So you’ve filed your VA disability claim for a mental health issue. Just a short 10 months later, the Department of Veterans Affairs scheduled you for a Compensation and Pension examination (C&P exam). You’ve never done anything like this before, and you have no idea what to expect. This article is aimed at helping you explain your medical evidence and eligibility during a C&P exam.
What is a C&P Exam?
A C&P exam is an important part of the VA claims process. During the exam, the examiner will ask you questions about your mental health condition and how it affects your daily life. All you have to do is answer questions honestly, doing your best not to underestimate the pain you experience. This helps the VA properly rate your condition, so you can receive the right amount of VA disability compensation. Compensation and pension exams typically take place at a VA medical center.
These tips will help you better prepare for your VA C&P exam and to fill out the disability benefits questionnaire.
How C&P Exams Get Scheduled
Hopefully, you will receive written notice of the exam after sending your claim for veterans benefits. Ideally, you receive this notice sometime before the examination is due to take place so that you have plenty of time to reschedule if needed. There is a chance you do not receive the notice or receive it too late.
What happens if you miss your C&P Exam
If you miss the examination for any reason, submit a letter to the VA explaining the situation and why you were not able to attend on the day of the exam. If you miss an exam, it will likely negatively impact your claim for disability benefits, so be sure to attend the first appointment for proper compensation & pension!
What to Expect at your C&P Exam
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. You should also compile exam results and any medical exam info you may already have in your files. This is one of the most important exam tips you will receive from anywhere!
One way to get this list is to keep a small notebook on hand or a notepad on your phone. Use this to take notes when you think of or experience a symptom. This way, you remember to tell the VA examiner about all of your symptoms.
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. Afterward, they can help you remember there were any inconsistencies in the examiner’s report.
How to pass your C&P Exam
If you aren’t normally dressed up, showered, and shaved daily, then don’t show up to your examination this way. Show up the way you look on any given day. An examiner’s impression of you can have an outcome on his report and in some cases their interpretation of test results that you present(and remember, their report affects the VA’s rating decision).
If you tell the VA 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 PTSD, do not make it look otherwise. In no way are we suggesting to be dishonest, quite the opposite, you need to be as transparent and as honest as possible. Let’s get into it in our next section.
Being honest about your disability symptoms
Remember what you’re there for! When someone asks you “How are you today?”, we often automatically respond “good, and you?” But you’re not “good.” You’re suffering from a disability. This is a disability evaluation, so you want to answer honestly, especially when you are around medical professionals and during the review process.
You would be surprised at how many C&P exams and medical records we’ve read where the veteran is asked about a disability, and he or she responds with “I’m fine,” or “I’m ok.” We know that when you were in the military, you were expected to suck it up and move on, and any complaints about pain or illness were met with ridicule. We get it, but you’re not in the service anymore, and your life depends on you getting help with your medical condition.
So, speak up! This is another reason why we suggest bringing another or family member with you.
Do not exaggerate your symptoms
We’ve 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.
Bring someone to your C&P Exam
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s a good idea to bring someone else along with you, especially your spouse. Again, veterans tend to understate their symptoms. Everyone does it. This is how a C&P exam could go if your spouse is present during the exam:
Examiner: “Have you been having any trouble sleeping?”
Husband/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 a 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 and how that suffering may have some sort of service connection. This is because your brain is just trying to cope with the severity of your symptoms. However, your friends and family can clearly see how your symptoms are negatively affecting your everyday life.
We have spoken to family members of veterans, and they tell us in great detail how badly their veteran’s symptoms are affecting their life, and they can’t understand how their veteran’s disability claim was denied. Then we read the C&P examination notes, and none of what the family member described was in there! If you will truly benefit from VA disability benefits and deserve them due to your medical condition, be sure to include as much information in the conversation as possible.
Don’t argue with the examiner
Your C&P exam is for you to describe your symptoms and 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 VA disability rating criteria and how your symptoms fulfill it.
Do not argue with the VA 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 or 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 examiner’s job is just to pass on facts to the regional office. There, the adjudicators use this information to decide your claim.
What Happens After Your C&P Exam
Alright, now that you’ve had your C&P Exam, the VA then reviews all the evidence in the veteran’s C-File, and eventually assign a VA disability rating based on the available evidence. The timeframe for this is impossible to predict with certainty since we’re dealing with the VA’s timetables and we all know they’ve been working through a backlog of over 100,000+ claims.
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