perform step #1, then #2 and so on, nope, nothing like that.
I actually had a co-worker show me the start of the process, well sort of. He put in contact with a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) from the VFW and they helped me. I say “they” because I actually couldn’t keep a VSO at the VFW, they kept leaving in the middle of my case. From what I heard, it can be a high turnover as a VSO. I finally ended up on the desk of Keith Garrison, who was a freaking rockstar. I don’t blame any of the VSOs, it was just frustrating on this end. Keith helped me get my first claim going. He submitted for a ton of thing, which was a good thing.
As a result of this first claim, which took just over 5 months from start to finish, I got 40%, which was great, but also a little discouraging. And that was for exactly what the Navy doc told me at my exit physical, knees (10% x 2), foot (10%), and shoulder (20%).
Yes, I’m aware that 10×2 is 20 and 20 +10 + 20 is 50, but that is not how the VA does it and the reason for this post. This article on The Military Wallet explains it really well. But basically, 1+1 may not equal 2 according to the Veterans Administration. Here is my first package that I submitted to the VA and I go into the “Fuzzy Math” that the VA uses.
From here, it gets fun and interesting, as it is at this point that the VA now takes a page out of the IRS’ playbook. The VA suddenly switches from “let us help this veteran get what he deserves” to the new game of “put up as many roadblocks as possible”.
It seems like the VA literally does everything it can to reject a claim. It doesn’t matter, what it is, they will take a very long time to “review” it and then deny it.
It does help to know how the claim process works and I have drafted a separate post on just that. This post includes a timeline that is attached to each step of the process.
Armed with how the process works, it was time for me to an attack plan and I started getting packages ready.
***NOTE*** This is based on my personal experience. I’m not accusing anyone of anything nefarious.
This is part of a Veterans Affairs Disability Claim series:
- Veterans Affairs Disability Claim Process
- Veterans Affairs Disability Claim Uses Fuzzy Math
- Find Accredited Attorneys, Claims Agents, or Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) Representatives
- Military Medical and Health Records
- Playing the VA Disability Claim Game
- VA Disability Claims Pro-Tips
- VA Disability Claims Pro-Tips #2
- A Look Deep Into The Veterans Affairs Disability Claims
- VA Most Commonly Approved Disability Claims