My last post was about the Veterans Administration, and not long before that I wrote a string of posts about what I thought were my last and final physical examinations. Oddly, I soon found out that the VA and physical examinations are inextricably linked.
Just like peanut butter goes with chocolate and peas like carrots the Veterans Administration and physical examinations go together too. It turns out that I was right about my Final Physical Examination being the last one that I would go through in uniform, but what I didn’t realize was that it would be immediately followed by my first physical examination by the VA.
The VA, among a host of other things, is responsible for determining whether or not you are eligible for a disability rating (and compensation) for any injuries or conditions that you suffer as a result of your service. The military’s final physical is just your last checkup on the way out the door; the VA physical is your first checkup on the way into civilian life. In addition to finding out if you are disabled in any way the VA makes sure that you don’t have any conditions that require additional treatment once you take off the uniform.
There are plenty of examples of both disability related conditions and continuing treatment requirements; for example a disability may range from losing a limb or an eye in combat to tinnitus caused by the roar and whine of aircraft engines, while physical therapy to help recover from knee surgery is a case in point for continued medical treatment. At any rate, the VA is responsible for caring for the veteran, and in order to determine what type of care a vet requires they need to have their doctors take a look under the hood (or hospital gown, as it were).
As my active duty days drew to a close I had finished all of my required checkups and paperwork to head out to the civilian world. On my last day in uniform I received my official orders back to my civilian life, and with a handshake and a “see ya later” I set out on terminal leave and prepared for life back on civvy street. One of my first stops (after recovering from the retirement party hangover) was to the VA office, where I dropped off my DD-214 (the most important document for a veteran – it is your key to benefits and it is the official proof that you served in the military) and began the process of becoming a “customer” of the VA.
Along with my DD-214 I handed over a copy of my medical record (make sure to make an extra copy- this is VERY important, because you turn the original in when you check out on your last day in uniform, and the VA needs a copy to evaluate you for a disability rating and other medical concerns), and the nice lady in the office asked me a few questions. She then took a quick look at my records and started making some calls. Within a few minutes she had set me up with three appointments at a contracted medical office that the VA uses to evaluate separating veterans. She said that I would be receiving some information in the mail, and that it was now on me to ensure that I did everything necessary to complete the evaluation process. She also said that it could take anywhere from four months (in the best of all possible worlds) to a year or longer (which is not unusual) for my case to be evaluated and any disability rating to be issued. If I didn’t do what I was supposed to do it could take literally forever, because although the VA is there to help veterans they are not there to hold your hand and drag you through the process. That’s up to you.
Anyhow, I left the VA office with a few appointments and the pleasant, though pointed, reminder that it was up to me now. In order to take advantage of all of the great medical benefits that I had earned and to see if I had a disability rating I would need to take the initiative to attend appointments without anybody besides myself reminding me. There would be no Drill Instructors to tell me what to do next. Welcome back to the real world.
1. Make at least one copy (two if you can) of your complete medical and dental records. Your separations office on base should let you use the copier to make copies, and if they don’t, you can use the copier at the career counseling center. If you don’t want to stand over a copier for hours fighting paper jams and toner outages, you can take it out in town to a Kinko’s or other copier business- it will cost a few bucks, but time is money. Your original record will be turned in to get your orders home, and the VA needs another copy to evaluate. Remember this: the VA and the DOD are separate governmental agencies and if you think that they will coordinate your transition for you then you need to take another urinalysis test.
2. Make sure that you leave the VA office with appointments for physical evaluations. Your claim for medical benefits will not start until the evaluations are complete, so if you blow off or forget an appointment your case will just languish on some desk somewhere until it crumbles into dust. If you want benefits, then you need to do the legwork to make sure the process moves along.