1. Don’t Make a Claim. Ever. This is probably the most common way Veterans miss benefits to which they are entitled. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will not contact you with information about how to claim benefits. No one will pass along your service information to VA. The entire burden of asserting a claim and initiating the benefits process rests entirely on you.
The sad fact is that VA is not responsible for any disability you have – if you do not make a claim. Bottom line? No claim = no benefits. Even worse, benefits only start counting from the time you file a claim! So – waiting to file a claim for benefits only means you and your dependents will receive LESS. You will not receive back pay worth millions if you wait 20 years to file your claim. You’ll only have lost out on all those benefits.
Unfortunately, VA does not make it easy to file a claim. In fact, as of March 24, 2015, they’ve made it more difficult. Now, instead of letting your doctor assist you, you have to submit your claim on a special form. That form is VA Form 21-526. There is also a VA Form 21-526EZ. To submit your claim, you can either:
- Create an eBenefits account with VA and apply on-line;
- Complete the VA Form 21-526 and mail it to your nearest VA regional office (VARO);
- Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you; or
- Work with a VA-accredited representative or agent.
If you aren’t ready yet to file a full claim, you can file an “Intent to File a Claim.” You use VA Form 21-0966. Using the “Intent to File a Claim” option gives you one year to collect any needed paperwork and submit it to VA. The crucial point is that any benefits will tack back to the date VA receives your “Intent to File a Claim,” essentially giving you up to an extra year of benefits.
2. Ignore VA Requests For Information. Once VA acts on your request, some people simply send back responses telling VA how stupid it is. Well, even if the VA inquiry really isn’t very smart, your claim is an item of business correspondence and should be treated that way. So, even if the VA claims examiner has failed to read your documentation, be courteous and factual in your response. You are required to support your claims and assertions with evidence. If you need assistance with evidence-gathering in response to a VA inquiry, a VA-accredited attorney can help.
3. Trust VA. Count on VA to gather all the relevant information regarding your disability. Do that while you’re debating how much to pay for the Brooklyn Bridge. In all seriousness, you do have to put together all the relevant information and evidence. This is usually the most difficult part of perfecting your claim for benefits. But, don’t be discouraged. Look at your claim as a job. Work at it every day. And, remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself. A VA-accredited representative or agent can help you.
4. Do Not Answer Compensation & Pension (C&P) Examiners’ Questions. Eventually, VA will either call you or send you a letter asking you to come to a C&P exam. In fact, if you have claimed several disabilities, you might be asked to come to several C&P exams. Usually, your C&P exam will take place at a VA hospital or clinic. No matter how off-putting the examination may be, here are a few important tips.
- Truthfully answer questions posed to you.
- Correct any false statements made during the C&P examination by the VA or QTC examiner. [Note: “QTC” doesn’t stand for “Quality Technical Certifier” or anything like that. “QTC” is a Lockheed Martin Company to which VA has outsourced much of its medical examination.]
- Don’t exaggerate symptoms – but don’t diminish them either. Explain exactly how your symptoms impact your life.
- Even if you feel frustrated by the examiner and/or the questions, count to 10 and remain calm and courteous.
5. Fake the severity of the injury during the exam. Facts don’t need embellishment or exaggeration. Let the facts speak for themselves. The consequences of exaggeration cannot be exaggerated. If VA ever determines that you are not credible (that you can’t be relied on to provide factual information) VA can deny your claim.
6. Miss your C&P or other VA examinations. Unfortunately, despite VA’s absolutely terrible reputation for delaying exams, faking exam wait times, and cancelling an exam on you even as late as the very day of a scheduled exam, you don’t get to miss one without penalty. VA is permitted to deny any claim where the Veteran misses an examination.
There is good news at the end of all this. VA itself admits it makes errors in evaluating disability claims. Some VAROs have terrible error rates – with reports of error rates as high as 97% for some types of claims processing. So, as they say, don’t get mad…get even by ultimately having your claim correctly processed. You are entitled to assistance, and a VA-accredited advocate can help.
If you have already filed a Notice of Disagreement with VA and would like further assistance, please contact The Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. at: https://www.attorneyforveterans.com/contact-us.html
The original of this blog posting ran on 11/28/2012.