Several months ago I received a rather large package from the Veterans Administration. Inside was the copy of my medical record that I had submitted with my claim some nine months earlier as well as a sheaf of rather official looking documents.
Hooray, thought I! My claim was settled.
Well, kind of. Actually about half of my claim was settled, and the other half was not.
You see, as I departed active duty I was thoroughly examined by both military and veterans administration physicians as a part of the final physical process. The Navy doctors and corpsmen checked me out and documented everything that was relevant into my records, and the VA then followed up with an examination of their own to determine what conditions, if any, that I had developed during my service would be considered disabling. Having the conditions rated as disabling is important because the VA treats those conditions free of charge.
In my case, about half of the conditions that had been identified during my physicals were rated as disability-related conditions and would be addressed by the VA in the future. The other half were marked as “deferred” because they needed additional information. The letter went on to say that they had requested a medical examination, and that I would be “notified of the date, time, and place to report.” It sounded reasonable, so all I had to do was be patient and wait.
One month went by.
Then two. Then three. Four. Finally at month five I decided that my phone wasn’t going to ring any time soon and I needed to do something about it. But what?
Thinking back to my experience at the Transition Assistance Course I remembered that a representative from the Disabled American Veterans had talked me through the VA medical evaluation process as he evaluated my medical record. I had signed a limited power of attorney that appointed the DAV as the Veterans Service Organization that would represent me in my VA proceedings, and now it was time to give them a ring and ask for some help.
After rummaging through the rather tall pile of transition related documents that occupies a significant portion of my desk I found his business card. “Aha!” thought I. “A call and it will all be fixed!”
I did call the number, only to find that I was calling the wrong number. It turns out that the gentleman that I had worked with during the TAP seminar was not the same gentleman that I would be working with in my dealings with the VA. The guy at TAPS was fully engaged in meeting new veterans and helping get their claims processes started. Once the veterans were in the DAV system they (including me!) would be working with representatives at their regional office located in San Diego.
So I called that number. Unfortunately their offices were closed for the holidays, so I called back once the holidays were over. I finally linked up with a live person and after speaking to a very nice lady who took down some basic information were instructed to wait for a representative to call me back.
After a day or two of swapping voicemails because of missed calls the DAV representative and I finally linked up on the phone. I explained my dilemma to him, and he patiently explained what needed to happen next.
“What you have,” he said,” is a partially completed claim. At this point there really isn’t anything the DAV can do for you because our process begins when the initial VA claim is settled.”
Sensing my frustration, he continued.
“What you need to do is to contact the VA and set up an appointment to get the ball rolling yourself. You need to do this quickly because if you don’t follow up on the listed conditions they may be disallowed because you are not showing that they are still a problem.” He then gave me the appropriate phone number for the closest VA office and we said our goodbyes.
Hmm… So I need to get my sore knees and bad back looked at again? I had signed up for TRICARE Prime, so I could go to the doctor, but my decades of “sucking it up” had precluded me from making an appointment for something that did not involve broken bones or arterial bleeding.
So I called the VA the next day. After a similar game of telephone and voicemail tag I spoke with a very helpful gentleman who understood exactly what my dilemma was. He checked his calendar and squeezed me into an appointment this coming Wednesday, where he promised to get my ship sailing in the right direction.
And I promise to tell you how it goes…
1. Contact your VSO immediately after you receive your VA claim settlement letter. I lost about five months as I waited for the VA to contact me before I finally got on the ball and started engaging the system.
2. The VA is buried in claims and the best thing to do is to take charge of your case. Waiting just means that others who are being proactive are jumping in line ahead of you.
3. Your VSO can explain the intricacies of the settlement letter in a phone call, but you have to contact them to initiate the conversation.
4. The next call you make after the VSO should be your local VA office in order to initiate the next steps in the evaluation process. If your claim is settled, then you need to contact them to be registered in their computer system so that you can access healthcare providers. If your claim is not fully settled, then you need to get registered and schedule appointments with the appropriate professionals in order to finish up your claim.