Over the last weekend I had the great fortune to run into a good friend of mine who retired from the Marine Corps after thirty years of active service.
He is a great guy who lived one of the hardest lives you can live in the Marine Corps; he started out as a infantryman and then became a reconnaissance Marine and then a Special Operator (meaning he began his career as a grunt who carried heavy loads long distances and lived in the dirt to a recon guy who carried heavier loads longer distances and lived in the mud).
During his career he did all of the high speed things that are the stuff of recruiting posters. He jumped out of airplanes – but not just enough times to earn his wings but hundreds and hundreds of times from helicopters and airplanes both at very low and extremely high altitudes. He became an expert diver, marksman, and small unit leader.
He helped the Marine Corps blaze the trail into the Special Operations world. He helped build what is now called MARSOC and was a critical leader in the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion. He deployed to Kuwait and Iraq and Afghanistan to fight, and in his career he deployed thirteen times.
All of this came at a tremendous cost, however. He suffers from a long list of physical ailments that are related to doing all of those incredible things; his ears ring from being around gunfire for years on end, his joints and back are so painful that he sometimes can barely move, and he wrestles with PTSD in the same manner as so many of us who have fought for their country and survived.
At the end of his impressive career he did what all separating servicemen do – he went through the VA evaluation process. He ensured that his physical problems were recorded in his medical record and was then examined by a VA physician.
With all of his maladies he was certain that he would be assigned a relatively high disability rating. After all, many people served for far less time and in far less strenuous and physically demanding environments and had received very high disability ratings. He wasn’t looking for anything he didn’t earn and deserve, mind you, but was just looking for what was fair.
Recently he received his disability rating announcement in the mail.
For tinnitus. Ringing in the ears.
To say he was angry is an epic understatement, and upon taking his case to his state VA representative they agree and are challenging the ruling.
How did he end up with such a low rating when he has so many demonstrable maladies?
He attributes it to his physical evaluation. The doctor didn’t really examine him, but instead just asked him questions about his conditions. He did not order tests or even check for himself, but instead had a conversation and wrote down some notes.
The point is that in order to receive the most accurate evaluation it is imperative that you take an active role in your VA physical. Demand that the doctor examine those things that you know are wrong. Don’t just let the overworked doctor hurry through your exam.
Otherwise you may likely find yourself under-rated for your service connected disability, and to get it corrected will make an already disturbingly long process even tortuously longer.
So this is a cautionary tale. You may save yourself a lot of time and inconvenience by taking an active role in your VA evaluation, so I recommend going into the doctor’s office with the intent of having each and every issue examined, addressed, and recorded.
After all, if you don’t do it, who will?
Before filing an appeal, get a real physical from a private physician and include all your problems in a list for that physician to use for background. Include knees and vertebrae shot from too many landings, hearing loss from guns, airplane, helo flights, etc . If possible have a copy of all medical records from service time for that private doctor and later, the VA doc. Then, with all this medical documentation, file the appeal to the VA and include in your application, every malady you have verified.
Great ideas- thanks, Paul!