So you’ve filed your claim for a mental health issue. Just a short 10 months later, the VA scheduled you for a Compensation & Pension exam. You’ve never done anything like this before, and you have no idea what to expect. This post is a short guide to prepare you.
1 – DO Show up!
Hopefully, you will receive written notice of the exam, hopefully some time before the examination is due to take place. There is a chance you do not receive the notice or receive it too late. If you miss the examination for any reason, submit a letter to the VA explaining the situation. If you miss an exam, it will likely negatively impact your claim, so be sure to attend the appointment!
2 – DO Prepare!
Before you even go to the examination, you have some homework to do. You need to make a list of ALL your symptoms, the frequency of them, and how they affect your life. One way to get this list is to keep a small notebook on hand or a notepad in your phone. Use this to take notes when you think of or experience a symptom. Additionally, have a spouse, friend, or family member keep track of what they observe. I know, I know, the last thing you want is your spouse keeping track of every time you lose your temper. Her notes, however, can be very helpful to your claim. Even better, bring this person with you to your C&P examination. They can discuss your symptoms from their angle. Afterwards, they can help you remember there were any inconsistencies in the examiner’s report.
3 – DON’T dress in your Sunday best!
If you normally don’t get dressed up, showered, shaved daily then don’t show up to your examination this way. Show up the way you are on any given day. An examiner’s impression of you can have an outcome on his report. If you tell the doctor that you have trouble getting motivated to take a shower or shave, but you look like you’re headed to a job interview, this may give the doctor the impression that you are exaggerating your symptoms. If you cannot work because of the PTSD do not make it look otherwise.
4 – DON’T downplay your symptoms!
Remember what you’re there for! When someone asks you “How are you today?” we often automatically respond “good, and you?” You’re not “good,” you’re suffering from a disability. You would be surprised at how many C&P exams and medical records I read where the veteran is asked about his disability, and he or she responds with “I’m fine,” or “I’m ok.” I know that when we were in the military, you were expected to suck it up and move on, and any complaining about pain or illness was met with ridicule. I get it, I’m the same way. But you’re not in the service anymore, and your life depends on you getting help with your illness. So speak up! This is another reason why I suggest bringing another or family member with you.
5 – DON’T exaggerate your symptoms!
I have seen several C&P exams where the examiner accuses the veteran of “malingering,” or exaggerating his or her symptoms. Often, this is NOT the case. However, if an examiner BELIEVES you are malingering, it may affect the entire report. Doctors use exams, such as the MMPI, on veterans who they think are malingering. This will obviously negatively affect your claim.
6 – DO bring someone!
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a good idea to bring someone else along with you, especially your spouse. As I’ve mentioned, veterans tend to understate their symptoms. I even do it myself. This is how I imagine a C&P exam would go if I brought my wife with me:
Examiner: “Have you been having any trouble sleeping?”
My Wife: “Sometimes? SOMETIMES?! What about when you go two nights without sleeping at all, and go through $20 worth of coffee and I can’t even trust you to drive the children around? Or when you fall asleep for 19 hours straight?! What about….” continues for 20 minutes
There is an aspect to mental illness called “insight.” When you’re suffering from a mental disorder, it is much more difficult to clearly see how your illness affects you. This is because your brain is just trying to cope. Your friends and family can clearly see how your symptoms are negatively affecting your every day life. I have spoken to family members of veterans, and they tell me in great detail how badly their veteran’s symptoms are affecting their life, and they can’t understand how they were denied. Then I read the C&P examination notes, and none of what the family member described is in there!
7 – DON’T be a lawyer!
Your C&P exam is for you to describe your symptoms and your limitations to the examiner. That’s it. The last thing you should be doing during this is discussing VA ratings and legal aspects of your case. Do not cite, word for word, the ratings criteria and how your symptoms fulfill it. Do not argue with the examiner. At best, they will become annoyed with you, as they are trying to get through the exam, and at worst, they will think that you’re malingering, trying to scam money. Either way, this will likely lead to a bad report. Know that a C&P examiner is NOT going to make a decision regarding your claim. They are supposed to be unbiased examiners. The doctor’s job is just to pass on facts to the regional office. There the adjudicators use this information to decide your claim.