Posted on Sep 11, 2015
CW4 Counterintelligence Technician
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Here’s some tips on how to file a VA disability claim, especially if this is your first time. If you get injured, go to a military medical facility or TMC. Make sure they document the details of the injury and the treatment you received and ask for copies of the documentation. Notify your local commander and tell them you need a Line of Duty injury report (for Army, it’s a DA FORM 2173). They will likely tell you that you don’t need one because you’re on active duty and your medical records will suffice – do it anyway, you will thank me later. If there are witnesses to your injury, try to get them to write up a statement about your injuries. If you’re coming off a deployment, make sure you report all injuries to the medical out processing station and get further treatment as necessary – again, get copies of all reports, x-rays, therapy, etc. Depending on the seriousness of the injuries, they may ask you if want to stay and receive treatment or go home and get treatment. I know everyone wants to go home but seriously consider getting treatment at the installation you’re at. Again, the key is get documentation.

Once you get home, you should look into enrolling at your local VA hospital for medical treatment of service connected injuries. OEF/OIF/OND returning vets who enroll before February 12, 2016 can obtain treatment of service connected injuries without going through the VA disability application process and will be placed in priority group 6 or higher. You should receive a briefing on all this while out-processing.

You should begin your VA disability application process as soon as possible. If it’s your first time applying, collect all your medical records and get them organized. If you went to a doctor on the civilian side, get all those records too. There are two things I can’t stress enough: Review the VA’s WARMS website, 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities, http://www.benefits.va.gov/warms/bookc.asp and get an advocate! You want to review Book C, which describes all injuries and the rating for that injury, because you may find an injury you didn’t think to claim – I found three (of course, you’ll need to have documentation to support any claim). An advocate is a person or organization who is certified in assisting veterans with submitting disability claims. You want an advocate because you don’t want to take on the VA by yourself and an advocate knows how to cut through red tape and ensure your claim is submitted correctly (you don’t want your claim returned for errors). There are many advocates out there – I chose Disabled American Veterans (DAV) but many other organizations have advocates as well such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

When submitting your claim, you will need to fill out required forms but I also submitted a Word document as there isn’t a lot of room to describe your injuries on those forms. I also referenced the verbiage used in Book C so my claim mirrored the VA’s language in describing my injuries (this was recommended to me by someone who used to process VA disability claims). You can also submit “buddy letters” that document an injury – if you got hurt and there is no medical documentation, buddy letters will suffice (you usually want to submit at least two per injury if possible). The “buddy” writing it needs to be detailed and they need to swear or affirm they are telling the truth – kind of like a sworn statement. Once you complete all the forms and get your statements and records together, photocopy the whole thing. You’ll need to compile a list of all doctors, hospitals, imaging facilities, therapists, etc., plus their addresses and phone numbers (you have to submit a release waiver for each non-military doctor and facility). Make sure you state if you’re an OEF/OIF/OND veteran on your claim (you’re supposed to receive priority once submitted). After all this is done, review everything with your advocate (if you need help with any of this process your advocate will help you).

Next comes submission of your claim. Give your claim to your advocate – they will submit it on your behalf. They also become your representative for the remainder of the process and are supposed to advise you on anything during the claim process. They will be cc’d on all correspondence between you and the VA. Also, don’t submit anything on your own to the VA, submit any additional paperwork through your advocate. It generally takes about a year to get a decision but it also depends on how complex your claim is. If you don’t agree with the decision you receive you have a year to appeal it but I suggest submitting any appeal as soon as possible. Additionally, you will need to submit evidence the VA hasn't already seen.

At some point in the process the VA will schedule you for physical exams - the last ones I had were performed by a contractor and not at the VA. This reminds me: Be careful what you say to the examiner, they are not there to be your friend. In fact, you will sign paperwork that explains they are strictly there to perform an exam and not treat you. I made an off the cuff comment about shooting a .357 with no hearing protection when I was a kid, trying to emphasize that I had learned the importance of using hearing protection. He wrote it down. That’s about it, other than this hint: If you have been exposed to loud noises such as gunfire, explosions, mortars, or artillery and you have hearing damage that causes your ears to ring or hiss, that’s called tinnitus. It’s an automatic 10% rating and can’t be disproved (at least for now). If you don’t have tinnitus, don’t claim it.

Lastly, please know I've been dealing with the VA and my own claims for about 10 years. My VA file is about a two feet thick. I've been compensated at 100% since 2007 - I had 80% plus 20% individual unemployability (meaning I couldn't work and they felt I was not capable of obtaining gainful employment). I recently was awarded a true 100% rating. I am also drawing social security disability. And yes, it is possible to be retained in the Army Reserve provided you meet at least the minimum retention requirements, which I do (I've been med boarded) and I am not paid (points only). But that's a whole other story.

Also, please read CPL David Salazar's post below, he makes some very good points and has additional advice!
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MAJ Special Operations Response Team (Sort)
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BLUF. in my opinion as a medical officer the entire line of duty system needs to be scrapped. It is immensely disrespectful and completely lacking any understanding to what it means to serve as a professional soldier. The whole idea that you only get covered for events that occur specifically while on duty demonstrates a complete lack of understanding for what it means to be and maintain your physical fitness. It is not is if you can turn on or turn off your fitness. How is it that an active-duty soldier can be injured training after hours in the evening or on the weekend and that is covered but if the guardsmen does the same thing in order to meet the same physical fitness standard it is not covered. They get 1/20th the paid time to train, have to meet the same standard but do not receive the same care when they are injured meeting that identical standard.
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SPC Russ Burghorn
SPC Russ Burghorn
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So very true and I will post later regarding exactly this issue however I am currently working with a VSO and don't want to post things that could damage or influence my case , however Sir those are great words , hopefully they don't fall on deaf ears as they have in the past so much. hooaaa
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SFC First Sergeant
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Actually, if you are training in between Battle Assemblies you could be considered in a duty status if you are on a 1380 for points only. These are easy to complete and turn in and don't cost the Army a dime. The Points acrue toward your retirement and if you are injured they can substantiate being in a duty status IAW AR 600-8-4. The chalenge will be geting your commander to sign off. Most commanders have bought into the Lie that this is just stuf a good soldier should do on their own time along with writing evaluations, preparing training, checking in on their Joes and multiple other things.
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CPL David Salazar
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This info is a Veterans service reps' wet dream! A claim within a year from active duty discharge generally gets a general medical exam, full physical. If one was to submit all of this evidence from the beginning, claims would take much less time. Excellent advice! The VA considers any claim older than 125 days as a backlog claim. The minute somebody sees all the evidence you have provided, if it's what's listed above, an exam request will be sent out. Also, sending your own statements describing the injury in service and how it's bothered you ever since also helps. Don't underestimate the weight of your statement!!! Look for va form 21-4138 to submit any statements as they have the sworn statement language built in.
The only thing I will suggest against the advice of the original poster is if you don't agree with the decision, and have evidence that contradicts the decision but wasn't available or submites before, send in the new evidence and request for "reconsideration" asap. With new evidence, this goes directly to a rater to look over. If you still don't receive a decision you feel is fair, request for a decision review officer (dro) to look over your case. If then you still aren't satisfied, put in the formal appeal. Appeals right now is a black hole for claims. It could take years before anything of value happens, so I would suggest exhausting all alternative avenues before the appeal.
Don't wait! There are timeframes for everything!

Also, take note that the VA is now requiring all claims to be submitted on the appropriate form. This is why service organizations are vital! They should tell you what to submit to process your claim expeditiously.

Seriously though, feel free to send me a direct message with any questions you may have. Don't be intimidated by the labrynth of red tape; get informed!
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CW4 Counterintelligence Technician
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Thanks for offering to help! And regarding an appeal, by "new" evidence I meant something the VA hasn't seen yet, not calendar new. Glad you caught this. I'll fix this in the post.
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CPL Eric Vigil
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Back in 1990 I had been through Basic Training, AIT and back home at the National Guard, During our annual training, I was on Light duty because of a Knee injury that was aggravated, I was given an order to drag cable, Hawk System, while I was running through the field I tripped over a golfer hole and blew out the knee. I was sent to William Boamont Medical Hospital for an evaluation, they said my knee was no good, and kicked me out, I begged for a desk job being that it was not that big of an injury that I could not perform office duties, they gave me an honorable discharge I filed a claim, but was denied. It would never had happened if I was not given that order while on Light Duty. I was young then and loved my Country and State and was able to perform and work in the general public.. However the knee has never been the same and from time to time it causes pain..
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CW4 Counterintelligence Technician
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Same for you: Get an advocate (VSO) and submit a new claim. The VSO will guide you on how to do this. Don’t give up and don’t take on the VA by yourself.
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Amn Anne Hofferkamp
Amn Anne Hofferkamp
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I have a similar story. In '92 I had a seizure while on AD while in tech school target intelligence. The problem was the NG linked seizure due to stress at 19 to a febrile seizure (fyi - there is no correlation). Like you I received an Honorable but underwent seizures for years until the VA finally paid for brain surgery. I applied for VA benefits upon discharge (& 3x thereafter) each time to be denied. I currently have a claim pending and the last letter from the government said they hadn't made a decision. It would have been nice to have discharged medically. My advice to you is to find a friend in the state government and try to see if your governor will make an exception. No way that's going to happen in my cash-strapped state.
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