Well, it finally happened. Nearly two years after beginning my VA disability claim process I learned today that my rating has been assigned and the case is closed.
Looking back on the process, it has indeed been a long and occasionally painful ride. Now that it is done, however, I think that the VA did a fair and objective evaluation of my various service related conditions. It took much longer than I had expected, but now that it is finished I am pretty happy with the results.
So now what?
Although I am content with the results of my evaluation, I know that many veterans are not. If my case was not settled to my satisfaction, I would pursue an appeal to have whatever condition that I felt was inadequately reviewed examined again. It is not at all uncommon for veterans to submit an appeal; in fact 60% of claims are “supplemental”, which is how appeals are classified. Here are some interesting facts from the VA website about supplemental claims:
- 60% of pending claims are supplemental, 40% are original.
- 77% of Veterans filing supplemental claims are receiving some level of monetary benefit from VA.
- 11% of Veterans filing supplemental claims already have a 100% disability rating (receive $2800 or more per month) or qualify for Individual Unemployability (compensated at the 100% disabled rate).
- 40% of Veterans filing supplemental claims are already rated at 50% disability or higher.
- 43% of supplemental claims are from Vietnam-era Veterans; 19% are from Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
I am not personally going to appeal my decision, but for those who would like to do so here are a few pointers on how to start the process:
1. Don’t even think about going it alone. I have written extensively in earlier posts about the great work that Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) perform to assist vets as they navigate the VA claims and appeals process. I personally have consulted with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and they have been fantastic (and they don’t charge a dime to help, either!). There are hundreds of VSOs to choose from, and to help you find one that best suits your needs you can consult the VSO-Directory_2012-2013, which is published by the VA on an annual basis.
2. Recordkeeping is CRITICAL! When you begin the appeal process you are in effect going back and starting the process all over again. You will be filling out forms (with the help of your VSO!) that identify the condition that you are appealing and why, presenting evidence as to why you disagree with the determination (such as documentation that supports an injury, additional medical records from outside the military or VA system, etc.), and scheduling additional evaluation appointments with VA providers. Just as you did with your original medical record, you will need to provide copies of all documents to the VA, and you are nuts if you don’t keep an organized file of originals for yourself.
3. Be prepared to be very patient. Just because your case has already been reviewed and completed by the VA it does not mean that your supplemental claim will move any faster than the original one. Your appeal will have to go through the same wickets as your original claim did, and it will take just as long. There is no “special” appeals pipeline.
4. Do some research in order to fully understand why your ratings were determined in the manner that they were. The VA does not compensate based on pain or inconvenience, but instead on the factors that contribute to a medically diagnose-able condition. For example, your knee may hurt like crazy, and you may have injured it while jumping out of airplanes, but if a tangible medical condition (such as torn cartilage or joint damage) can be identified and documented you will be out of luck. Follow this link to see the the details of how the VA determines how to rate medical conditions: Title 38: Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans’ Relief PART 4—SCHEDULE FOR RATING DISABILITIES . It is a very informative and interesting read.