Compensation and Pension Examinations
Compensation and Pension examinations, also known as “C&P exams,” are frequently used by the VA when deciding veterans’ disability claims. Specifically, the VA uses C&P exams as part of its duty to assist in order to diagnose conditions, rate disabilities, and to determine service connection issues. Because C&P examinations are so common, it is important that veterans understand what to expect when attending a C&P exam and that veterans are as prepared as possible prior to attending the exams.
The first thing that is important to understand is that the C&P examiner is not the judge of your case. The examiner writes a report that is forwarded to the VA Regional Office and there an adjudicator reviews it and makes the decision. Please see our prior post on this issue.
When the VA schedules a C&P examination, the veteran will receive written notice of the date, time, and location of the exam. Unfortunately, it is not always clear what type of examination the veteran will undergo, especially if there are multiple claims pending at the same time. Failure to attend a C&P examination will like result in the denial of the claim. If the veteran does not receive notice of a C&P exam for some reason and discovers this after the fact, he/she should request that the VA reschedule the exam, and give a good faith reason in writing why the exam was missed (i.e. change of address, no transportation, in the hospital, etc.).
It is always a good idea for the veteran to take a witness to the examination. A few examples of great witnesses are spouses, adult children, or close friends. A witness is important because it is very easy for veterans to forget important details about the exam, let alone deal with the normal stress that veterans experience when being evaluated by the VA’s C&P examiners. If possible, the veteran should take the witness into the examination room with them; however, this request is frequently denied by the VA. If the request to take a witness into the examination is denied, it is important that the veteran maintain composure, and proceed with the exam. Failure to cooperate with a C&P examination can result in denial of the claim. At the very least, the veteran should ask for the examiner’s business card, so that the veteran can ensure that the person doing the examination was actually the one who wrote the final report.
It is important to know that C&P examiners are literally examining thousands of veterans per year, and most of the examiners simply do not have the patience, time, or resources to try to decipher how a veteran really feels or to dig deep to figure out what the veterans symptoms really are. As such, it is important that veterans be as honest and forthright with the C&P examiner as time allows.
It is always a good idea for the veteran to take a written list of symptoms, including embarrassing symptoms, to help refresh his/her memory during the exam. What veterans sometimes feel are inconsequential details could very well be the key to success in the claim. Additionally, if one of the veteran’s treating medical providers has provided a favorable opinion in the matter, it does not hurt for the veteran to give the favorable opinion to the C&P examiner for consideration.
Recently, the VA has really begun to heavily advocate the use of Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) by the C&P examiners. The VA has said that the DBQs were created to help streamline the VA claims process, and to help complete the record if they determine that the record as a whole is incomplete or insufficient to decide a claim. According to the VA, there are more than 70 DBQs, covering the overwhelming majority of conditions for which a veteran can receive disability compensation. Here is a helpful link to a page on the VA’s website which gives more information about the DBQ process: http://benefits.va.gov/TRANSFORMATION/disabilityexams/index.asp. In addition to C&P examiners, DBQs can also be completed by treating medical providers and independent medical examiners.
After a C&P examination, it is important that the veteran and witnesses write down their thoughts about the examination as soon as possible. Issues to consider in this regard include: whether the exam was thorough, whether the veteran was able to express all of his/her thoughts about the disabilities being evaluated, whether the examiner seemed to be listening and writing down the veteran’s responses, whether the examiner expressed a negative opinion to the veteran about the strength of his/her claim, etc.
The more specific the veteran and the witnesses are regarding any deficiencies with the C&P exams, the better chances of getting the VA to correct the problem. Depending on the situation, the veteran or his representative may choose to send in a response to the VA challenging the C&P results. The written response may request several things, for example, that the VA order a new C&P examination with a different C&P examiner and/or that the VA order the C&P examiner to clarify his/her opinion.
The bottom line is that C&P exams are not always bad for veterans. In fact, if favorable, these exams can be very helpful. However, being an informed participant and adequately preparing for the examination is crucial.