What You Need to Know Before Leaving Active Duty & As a Veteran

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vfclogo If you’re active duty there is a program called the Pre-Discharge Program.  This is a joint Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) program that affords service members the opportunity to file claims for disability compensation (http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/compensation/index.htm) up to 180 days prior to separation or retirement from active duty or full time National Guard or Reserve duty (Titles 10 and 32).

 

 

     The four components of the Pre-Discharge Program are:

  • Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD)
  • Quick Start
  • Disability Evaluation System (Pilot program)
  • Seriously Injured/Very Seriously Injured (SI/VSI)

While in the Pre-Discharge Program, members can also apply for other VA benefits. BDD and Quick Start are available nationwide and open to all service members on full time, active duty to include members of the National Guard and Reserves. Members of the Coast Guard may also participate. The process can begin at a military installation/intake site  (http://www.vba.va.gov/predischarge/IntakeSites.xls) (Excel) or VA Regional Office (http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/map_flsh.asp).Go to http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp to apply for BDD or Quick Start electronically. In order to expedite processing of your claim, call the toll-free number, 1-800-827-1000, to obtain the address to send a copy of service treatment records. VA Benefits in Brief (http://vbaw.vba.va.gov/bl/20/cio/20s5/forms/21-0760.pdf) is a printable document that provides an at-a-glance description of VA benefits, as well as contact phone numbers and locations.

Upon discharge/retirement and before signing your DD214, be sure to check for accuracy regarding duty stations, awards, medals and commendations to insure all are listed, if not correct, do not sign until corrected.  Trying to get your DD214 corrected later on can prove quite difficult and be a lengthy process.

 

What You Need to Know to file a VA Claim or an Appeal  

 

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Obtaining and using Documents to Support Your Claim (VA/SSA):

 

The more information the Veteran can get for him/her self, the greater the control over their claim. That applies to those who are filing their own claims and to those using the services of a Veterans Service Officer (VSO).

 

It is important that all of your records be available to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA or VA), or the Social Security Administration (SSA) when you are filing a claim with either body. Even if you are working with a Veterans Service Officer, you should have copies of all the documents that are being submitted. Such documents include, but are not limited to:

 

1)                 DD214

2)                 Your complete medical records (Military and Civilian)

3)                 Your complete service records

 

Below we will tell you where to obtain these records, and why they are important.

 

First, however, here are some steps to take in the process of obtaining official documents or copies of official documents. Please note that these steps help you stay organized throughout the process of your claim, and to make things easier for whoever is processing your claim. You making it easy for them may be the difference in how he/she approaches the decision making process. If your case is close decision wise, it might make the difference. Also note that some of these steps may cost you a few dollars at a time, some more so, but in the long run may be worth much more in return.

 

Whatever official documents or certified copies of such you obtain, the first thing you should do is arrange a safe, fireproof location to store them.

 

Stop in at your local office supply store, and get the following self-inking stamps made up:

1)                 Name, and address

2)                 Name and VA Claim number

3)                 Name and Social Security number

 

You will also need:

1)                 Thick spiral notebook (8 1/2 x 11, for a daily journal book)

2)                 5”, 3-Ring Binder for your records (possibly 2 depending on amount of documentation you have)

3)                 3-Hole Punch

4)                 1 Pkg. Ball Point Pens

5)                 1 Pkg. Notepads

  

Next, make 2 sets of copies of all the official documents and certified copies.

 

One the original or “Master” set of documents, either at the top right or bottom right label each page “Page ____ of _____ pages.”  This copy is your original and keep in mind never ever give anyone an original, only copies.

 

One the first copy set, stamp each page (preferably in the same location on each page with your “Name & Address” stamp.

 

One the second copy set, do not stamp unless needed either for the VA or SSA.  Then stamp with the appropriate stamp.

 

This will help you keep your pages in order, and anyone else working with the set of documents keep them in order. It also helps if one gets mislaid. You would then know which one must be replaced and can send it to whoever lost it.

 

Preparing your VA Claim 

 

1. Gather all the military, private and VA medical records, make copies of every page (preferred is 4 sets).  YOU keep the originals.  Never give an original to the VA or your VSO.

 

 

2. Review your military medical records and make a list of every ailment that you had while on active duty.

 

 

3. Cross reference all your military ailments with your civilian ailments. If the problem persists or a secondary issue has cropped up as a result of the issue that developed during your time in the military then you need to apply for that issue (as a secondary issue).

 

 

4. Go to the VA web site, www.va.gov, and down load all the Fast Letters, Memo’s (go to “SEARCH” at the bottom of the first VA Web Page and type in Fast Letters and then Memo’s) and any other documentation that will support your case.

 

 

5. Go to the DAV, PAV and any other VSO web sites and bookmark them (and down load anything related to your claims).

 

 

6. Get statements from all private doctors or other medical provider, have them state that your problems are DEFINITELY service connected. At minimum that your illness(es) are “more likely than not, cause by _____”. If the doctor uses the word possibly or probably the Medical Provider will have given the VA the excuse it needs to dismiss the doctors statement. But, if all the doctor can say is probably, don’t throw it away. Get more than one doctor to say the same thing then write if two doctors say the same thing, then the reasonable doubt rule should apply and the probability is slim that the issue ISN’T service connected.

 

 

7. Get statements from anyone who knows you and your issues. Have these individuals state how the problems affect you (example: It is hard to bend over, or squat, or hear, etc.) Did you know you can get statements from anyone that knows you, your wife, kids, parents, co-workers even the guy/gal walking along the street. All of these people can contribute! All their statements are evidence that must be considered. If you have them put their phone number down on the statement and request the adjudicator to call (not if they have any questions), the adjudicator is required to call.

 

 

8. If you have been going to a Vet Center, request a copy of their records. They are independent of the VA medical system (CAPRI) so you need to get a statement or copy of your provider’s notes or both from your treating Social Worker.

 

 

9. If you have gone to Voc Rehab, you were evaluated by them. Do a Privacy Act request and get all copies of evaluations and anything else (to include reports of contact [ROC]). The Voc Rehab evaluations carry some weight, since they are independent evaluations. Get copies of the contractor evaluations and the VA’s Voc Rehab evaluations.

 

 

10. If you have been seeing a counselor at the VA Hospital, then get him/her to write you a statement of how bad they think you are. Plus, write up a statement on your own, let the adjudicator know about your background, your stressors and how this effects your daily life. Always and have this statement lean towards your being suicidal, wanting to kill people and your wanting to harm not only yourself but others.

 

 

11. Current law favors the Vet. The VA fights it but you can use this to your advantage. Invoke VCAA (Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000). Read, understand and learn what VCAA can do for you. If you are within a year of the VCAA letter you received, then you have rights to reopen old cases, don’t let that pass.

 

 

13. Insist your VSO research all BVA (Board of Veterans Appeals) opinions on your issues. These legal opinions as well as the courts opinions narrows the focus of how the adjudicator can look at the evidence.

 

 

14. You need to put together a narrative that reads like a graduate paper. You will refer to evidence that you collected (items 1-9) as well as. You tell your story as to how you were injured. I would also compile all the evidence by issue. Yellow highlight all that pertains to you and your issues. Site this in your narrative.

 

 

15. You are entitled to claim all periods of active duty, all periods covered under Vocational Rehabilitation and any injuries suffered under the care of the VA for the purposes of disability claims (issues). You need to list all periods of active duty, to include ADT and reserve time. There are limited benefits for non-active duty personnel. By stating the periods of active duty, and providing documentation (such as copies of orders), you will increase your chances of winning your claim.

 

 

16. Go to your private doctor. Have him do the C&P exam the correct way. Go to the C&P office at your local VA Hospital (if your too far away, have them either email or fax to you the exam criteria). Make sure he is a specialist (preferably board certified) in the field. Then show him the exams you were given by the VA as well as all your personal medical records on this issue. Ask him if he concurs with their exam. If he doesn’t, get him to put it in writing and cite the different tests that he performed to support his conclusions. Thus you beat them at their own game. When you write it up, make sure you had the "COMPLETE" C&P exam done by a private doc and the VA doc’s refused to perform the proper tests. Under the reasonable doubt rule, you have proven your case, and they failed to prove theirs.

 

 

You have to lead the VA in the direction that you want it to go. If you let anyone else do this for you, then your doing yourself a disservice. The VSO’s are overworked and after you leave their office, will pull up a template and plug in the issues and submit a formatted claim. Which one do you think will have a better chance.

 

You all know your stories, tell the VA how you were injured, cite the times you went to the medial facility, and later the follow-up care you have received from your private doctor. Invoke the REASONABLE DOUBT clause as well as VCAA. Site VBA and Court of Appeals legal cases that support your claim that you are entitled to a certain percentage rating.

 

List every time you went to the doctor, provided a copy of that medical record, highlighted the medical record and bunched them together in a group so the claims examiner did not have to hunt for the information.

 

Looked up medial studies to support your claim and provide those studies to help in the adjudication process.  VA or DoD or National Institute of Health medical studies are generally the best.

 

Remember, the service organizations receive thousands of requests for representation. These organizations use canned letters that are ok, but not necessarily in your best interest. If you provide them with most if not all of the research, it will make their life easier when they go to write the cover letter. They will know what cases to cite and can do a better job in supporting you.

 

I constantly read about the VA messing things up, but I never hear of anyone taking the bull by the horns and doing anything about it. Most people rely on the VA to do the right thing. Or you rely on the service organization to do the right thing. Don’t count on them. You have to be responsible for your own actions.

 

I can state one reason why they (The VA) takes forever. You as the veteran did a lousy job of documenting what was needed to win. You had enough evidence to raise doubt in their minds, but not enough evidence to justify or prove you have a existing issue and if the issue was aggravated by the service, or voc rehab or your visit to the VA. Follow the steps below to gather as much evidence as possible. If that fails, the BVA paralegals have 3-5 4" binders full of address and other resources that they can call upon to develop your case. If you want to win, you have to do a better job at preparing your case.

 

The Documents:

Medical Records: 

Make sure that all your physicians, specialists and other health care workers (including hospitals…tell them to send a copy of all your records from your hospitalization to your family physician) send copies of any and all lab reports, and records of your visits and treatment plans, plus any prescribing information to your family physician. If you do this consistently, then all of your pertinent medical records will be in one place: in the office of your family physician. When it comes time to gather all your current medical records, you only need to go to one place to obtain copies. Most specialists do send a letter to your family physician and include copies of all test results and x-rays.

 

Make sure if you change physicians, you get a copy of all your medical records from the physician you are leaving and take them to the new physician and allow them to copy for their records. That gives them the records, and you then have a copy for all your records up to that date.

 

Your complete Personnel Record:

Most of the time, the VA and the SSA usually deal only with your DD-214. This for the most part has all the pertinent information, unless you served in more than one duty station or aboard more than one ship. It generally will only have your last duty station or ship and whatever personnel information to be recorded that was generated during that stay. This is important to understand especially if you were a Reservist, as well. Some reservists had several ActDuTra (active duty for training) periods before going on active duty, and may have had more after they came home from their two, three, or four year tour on Active Duty. In such cases, this information may not show up on your DD-214.

 

Additionally, if you were TAD anywhere, having the rest of your personnel file should prove that, and that might be exactly the proof you need to prove “feet on the ground”, or a specific exposure.

 

To request your records, you should go to the following website:

 

http://www.archives.gov/veterans/evetrecs/index.html

 

This site will allow you to go to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) application for Military Personnel Records. Follow the directions carefully. This process in the past has taken over a year before the records arrived, so start now and be patient.

 

Or you can request form SF-180, and complete manually and send via US Mail.

  Your ship’s Deck Log: 

If your personnel record does not show proof of you being “foot on the ground” or in a place where you were exposed to Agent Orange, your ship’s Deck Log might very well be able to do so. Also, it would be additional documentary evidence in support of your claim as your Personnel Record will show you stationed aboard during a period the Deck Log makes reference to a working party ashore, or some such.

 

For most Blue Water Vietnam Veterans, ships Deck Logs are to be found at the Modern Military Branch of the National Archives, located just off the Washington Beltway in College Park, Maryland. Go early and get your request in as soon as you get there, as it takes a while to pull the physical records from the archives. Logs from 1941 through those that are 30 years old or older are in the Modern Military Branch, National Archives, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001 (telephone (301) 837-3510). Be prepared for heavy security, and when you sign in you must answer some questions on a computer, sign some pledges dealing with the handling of documents, and get a photo ID good for one year. Repeat visits are somewhat easier to accomplish.

 

These are the smooth copied Deck Logs hand written by a revolving set of Officers on board the ship, copied weekly from the rough daily log. They are official documents and are signed by the ship’s Captain and countersigned by the XO.

 

You may not need an entire period, but just certain dates. If you have a Cruise Book, that can sometimes help you pin point the dates.

 

The cheapest route to take is to just get copies made of specific dates. These are on oversized (10×15 inch) paper (the Navy went to 8 ½ x 11 log books after we all got out!), so special copiers are set up to deal with the size.

 

Here is what is contained in the deck logs according to Navy Regulations:

 

1)                 Absentees

2)                 Accidents (material)

3)                 Accidents/Injuries (personnel)

4)                 Actions (combat)

5)                 Appearances of Sea/Atmosphere/Unusual Objects

6)                 Arrests/Suspensions

7)                 Arrival/Departure of Commanding Officer

8)                 Bearings (navigational)

9)                 Cable/Anchor Chain Strain

10)             Collisions/Groundings

11)             Courts-Martial/Captain’s Masts

12)             Deaths

13)             Honors/Ceremonies/Visits

14)             Incidents at Sea

15)             Inspections

16)             Meteorological Phenomena

17)             Movement Orders

18)             Movements (getting underway; course, speed changes; mooring, anchoring)

19)             Passengers

20)             Prisoners (crew members captured by hostile forces)

21)             Propulsion Plant Status changes

22)             Receipts and Transfers (of Crew Members)

23)             Ship’s Behavior (under different weather/sea conditions)

24)             Sightings (other ships; landfall; dangers to navigation)

25)             Soundings (depth of water)

26)             Speed Changes

27)             Tactical Formation

28)             Time of Evolutions/Exercises/Other Services Performed

  

This information can prove invaluable in supporting your claim. If you cannot go you can probably call and get a researcher to collect the data for you, but that might be more expensive.

 

Security is very tight, and you are not allowed to take anything onto the floors with you. There are rental lockers in the basement for handbags, coats, pens, pads, and other research tools. There is plenty of scratch paper and pencils around on the research floors. The check-in process takes about 40-60 minutes before you even get to the research floor.

 

Note: any Deck logs that are less than 30 years of age are in the custody of the Ships History Deck Logs Section, Naval Historical Center, Building 57, 805 Kidder Breese Street SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060. All inquiries concerning research access to logs that are less than 30 years old should be sent to the Ships History Deck Logs Section.

 

Logs that are less than 30 years old are held in either paper or microfiche form, stored in the Washington National Records Center, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland MD 20746. Logs from 1979 through February 1993 are on microfiche in the Ships History Deck Logs Section. Logs from 1990 through 1993 are partly on microfiche in the Deck Logs Section, partly on paper at the Records Center. All logs from March 1993 are on paper and stored at the Records Center. The logs that are classified must be sent to the proper authorities for declassification review before they can be researched or copied.

 

If for some reason the above does not contain specific enough information to satisfy either the VA, or SSA, or both, and your claim involves combat action, you may need one other resource: The Navy Historical Society mentioned above also stores all ships’/units’ action reports, which were required after every engagement. That might be another source for validation of your claim, as it is usually more specific than the deck logs.

 

IF you are doing your own claim (probably online) via VONAPP or on the Social Security website, you will be required to provide verification of your claim. The above documents are, in most cases, all you will need.

 

If you are ill and can no longer work, you should apply for Social Security Disability in addition to your VA claim. It too can be a long and ugly process, but in the end, if you go to a hearing, things will work out. You must have an attorney for the appeal to Social Security and the attorney is paid from your lump sum if you win, up to a maximum of $5,400. Our appeal took almost 18 months from initial rejection to the hearing. Nevertheless, when that lump sum comes in, it is a huge load off your mind, as is the monthly income.

 

Things you should do: 

DD214:

IF Prior to discharge, double check your DD214 for errors and omissions before signing.  After discharge, if you notice errors or omissions, you need to request a correction.

 

Daily Journal:

 

Using the spiral notebook noted above on the first page, keep date and  time, and track every event, incident, phone call (who you spoke with, details of  conversation, etc.), solution.

 

In addition, also track any specific illness, or illness event, what happened, what was done, and results.  Again date and time these events.

 

If a medication was given, date and time, medication, dosage, and results.  Did the medication work, not work, cause side effects, etc.

 

No one can remember every single detail of their lives, nor can anyone in their life remember specifics about another in detail.

 

This journal may serve a purpose later on should you need to file an appeal as additional evidence.  As well as a reference for other purposes.

 

Note Pads:

Always keep a note pad and pen by the phone to jot quick date, time, who you spoke with and details.  This can be transferred to your journal when done.

 

Also keep a note pad by the bed with a pen, just in case of emergency, or not being able to speak, a notepad always is handy.

 

Documents:

Remember to never ever give anyone an original document, always a copy.

 

When mailing documents out, always send them certified return receipt, note in your daily journal the date, time, and the document page number or numbers you mailed and to whom.  Be sure to leave a space at the end to note the date you received the receipt card back in the mail.

 

Also when sending out documents, never send all the pages unless specifically requested, only send pages they request.  A VSO, DRO, and an RO are from all information we’ve received are required to read every single page and word.  If you send duplicate pages this will only slow down the process as they will have to re-read, all pages again.

 

VAHospitals:

If you use a VA Hospital, be sure to go to the records department before leaving after every visit and request your records for the day.  They will send them to you via US Mail service in most cases.  In rare cases they will copy and give to you before you leave.

 

Doing this will insure you maintain accurate records in your personal master file for any potential future use including filing with your claim.

 

If at any time you are mistreated, or have concerns about your treatment, etc. again note this in your daily journal with date and time.  In the even this was not an isolated incident, you should write a letter to the facility director, and note the dates, times, and names where possible and spell out the incident(s) and request corrective action be taken.

 

VA CONTACTS LIST 

Acting General Counsel:       Paul J. Hutter

Deputy General Counsel:      John (Jack) Thompson

Telephone:                        202-273-6660

Address:                           810 Vermont Ave. NW

                                      Washington, DC  20420

  

Department of Veterans Affairs

820 Chesapeake Street Southeast

Washington, DC  20032

202-373-0849

 

US Government Dept. of Veterans Affairs Headquarters

810 Vermont Avenue NW

Washington, DC  20001

202-273-5400

 

House Committee on Veterans Affairs

335 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC  20515

202-225-3527

 

US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs

412 Russell

Senate Office Building

Washington, DC  20510

 

Telephone-Republican Staff:          202-224-9126

Telephone-Democratic Staff:         202-224-2074

  

Anyone needing assistance, or a referral to a VSO in your area, please feel free to send an E-Mail to [email protected] and I will be more than happy to assist as best I can.  Please keep in mind I am not a VSO, nor am I an attorney, simply an advocate for veteran’s right and benefits.

 

My only goal is to see to it that all are treated equally well and receive all services and benefits that are far more than due.

 

NOTEMost of this information is common sense, but also was comprised of bits and pieces from several Veteran Advocates.

 

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