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  • 14 Questions about VA Disability Compensation Benefits Claims

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    When a Veteran starts considering whether or not to file a VA Disability Claim, there are a lot of questions that he or she tends to ask. Over the last 10 years, the following are the 14 most common basic questions I am asked about ...
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  • Most Common VA Disabilities Claimed for Compensation:   

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  • Can a 100 percent Disabled Veteran Work and Earn an Income?

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    You’ve just been rated 100% disabled by the Veterans Affairs. After the excitement of finally having the rating you deserve wears off, you start asking questions. One of the first questions that you might ask is this: It’s a legitimate question – rare is the Veteran that finds themselves sitting on the couch eating bon-bons … Continue reading

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mrthing2000

New to the process

Question

Hello all.


I am new to the disability comp process, and I'll be the first to admit--it sort of freaks me out.  There is a lot of complexity to it, and I consider myself fairly learned and understanding of science and causation.  Years ago I interned at the local VA hospital, and my dad retired from 20+ years in the VA civil service.  Its a bit different walking in the door as a patient.

Okay, I had a book practically written below, but I'll keep it short:

  • Really didn't expect basic training to be as hard as it was--the constant screaming, lack of sleep, etc.  It WAS NOT like 'Scout Camp' like my recruiter and retired USAF neighbor said.  I never had more than 1-2 anxiety attacks before this.  It was a struggle.
  • Took a psych eval maybe 2-3 days into basic training.  I was referred to Behavioral Health for a followup.  They were concerned about stupid things like "I weight myself often".  Um yep, I was a bit chunky.  Whatever.  Released to duty no problem.
  • Tore the heck out of my feet in basic training, had PT waivers, missing big toenails and a lot of pain for months, bled through my shoes, horrible.
  • Post-basic training, tore hamstrings in PT session--put on about a monthlong PT waiver
  • Developed severe bronchitis.  USAF docs treated me like I was faking it.  It wasn't 'a cold'.  I got really bad.  Nearly hospitalized.  Took 3 weeks+ to recover

Had an uneventful year in the Air Guard, then ran into some older guys who basically hazed me.  I was about 3 paygrades lower, and 20 years younger.  It was awful

  • Broke up with a girlfriend after getting ready to move across country--my unit 'was concerned I was depressed'
  • Had a field exercise that didn't go well.  They asked for feedback in an email. Was a little 'too honest'.  Nothing I said was wrong, but I clearly did not like where I was, who I was with, and did not trust them.  Probably shouldn't put that in an email.  To this day I stand by what I said.  Some good guys, some idiots.  Was sent for a psych eval for 'erratic behavior'.  Initially cleared.  Nope--sent for another one.

I said screw that, these people are jerks, and I transferred into the Navy Reserve.  Had 2 good years there.  Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Graduated college, moved across country.  Wasn't enthusisatic about the hassle of drill weekends.  Wasn't making anything as an E-4.  Prospective employers were always wary 'so you can get called up', and 'oh, so when do you get out.'  I realized I needed to cut ties.  I was out of college.  Did what I came to do.  See ya.

9/11 happened and I was nearly recalled to Active Duty.  But I lucked out, stayed in my civil service job, and was transferred to the IRR per my request.  I kept up pooints for good years in the IRR, but had no real intention of going back.

Had a change of heart, and economics were getting tight.  Re-enlisted and went back to the drilling reserve.  Found a loophole in my previous contract, and intentionally took a demotion to change career fields.  Muhahaha.  Then advanced first cycle each time.  A year later, was an E-5.  Took all the extra orders I could.  Did pretty well.  Spent a year on and off active duty orders in the reserve.  Job market sucked and I liked traveling to new places.  New York City was a highlight.  Went twice.  

But wife got into nursing school.  We'd have to move.  You go where you have to.  And she was busy as hell.  Loans were piling up.  I figured--take a deployment.  In the meantime, I volunteered to go to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  And en route, got hammered by Hurricane Rita there (anybody remember that?).  

  • Started having sinus issues from the mold that was now everywhere (not in my service record)
  • Started feeling extremely depressed, slept every free moment I could (the post-deployment questionnaire shows that somewhere)

A few months later, got the magic phone call.  Deploy now if I wanted, but not with my unit.  Or not.  But I knew I would probably get yanked to go to Iraq with the Seabees (now I was one), Korea with the Coastal Warfare unit I was now in, or maybe not get yanked for a year.  But eventually I would.

Economics rule.  I opted for NOW.  But the catch was--it was with the ARMY.  And it was a year-long.  And it was Afghanistan.  

The deployment sucked--why would you expect different?  I enjoyed a lot of it.  But the issues I felt during Katrina got intense.  The isolation from the real world sucked.  I was fighting the 'just war'.  But we didn't do much anything most of the time.  We were ON the front lines.  Basically not doing anything all day.  I was trained for all this combat stuff, and was stuck all day on the tiny FOB.  And if you don't engage the enemy, they come to you.  First night of tower guard, gunfire.  Turns out if was a runaway 50cal on a Humvee.  Tracers into the sky.  An accident.  And accidents, more than anything else, were to mar the deployment over and over.

In short:

  • Stationed with ABSOLUTELY IDIOT medical types who didn't document anything.  Totally worthless people.  And now it matters more than ever.
  • Broke a toe on my right foot (have the x-ray for that)
  • Howitzers are loud.  Mortars 40 feet from your tent are louder (tinnitus really sucks--but need formal diagnosis)
  • Body armor and Humvees don't mix well off-road (2-3 weeks in physical therapy)
  • Anxiety sucks.  Got demoted with a feud with my CO, and he ended up relieved of command a couple of weeks later.  But anxiety was worsening, and now I was having up to 15 attacks PER DAY.  Son of a bitch tried to ruin me.  
  • Had a former co-worker I knew in my civilian days, take a mortar shell to the helmet.  He woke up in Germany.  9 people didn't
  • Had to go to a funeral for 2 fallen airman.  They died in a suicide bombing--getting MAIL in Kabul--and if they waited 1 day, it came by helo.  Some COs don't understand that's an idiot risk. Made a quick enemy with my CO over the issue.  And then it spiraled.  He demoted me, but then was relieved of command.  LONG LONG story.
  • Smashed in the face with a Humvee door (not in service record)
  • Finally got tired of anxiety attacks, saw an Army psychiatrist.  Guy basically said 'too bad, deal with it, and sent me back to the front lines'.  Anxiety attacks now were almost continuous.  
  • Was deprived of sleep constantly because a few CO-loyalists though it fitting to assign me extra duty whenever possible.  No joke--sleeping maybe 2 hours a night for days/weeks on end.  Was sleeping instead of eating lunch.  Slept every free moment I had.
  • Base was attacked a few times.  That sucked.  But I was more upset about missing lunch--serious.  Started to notice I was detached from my surroundings.  Sort of felt invincible in terms of the war around me, but extremely vulnerable too.  Was more suspicious of people.  Feared my own people more than the Taliban--absolutely dead serious.
  • Was stuck for months hosting the Local National Detail--basically locals who could work on the base doing menial tasks.  They got paid for janitorial stuff mostly.  And I had to drive and escort them to the BURN PIT.  Sometimes 5 times a day.  It was awful.  And some Army guys threw ammunition into the trashcan.  Nothing like rounds going off when you drive down there. Seriously.  A car battery sounds like a car bomb.  Crazy.  
  • Could have been killed by a mortar that blew up just feet out of the tube.  Had it not been an illuminating round...
  • Had many suicidal thoughts during the deployment.  Instead, just volunteered for crazy stuff.  Figured result would be the same.
  • If we had any medical issues at all, the Navy tried to hold us hostage at Norfolk.  I had to sign out AMA (Against Medical Advice) so I could finally go home after being gone 13 months.  

Post deployment:

  • Had extremely strong irritable bowel symptoms 1-2 months later.  This had plagued me at Fort Bragg and intermittently throughout the deployment.  Had a barium exam.  Horrible.  Results: inconclusive.  Something has plagued me since, and it has been 10 years.
  • Very strong anxiety, PTSD, and particularly depression.  Formally diagnosed at the VA hospital.  Finally had something.  Meds: Prozac.
  • Moved across country for Graduate School: may have experienced a manic episode.  Adjusted meds.  Felt better.
  • Diagnosed with SEVERE chronic obstructive sleep apnea by the VA.  Been on a CPAP now for 7 years.
  • Struggled with a lot of change.  Medications had side effects, things were rough.  Been on a mental health see-saw for years.
  • Changed meds to Cymbalta.  Bad idea--if I took it an hour later than usual, I started to feel withdrawal 
  • Changed meds to Wellbutrin to address worsening anxiety.  It did not work.  Had almost immediate depression severity.  Had to discontinue after 3 weeks--was literally suicidal.  Scary as hell.
  • Change to Pristiq.  Seemed better than other choices.  Took that for 2 years.
  • Moved again, new doc prescribed Lamotrigine as a mood stabilizer.  Took for 1 year
  • Recently, sleep really got bad.  Prescribed Ambien
  • Anxiety attacks nearly daily.  Prescribed Adivan.  Eventually doubled the dose just to sleep.  Having recurrent dreams of being isolated, stuck in the Navy, in trouble, etc.
  • Finally fed up with the doc, transferred to the VA.  Initially thought the pyschiatrist was a bit weird.  But she said a few things that amazed me.  And unlike the previous psych doc, she listened to my concerns.  Changed sleep meds to Tramadol.  Changed meds to Clonipin for PTSD, anxiety.  Still taking Pristiq and Lamotrigine. Feeling somewhat better but not where I want to be, but closer than before
  • Oh yes, and my feet are killing me now.  I wonder if my foot geometry shifted after the broken foot and basic training injuries

Overall, its been a real struggle.  Survivors guilt, being abused by some peers and superiors, some issues from PTSD, and a propensity to want to talk about things, but nobody wants to hear your story.  No one.  Everyone wants to believe the Afghan campaign was the 'right war'.  And they don't want to know we tried but basically failed.

There were no war heros in my FOB.  One purple heart.  A LOT of close calls.  And tons of accidents.  Tons.

It took me almost 10 years to finally march myself into the VA and say 'finally, let's do this'.  I have pain, nightmares, anxiety attacks, and I've not tackled them.  I go to the VA and feel out of place--30 years younger than everyone else there.  And 'I'm not as bad as that guy' feeling.  And especially thinking someday about re-enlisting, and not wanting a foot of paper to need a waiver for everything.

But then I realized, its very unlikely I would re-enlist.  And I was getting older.  I had the time.  Let's roll.

I am wary of the VA, just as I was wary of the medical departments all along.  There is so much missing in my service records.  Our unit corpsman didn't write anything down.  It will be a struggle to argue service connectivity for many things, being that its been 9 years since I came 'home'.  It sucks.  I remember times/dates/places vividly.  That may not matter.

But its a fight many of you know all too well.  I have questions.  Many.  And truly, thank you for your service.  

We weren't all patriots.  Some needed money for college, others to feed their families.  And many drafted without a choice.  Most old, and a few young ones.  But we are all veterans.

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Welcome to Hadit!

 

To become service connected (SC) for a disability, for the most part, you'll need:
1. Event/Issue in service
2. Current diagnosis
3. Doctor connecting 1 and 2

There are other avenues which include presumptive conditions, like if you were deployed under certain circumstances (like Vietnam, OEF/IEF, etc...), or if a chronic condition appeared within a year after you got out.

There are also secondary claims, where a SC disability, or medication used to treat a SC disability, caused another disability.

For Guard/Reserve, there are special line of duty (LOD) requirements which may apply.


Evidence is very important, so try to get all that you can. When you have it, compare it to what you may already have.

1. Make sure you have an account setup with www.myhealth.va.gov. After additional authentication, you can pull your personnel file and VA medical records.

2. Do the same for Ebenefits at http://ebenefits.va.gov

3. Request a copy of your personnel record via www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

4. Request a copy of your claims file (c-file) from the VA. This could take weeks to months (most likely) to arrive

5. Request a copy of your service medical records from the VA. These are often available by contacting the Release of Information Office at your VAMC. They claim it will take 4 business weeks or so, but in reality it likely will take longer.

6. If you had medical treatment at a civilian facility, try to get those records too. Please bear in mind that they may have destroyed copies and/or might charge you money for copies, which can add up. Only get what you deem potentially relevant to current or future claims.  

7. Please bear in mind that some facilities (VA, military, and civilian) may keep dental and/or imaging (X-ray, CAT scan, MRI, etc...) records apart from regular records and they may need to be obtained separately. Some VAMC's keep these at their Radiology department, but they will make you fill out a release of information form first.

8. Try to obtain copies of Monday Morning Reports (MMR's) and unit records from units with which you served.

9. If you are or can get in contact with people who knew you before/during/after service, and who could attest to observing your condition, then they may be able to write a "buddy letter" on your behalf. These are not guaranteed, but may help when other evidence is unavailable. If you or them kept any journals, diaries, etc.., they may become helpful.

10. If you send anything via the mail to the VA, keep copies of everything. Don't send originals. Use certified mail so you can prove they received it.

11. Keep a log of activity between you and the VA, more or less like a diary. It can help if you need to see what was done and when.

12. Check out the links on the main www.hadit.com web site. There is a lot of good information and helpful links.

 

It is important to know that you might be able to obtain digital copies of the records on CD and/or DVD.

It is important to know that any paper documents may contain information on both sides. If you can't understand any medical symbols, look them up, and/or ask a medical person to help decipher them and/or chicken scratch handwriting.

 

1. In your service treatment records, look at your entrance/exit exams. They will typically entail two parts: you telling what you remember having (subjective/personal history) and what the doctor found (objective) at the time of each exam.
  With respect to the entrance exam, it is used to determine if you were medically sound when you joined up. If the doctor did not find anything, then you should be ok in most situations. If you had a pre-existing condition that was made worse by service, that might be able to be claimed.
  With respect to the exit exam, that is used to determine what was left of you when you left the service. In some cases, an exit physical may have been declined or the doc might have just checked off things as normal. It happens.

2. Go through all of the medical records, sort and catalog them. If you were diagnosed with anything being described as "chonic", such as "chronic bronchitis", then that can help with that condition.
  If you currently have a diagnosis that was found to be "normal" during the exit exam, but was diagnosed as "chronic" during service, that can really help.
  If you had a lot of treatment visits for the same problem, that can also help.


9/10 Years
The VA will likely try to use the amount of time between service and when you claimed against you. If you can show that the problems continued over the duration, it can be helpful.

 

Medical Nexus
This is where a medical professional ties your current disability directly to your service or secondary to another SC disability or its treatment. For disability claims, the VA prefers to have one of their C&P examiners do it. Many VA and civilian docs will refuse to write a statement. They may be too busy or not know anything about it.
  Doctors should have to have reviewed the records in question, performed an exam/labs/imaging, and then write a nexus statement containing strong medical rationale. Some docs might state "may be", "possibly", or "probably", but the VA will discount those phrases. The minimum threshold is "at least as likely as not" 50%, "more/most likely" 75%, and "caused by/due to" 100%. This site contains lots of good information about medical nexus statements. Check out the DBQ link below.


PTSD/Mental Health
It sounds like you stayed in treatment and let them know when things didn't work, which is good. MH meds are known to have unusual side effects.
  A few years back, the VA relaxed some of its rules about PTSD regarding combat veterans and also those who were personally assaulted. If you file for PTSD, a VA C&P examiner will need to handle the nexus part. This site contains lots of good information about filing PTSD claims here on this site.


Burn Pits
If you have not singed up yet, the VA as a burn pit registry at: http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2014/October/Burn-pit-exposure-Signup-now-in-VA-Registry.asp


 

Don't just send in several reams of paper and expect the VA to connect the dots. Spoon feed them what is specific to each claim.

 

Get to know the VA rating criteria relating to your issues:
http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?rgn=div5;node=38:1.0.1.1.5

And do the same with the DBQ's:
http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/dbq_ListByDBQFormName.asp

 

 

If you have questions about specific disabilities, it might be better to break them out into individual topics.

Good luck!

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Great Information from Vync!

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Thanks so much.  Its a daunting task and beyond complex!

The VSO here was completely unhelpful, almost hostile to me.  I'm looking at going to another VSO to see if I have a better fit.  Or maybe just work without them.  

I'm spending a lot of time reading the Hadit site.  Good info, though I come up with some very specific questions that don't lend themselves to easy answers.

If I knew the answer to these 3, I'd be way ahead on the process:

  • Say I broke my right foot in-service.  But then my left feet had problems also.  Do I file a separate claim for EACH foot?  If I have several different issues for 'a system' (as I understand it), are each issue a separate claim?  Or am I claiming the 'whole system' that could have 7 issues in it, rather than 7 separate claims?
  • Say I claim sleep apnea--but they gave me a CPAP and it works well.  In my head I still have sleep apnea.  But the CPAP is effectively treating it.  Is the fact the intervention is working, negating the rating % until it becomes uncontrolled/unmigitated/ineffective?  Something like, you claim it, but they say your intervention is working great--so 0%?  I could see this true with a hearing aid for hearing loss, etc. Hopefully you can tell what I'm asking here.
  • Final question: is there a list of what conditions are under what system?  Quite possibly I have no idea that something is claimable.  I expect the VA to fight me on several things.  I spent more time fighting the system than the purported enemy.  At least I know the intentions of the enemy (!).

So far my dealings with QTC have been idiotic.  One appointment here at 10am, but at 11am I have to drive 350 miles for a x-ray?  Seriously stupid stuff.

Thanks for the support, and I hope to pass it on too.

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You should read some of Navy4life post  she had  feet/Ankle problems and got S.C. for both  one aggravated the other so-to -speak,

Interesting as how she got it Service connected and rated for..she work hard on her claims and prevailed.

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Also as for as intervention help

VA is not suppose to use a medication or device that helps in your disability as for as releif...If your hard of hearing  and use  hearing aids to hear better..so what? the test are done without Hearing Aide's

Same with sleep apnea Test  they watch you sleep then put on a c-pap or bi-pap   and watch you  and record the apneas and the degree % and how many episodes...then recommend a C-PAP Machine  that helps your air passages ways clear so you sleep better, this still does not stop your apneas  even with the c-pap machine.

Once your Diagnosed with a long lasting disability your rated as to the Degree and severity of it  without the meds or the devise's

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    • I took a look at your documents and am trying to interpret what happened. A summary of what happened would have helped, but I hope I am interpreting your intentions correctly:


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    • Precedent Setting CAVC cases cited in the M21-1
      A couple months back before I received my decision I started preparing for the appeal I knew I would be filing.  That is how little faith I had in the VA caring about we the veteran. 

      One of the things I did is I went through the entire M21-1 and documented every CAVC precedent case that the VA cited. I did this because I wanted to see what the rater was seeing.  I could not understand for the life of me why so many obviously bad decisions were being handed down.  I think the bottom line is that the wrong type of people are hired as raters.  I think raters should have some kind of legal background.  They do not need to be lawyers but I think paralegals would be a good idea.

      There have been more than 3500 precedent setting decisions from the CAVC since 1989.  Now we need to concede that all of them are not favorable to the veteran but I have learned that in a lot of cases even though the veteran lost a case it some rules were established that assisted other veterans.

      The document I created has about 200 or so decisions cited in the M21-1.   Considering the fact that there are more than 3500 precedent cases out there I think it is safe to assume the VA purposely left out decisions that would make it almost impossible to deny veteran claims.  Case in point. I know of 14 precedent setting decisions that state the VA cannot ignore or give no weight to outside doctors without providing valid medical reasons as to why.  Most of these decision are not cited by the M21.

      It is important that we do our due diligence to make sure we do not get screwed.  I think the M21-1 is incomplete because there is too much information we veterans are finding on our own to get the benefits we deserve

      M21-1 Precedent setting decisions .docx
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