Applying for disability compensation benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is not the easiest task to manage. It can often be very confusing for warriors who might not understand the laws and regulations that impact the VA’s final decision on a claim, leaving injured veterans frustrated as to why their claims are being denied.
Before starting the benefit claims process, it’s important to understand the basic principles of what constitutes a “service connection.” For most service-connected claims, there must be documented medical evidence of the claimed condition during military service. Next, the condition must be proven to be chronic – essentially, there should be a paper trail of continued treatment for the claimed condition event after being discharged from service.
For example, if a warrior sprains his or her ankle and the condition is healed with no residual issues, this would normally not be considered service-connected – in turn, the claim would be denied. However, if after the condition healed and the ankle joint became frozen – unable to move – due to the sprain, and continued treatment after service was needed, sought, and documented, the claim is more likely to be considered service-connected.
In the absence of the above criteria, it would be helpful to the success of the claim for the warrior to obtain a medical opinion from a treating physician that directly links the claimed condition to the individual’s military service.
Some conditions may not necessarily be diagnosed in service, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many warriors file claims for PTSD, but often they have not been formally diagnosed. To be successful for this type of claim, an actual diagnosis and a verifiable stressor or an event that can be linked as the cause of the PTSD is needed – the event must be verifiable by the VA and point to the cause of the claimed PTSD. For combat veterans, this is easily done by showing combat service on the DD-214.
While it is part of VA’s responsibilities to assist in helping obtain these records, veterans can help speed up the process and influence the decision by providing these documents from the start. To help build your claim, here are some tips on things to do, before filing a claim:
1. Include All Relevant Medical Records
Providing copies of your service medical records and any relative records from private doctors are some of the most important pieces of evidence. If you are a veteran or next of kin to a deceased veteran, you can obtain your records online at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) website. For anyone else, fill out and submit Form 180.
2. Get a “Buddy Statement”
Should you not be able to provide medical records for your case, a letter from a reputable source can also be submitted. Sources that are considered reputable include an eye-witness account or a high-ranking military official from your unit.
3. DBQ form
One way to potentially reduce the amount of time it takes for the VA to make a decision on a claim is to have a treating physician complete a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ). These forms are designed to capture essential information for evaluating disability compensation claims. These forms can be found easily on the VA’s website. If completed correctly, the VA might determine there is no need to schedule a veteran for an unnecessary VA examination.
By using these means to find support, wounded warriors can help build a solid case and increase the chances of a Ratings Veterans Service Representative deciding in favor of the claim. Be sure to include all these pieces of evidence as early as possible when submitting your claim to avoid having to file an appeal.
The biggest tip of all is to not try to do this on your own, but to seek out professional advocates, like those at Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). To help injured veterans, their family members, and their caregivers successfully transition to life after injury, the WWP Benefits Service program provides the tools needed to navigate the complexities of the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA.
Unlike traditional models of veterans’ services, the WWP Benefits Service program takes a comprehensive approach to the claims process. WWP staff works individually with injured veterans to understand their unique needs, provide information and education on the claims process, advise them of benefits options, file benefits claims, help to obtain necessary evidence, and stay connected with them through the life cycle of the claim.
To learn and see more about how WWP’s programs and services connect, serve, and empower wounded warriors, visit http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org, and click on multimedia.
Contact: Vesta Anderson – Public Relations
About Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) connects, serves, and empowers wounded warriors. Read more at http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org/about-us.