If you are on an active duty base (I hope you are, if you aren’t let us know. It will add a hurdle, but not one an insurmountable one.) you are in luck. In your last few months you will receive transition briefings (you probably have already started), pay attention! In one of those briefs they will discuss how to file a disability claim. They will tell you were the veteran service office on base is located (some base/post have better ETS/Retirement programs than others, so they may not go to in as much detail), if they don’t ask about it. Go there and talk to a VSO. The VSOs on military installations are usually really good at their jobs. He / She will be of great help. Take advantage of it! I see that you have been a member of Hadit for nearly a year now and no doubt have a good idea how the disability system works, so you are way ahead in the game. When you go to see the VSO you will need to take a copy of you military medical records. It should contain your records from MEPS until now. You will be given an opportunity to get this copy before you are discharged. Take this to the VSO and tell the VSO what you want and he will help.
At this point, that is the way to go. Getting legal representation is an option that is way down the line and probably will not be needed. You need to initiate your claim and see what the VA Regional Office does with it. You said that “I don't want to go through years of appeals and low ball offers”. Unfortunately you might have to. That is just the way the system works, at times. The best way to avoid this is to submit a solid claim with full medical documentation.
As far as the PTSD, you can file for it but it will be very hard without a diagnosis. You probably need to start seeing VA mental health after retirement, get a diagnosis and then that can be used to file as a part of a Notice of Disagreement. But don’t be afraid to file now, get a filing date and get denied. Just get the diagnosis within a year to file the NOD and introduce new evidence.
Two things I would like to say:
1. For every member of the military ETSing or retiring. You will be given a final out physical. At that physical tell them about every ache, pain, concern, etc. This is the last chance for the military member to officially document medical problems, thereby making the issue in-service! Tell them about rashes, hair loss, scratches, scrapes, itchy ass cheeks…EVERYTHING!...LAST CHANCE!
2. With no disrespect to those that have been here a long time (this isn’t a flame, just my honest opinion): I am a VSO. In the last month I have filed claims for Vets that won’t win and are just looking for financial help and see VA disability as an option; I have also seen a Vet dying from mesothelioma and has since been placed in a hospice; and all sorts of Vets in between. The simple fact is I will fight for both the same. I will give it all I have. All VSOs are not created equal. Vets may have to shop around for a good VSO. But when a well-informed Vet and a dedicated VSO are working together; they will win. To tell Vets to just avoid all VSOs and go it alone, is a great disservice to that Vet and slows down the process for everyone else. A fully developed, properly filed claim receives a quick decision and allows the RO to start on the next claim in the pile, speeding up the process for everyone. ROs can be at times slow, stupid, etc. But to get the idea that they are the enemy (with the possible exception of Milwaukee) is wrong, they just need the claims to be filed complete and by the regulations.