This article focuses on things an active military member should do to increase their chances of successfully filing a claim for VA benefits BEFORE THEY GET OFF ACTIVE DUTY. Specifically, what needs to be done to document that a condition occurred while on active duty.
For starters, in order to successfully file a claim for VA Disability Compensation, a claimant must demonstrate 4 things to be lawfully entitled disability compensation: (1) Veteran Status, (2) Current Disability, (3) Service Connection, and (4) Nexus/Causation. Contact our office today for more information.
In a nutshell, the above 4 elements simply state the following: “You must be a Veteran with a current medical condition that is attributable to your active duty service.” Although there are thousands of nuanced exceptions to this statement, generally speaking, this statement is the gist of what’s required to obtain VA disability compensation.
This post will focus on the “Service Connection” aspect of a VA Claim. Typically to demonstrate Service Connection, a claimant must show in-service occurrence of a disease or injury. Simply stated, the condition must have started or be attributable to a Veteran’s active duty service.
Filing for Benefits as an Active Service Member
I cannot even begin to tell you how often Veterans comes to me after the VA denies their claims for lack of an in-service incident. The VA adjudicator deciding a Veteran’s case needs to see that something happened to the Veteran while the Veteran was on active duty, and all too often, there is nothing documenting an in-service occurrence or injury to the Veteran.
Seek Medical Treatment
So how do you demonstrate a condition started while on active duty? It’s simple, you seek medical treatment while still on active duty – PERIOD!! It’s that simple. Go see the doctor. Now I understand that it’s easier said than done and that there’s a certain stigma attached to folks that miss work to be treated for a medical condition. Trust me, as a former infantryman, I get it. However, to put things into perspective, the few hours you miss while on sick call will soon be forgotten, but the VA benefits you stand to gain are life-long, tax-free, and potentially could benefit dependents even beyond your death. It’s a no-brainer – seek treatment while still on active duty!!!
I would’ve given anything to receive this advice while I was still on active duty. But at that time I was young, knew it all, and invincible. After all, since I was an infantryman, why wouldn’t the VA give me compensation for my foot problem. Of course they know that my foot problems were caused by the boots I wore for almost 4+ years, airborne school, ranger school, physical training and road marches. WRONG – THEY DON’T CARE WHAT JOB YOU HAD ON ACTIVE DUTY. All the VA adjudicators look for is some form of medical evidence that it started while on active duty.
If you are concerned with missing work, then go to an urgent care during off-duty hours. It is critically important that you see a medical professional to document your condition while on active duty. And better yet, obtaining a diagnosis of your medical condition is even more beneficial.
Many service members take terminal leave and out process from their unit with several weeks or months of paid vacation time remaining. This is a perfect time to document conditions that you weren’t treated for yet. You are still on active duty while on terminal leave, and you will still have that active duty healthcare that covers everything in the world with no copays! Anything documented during your terminal leave will count as an in-service medical condition.
If, for some reason, you are down to the wire and were never treated for your conditions. At least try to obtain a separation physical and document your conditions there. It’s not as probative, but at least it’s still something demonstrating a problem while still on active duty.
VA’s Pre-Discharge Programs
And here’s another little tip to increase your chances of succeeding with your claim before you separate from active duty – file your claim with one of the VA’s pre-discharge programs: Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) or QuickStart. http://benefits.va.gov/PREDISCHARGE/index.asp.
This is very important, and here’s why. Let’s say you fail to document a condition while still on active duty, but you claim disability for a condition with the VA before separating. The mere fact that you claimed something on your application will be treated as an in-service occurrence, IF, (and this is a big IF) you are later diagnosed with a condition during your VA C&P Examination for your claimed conditions.
The nice thing about this scenario is that the service member never needs to seek medical treatment for his conditions while on active duty and only needs to apply for the condition with the VA’s Pre-Discharge Program before getting off active duty to establish an in-service occurrence.
However, trust me, this is not the most prudent approach and is a dangerous way to document your condition. Here’s why. You need a diagnosis. C&P examiners will have and review your service treatment records before examining you, and those examiners want to see that you were treated for something while on active duty. Doctors tend to side with previous medical professional’s opinions, and if you were treated for a condition while on active duty, the C&P examiner is more likely to echo those findings in the examination report relied on by the adjudicator. Moreover, the C&P Examiner wants to see that your claimed conditions are legitimate, and there’s no better way of convincing the examiner than to have established treatment in your service treatment records. If the C&P examiner doesn’t diagnose you with a condition, then you will almost certainly be denied benefits.
BOTTOM LINE – SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR YOUR CONDITIONS BEFORE YOU ARE DISCHARGED FROM ACTIVE DUTY.