When you are filing your VA Compensation claim, you want to be able to get the quickest and most advantageous results possible. In order to do that, there are several things you can do to ensure the least amount of delay in the processing of your claim. The following are the most common mistakes people make when filing a VA claim that end up costing them time and money.
NOT Submitting the Proper Documentation:
Ensuring your documentation is correct is vital to determining the length it will take to have your claim reviewed. Any missing documents can increase the chances of your claim being denied. Appealing a denied claim can lengthen the time it takes to get a decision by up to several years. Filing a Notice of Disagreement (when you disagree with a rating decision made by the RO) you can expect an average extension of your claim by 423 days. Filing a VA Form 9 (an appeal to the Board of Veteran Affairs) will extend it by another average of 479 days, together a total of 902 days, almost 2.5 extra years. Once you have a decision it usually is a real mistake not appealing. Having an attorney review your file, ensure you have the correct documentation and helping to gather the evidence you need when you file your initial NOD or BAV appeal will help decrease these time frames and hopefully get your claim processed as quickly as possible.
The basic documentation that must be included with your initial claim must show that you are:
- Eligible for benefits (proof you are an eligible veteran);
- Currently disabled – you must show a current diagnosis;
- Had an in-service incident that occurred that caused or aggravated the condition;
- Have evidence linking the condition to the event in service (Nexus statement); and
- Have medical evidence showing the severity of the condition (for example, if you can no longer work, have to change your daily lifestyle, or have lost the use of a limb).
NOT Filing for All Your illnesses:
Do not forget to file for all your illnesses, including secondary illnesses. For example, you may have a sleep disorder that developed due to Parkinson’s Disease. You can also claim compensation for those secondary illnesses caused by the presumptive illnesses.
Don’t exaggerate your illnesses. Ensure that your symptoms match what your doctors are saying and that your documentation is in line with your symptoms. Ensure that if you have a C&P Exam or an independent medical exam (IME), that you do not over or understate your symptoms or the effects the illness has on your life. Be honest and forthcoming. Hiding information or overstating information will cause there to be uncertainty about your claim leading to denial.
NOT Submitting Buddy Statements:
Not asking for statements from friends and relatives. “Buddy Statements” are acceptable evidence to the VA that can show several things. These statements can be used to show:
- That an event occurred when there are no records of it;
- Show that an injury occurred if there are no medical records (if you didn’t get initially treated or records were lost/destroyed);
- Show behavioral or physical changes because of the injury or illness;
- Show life changes; and
- Show losses you have endured because of the illness or injury.
Take advantage of this opportunity to submit evidence from your support group and submit as many buddy statements as you can. Even if you have lost touch, you can utilize the internet or local VSOs to help find people who served with you who may have information you need to help validate your claim.
NOT Submitting Independent Medical Opinions:
Not getting another medical opinion can often leave the Veteran at the mercy of the VA’s sole medical opinion. Having just the C&P exam or your VA medical records is often not enough and no matter what medical issue you are dealing with, you should always get a second opinion. Having a medical exam from your private physician or an Independent Medical Exam (IME) ordered by your attorney can carry a lot of weight when reviewing a claim. Many attorneys have experts in doing IMEs for Veterans and know which doctors have the credentials that the VA will accept for certain types of exams.
Be sure to utilize your own primary care physician as well as they have worked with you the longest and know your situation the best. They can offer evidence of long-term changes over the years and show prognosis where physicians who only see you once cannot. This is important, especially when looking at whether a claim will be determined to be permanent and total.
NOT Having all your Service Records and Service Medical Records Reviewed:
Make sure that the VA reviews your service records as well as your service medical records when the question is whether the disability should be service connected. Often times the VA will only review your service medical records and not request your actual service records as well. If your claim is strictly concerning an injury or illness that may be enough, but when looking at cases that involve sexual trauma, personal trauma or psychiatric issues, it is important to ensure they also look at your service records in addition to medical records to be able to identify any behavioral or performance changes that can be markers of an in-service incident. If you have a secondary claim of any type of mental health issue, you want to make sure that any service records are included as well if there was any manifestation in service, this may help change that secondary illness to service connected.
Giving Up or Just Accepting what You are Initially Awarded: Many people just give up after the first denial or accept the initial rating decision. For example, a Veteran claims a foot injury after discharge from the Army where he broke his foot. The VA denies the claim saying that he has no diagnosis to the foot for a current injury. Twenty-five years later he is having severe pain, and having hip and back issues from walking incorrectly to accommodate for the pain in his foot. He has lost 25 years of benefits because of just giving up on even a 0% rating for the initial injury.
The VA is on track to decide over 1.4 million claims in 2016 and the wait, while shorter than it has been in years, is still long. Many Veterans, having waited so long already, are willing to just give in and accept whatever they are awarded with no further challenges. However, if you or your representative can find that earlier effective date, a secondary illness, a presumptive illness you didn’t know about, or even show that you deserve a much higher rating, it can mean the difference of thousands of dollars. At least let someone look and see if there is something else you are entitled to before you give up.
NOT Getting the Advice of a Professional: Talk to your local service organization representative or an attorney (if you have already been denied) who specialized in Veteran’s Law. While attorneys do cost money, usually a fee paid out of any awarded compensation, the difference between what you can get when an attorney reviews your file and doing it yourself can add up to not only thousands of dollars in retroactive back pay but also in substantially increased monthly payments going forward. The differences can be startling. The average Veteran is denied at the BVA level 32% more often on their own than when an attorney represents them. If you think you may be entitled to more or want a better chance at securing your benefits, it never hurts to get a consultation. Attorneys can look at whether your case and help you determine many things;
- if you deserve an earlier effective date;
- if you deserve a higher rating;
- if a proposed decrease in rating is not warranted;
- if a claim is service connected or aggravated in service;
- if you are entitled to additional retroactive benefits; or
- if you are entitled to additional claims for other initial or secondary claims by reviewing your claims file.
Attorneys can only be consulted or hired after an initial rating decision or denial. However, if you decide to hire someone, do not wait. The time on your appeal starts the date of your Notice of Action and your representative will want to make sure they are providing you the best service possible.