When you submit a disability claim to the federal VA, it goes through several phases. These include evidence development, rating, post-decision review, and authorization.
Gathering comprehensive medical evidence and providing clear statements is critical in establishing the link between your condition and your military service to secure disability compensation. A veterans service organization or an attorney specializing in VA claims can help you navigate the process.
Gather Comprehensive Medical Evidence
Medical evidence is the backbone of every disability claim. Collecting your healthcare records from private providers, military medical facilities, and therapists is essential. These records should span the length of your entire life. Gathering comprehensive medical evidence will be essential to your success in the VA disability claims process.
In addition to medical records, gathering other supporting evidence for your claim is a good idea. This can include buddy statements or statements from friends, family members, or fellow service members who have witnessed firsthand the effects of your disabilities on your daily life and relationships.
The VA will schedule you for a Compensation and Pension Exam (C&P) to determine the severity of your disability and its connection to your military service. It’s essential to attend your C&P exam and cooperate fully. Failure to do so may delay or deny your VA disability benefits. Having an experienced attorney by your side can increase your chances of successfully navigating this step in the VA claim process.
Hire a Lawyer
You may have heard the time-honored advice to “get yourself a lawyer” when dealing with the VA. While it is possible to have a non-attorney help you with your claim, you will need someone who understands the law and the complexities of the VA’s policies and rules.
A disability lawyer will also be able to guide you through the many stages of your case. This includes gathering evidence, preparing for C&P exams, and filing appeals if necessary. Unlike VSO representatives, lawyers only work on a handful of cases at any given time, meaning you will be their focus.
If you receive a decision that you disagree with, you have one year to file an appeal with the VA. A disability attorney can ensure your appeal has all the medical records, evidence, and witnesses you need to overturn the original decision. They can also help you file a Notice of Disagreement and request a DRO review.
Be Prepared for a C&P Exam
The next step in the VA disability benefits process is a Compensation and Pension Exam or C&P exam. This aims to determine how severe your condition is and what rating you should receive (this will dictate the amount of disability compensation you get each month).
The best way to pass your C&P exam is by being honest and truthful with the examiner. It is also essential to clearly understand your symptoms and how they affect you daily. It is often helpful to bring someone close to you, like a spouse or friend, to your C&P exam for support. This can help you remember the details of your symptoms and provide additional testimony to strengthen your claim.
Finally, it is essential to remember that the examiner is doing their job. They are not there to be your friend but to conduct an adequate examination to benefit the VA VSR that will decide your case.
Keep a Log of Your Feelings
Keeping a log of your feelings throughout the VA disability claims process can help you manage your expectations. The timelines for each phase can be lengthy, and you may encounter delays that are out of your control. This is especially true if you have to submit additional evidence or file an appeal. It is also essential to know that the VA can take pauses in processing your claim when they receive questions from Congressional Representatives or higher levels of review.
After Step 5, your disability claim gets sent to the RVSR, who will review all the evidence in your file, including personal statements, buddy letters, medical records, and C&P exam results. Once the RVSR understands your condition well, they will begin preparing a decision for you to review.
You can request an appeal within one year if the decision is unfavorable. An experienced veteran disability attorney can help you fight against unfair denial.