Matthew: Hello, and welcome to the Hill and Ponton Veterans video blog. My name is Matthew Hill.
Carol: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matthew: Today we want to talk to you about unemployability claims and C&P exams for those claims for when a veteran has multiple service-connected disabilities and the veteran is claiming that all of those disabilities lead to unemployability.
I consider this scenario to be a crack in the system, and here’s what I mean by that. When a veteran has, let’s say, a back problem, migraines, and PTSD and he says, “I can’t work because of these three,” and the combo rating there is 80%, the VA will send the veteran to three different exams: a psych exam for the PTSD, a neurological exam for the migraines, and an orthopedic exam for the back.
Each exam will talk about the veteran’s single disability and the functional impairment that has. The back examiner will say, “The veteran can’t stand at all or can’t walk, but he could do sedentary work.” The migraine examiner might say, “Well, he has to be prostrate and has to lie down at least once a week. As long as an employer will give that benefit, then he could work.” And then the PTSD examiner will say, “Well, he doesn’t get along with people too well, so as long as he’s working by himself off somewhere, he’s fine.”
But what’s the problem?
Carol: You add it all together, and no one’s going to employ him. But the VA never does that. They never put it all together, which is the rule. It’s what they’re supposed to do.
Matthew: Right. There’s no opinion that reconciles all of those. A lot of times, we just see veterans get denied. The rating decision will say, “Well, this doctor said you could work sitting down. This doctor said that as long as you could lay down every once in a while, you’re fine. This other doctor said as long as you weren’t with people, you’re okay.”
Carol: I’ve seen veterans with a 90% combined rating for 30 years trying to get 100%, and they’ve been denied under this same system.
Matthew: Because the 90% veteran will have five or six different disabilities, and the VA, in a way, can divide and conquer. Frankly, the irony is if a veteran only has one disability, it’s almost easier.
For example, with PTSD, if they’re at 70% and the VA says, “Well, he does have anger problems and he can’t really be around people,” the VA has to answer the question: Does that keep him from working? But having these multiple disabilities and multiple exams gives them an out.
Carol: Right. That’s what we find. We get a doctor who can put it all together. We either get a vocational rehab person or we get a doctor who can say, “Look, just based on the PTSD alone, this person can’t work.” And then we’re able to use the other problems for a special monthly compensation, additional benefits.
Matthew: So we get 100 for one. Then with the other ones adding together, we can get that additional special monthly compensation.
Now, as Carol was saying, we actually look to use vocational experts on these cases. They are essentially doctors or professionals that can look at an individual and discuss, “Here’s the background. Here’s what they were able to do. Here’s the limitations that were placed on them,” and then look in to the greater job force and say, “Where could they work?”
Inevitably, in a case like this they’d say, “There’s no job that’s going to give them the accommodations they need to be able to work.”
We’re professionals. We’re able to find other professionals, but getting a vocational expert for your case might not be easy. What I would suggest is going to the VA vocational rehabilitation center and say, “I want a full assessment of me, if I’m able to work, if I’m able to go to school.”
I’ve gotten great opinions from them or they come back and say, “Look. We tried to put this veteran in school and he couldn’t do it because of the service-connected disabilities.” That would be the opinion that looks at the totality of your disabilities that the VA benefits section is unwilling to give.
Carol: There are two cautions. First of all, this report from the vocational expert that you’ve gone to – the rehabilitation person through the VA – it’s not going to be in your VA file. They wouldn’t put it there. It absolutely is not there, and it’s not going to be there unless you put it in there.
The second thing that has been a real problem with the ones I’ve had, I would say maybe 10-20% have helped me. Unfortunately, a lot of times the vocational person will not limit the inability to work to only the service-connected problems. They will leave the letter very vague. Therefore, the VA is able to ignore it.
Matthew: Yes. It’s definitely not perfect.
Carol: So you need to watch it. I’ve had a lot of veterans say, “I’ve got just what we need. They say I can’t work.” And when you look at it, the person will list a lot of the problems that the veteran has, many of which are not service connected, and say, “Because of these problems, you can’t work.” That’s not going to help you.
Matthew: It’s not. Again, in theory, the VA is only supposed to consider the service-connected disabilities from that letter. But as Carol said, they can screw that up too. This is just something to watch out for if you have multiple disabilities that are service connected and you can’t work because of them. They probably are going to send you to a bunch of different doctors on this.
Carol: For C&P exams.
Matthew: You just need to make sure that if you don’t get back what you feel the correct answer is, you appeal because the higher you get in the appellate chain, the more likely you are to get a decision-maker who really understands how this all comes together.
Carol: If you’re not working and you have a combined or single rating of 60% or more, please, please don’t give up. Please get somebody who can help you with this.
I see so many veterans, Matt, that for 30 years have had this combination, and they still don’t get 100%. That’s not fair. If you know the difference between 80% and 100%, it’s significant.
Matthew: It’s a lot of money.
Carol: It is.
Matthew: Well, that’s it for this edition of the Veterans video blog. Thanks for joining us, and we will see you next time.