The VA has a duty to assist the veteran in their quest to obtain disability benefits, but ultimately, it falls on the veteran to initially support his/her claim. Compensation benefits claims require medical evidence to establish a current condition and a nexus (connection) to an injury or disability that happened while a veteran was in service. The duty to assist includes providing a VA medical examination, commonly referred to as a C&P (Compensation and Pension) exam, or obtaining an independent expert medical opinion, also known as an IMO, when such an examination or opinion is necessary for the VA to make a decision on the claim. This means that if a medical exam didn’t make a difference, an example would be if a veteran has a dishonorable discharge and is ineligible for benefits, the VA will not provide an exam.
In most cases, the VA will schedule a medical exam after receiving a substantially complete application even if a veteran submits supporting exam reports from his or her own private physician. It is important to note that the VA doesn’t provide C&P exams for every case. The VA can accept the results of a medical exam by a veteran’s private physician as long as the exam report satisfies VA requirements. Veterans should still submit their own medical reports whenever possible because if a VA exam is ordered, the VA examiner must consider the private medical reports when arriving at a conclusion. A veteran will sometimes disagree about the necessity of a C&P exam; however, if one is scheduled by the VA, it is very important he/she attend, as not attending without just cause is a basis for denying a claim.
So, how can a veteran make the most of his or her exam? It is important to note that it is not a social occasion. If the examiner asks “How are you today?” it is wise not to answer “I am fine.” Chances are, the examiner will write this in the final report and it could be very detrimental to a claim. It is wise for a veteran to be honest and tell the examiner exactly how he or she is feeling. Many times, a veteran is disgruntled prior to his/her scheduled exam, but the place to air these grievances is not in the exam room. The examiner has likely heard these complaints from many other veterans, and can’t fix the VA system.
The most important thing to do during a C&P exam is to answer all questions honestly. Exaggeration of symptoms is not in the veteran’s best interest, but then again, understating symptoms is also not helpful to his/her case. This is likely the only time the examiner will see a veteran, and it is important he or she sees the real person. This means, for example, a veteran should dress and look the way they normally do. The C&P exam doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable experience, and honesty and openness is the veteran’s best asset in ensuring that doesn’t happen.