FamilyOfaVet - Real world info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat
FamilyOfaVet - Real World info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat.

Disability Claims & VA Compensation



I won't even pretend to be an expert on this subject.  However, our family has learned a few
hard-earned lessons during our own adventure with the VA.  And, thankfully, we've met
some very experienced advisors a long the way who have shared their knowledge of the
system.  One of the challenges of doing a disability claim is the confusing amount of new
information you have to process in order to get it done.  

Probably the most important thing to remember about filing a VA Disability Claim is that you
have to
prove your case - you have to have information, records, buddy letters, etc., to
support that your injury or illness began while you were in the military or was made worse
by your military service (more on this below).  

There are basically four ways (in my opinion) to handle getting your claim filed.  First, you
can do it yourself using the VA's online "VONAPP" system.  Second, you can do it yourself
by mailing or taking your claim to your closest Veterans Administration Regional Office.  
Third, you can have a Veterans Service Officer/Oragizantion (VSO) help you put your claim
together and get it filed.  Finally, you can file it yourself after seeking the advice of a VSO.

There are good points and bad points about all four options.

Generally speaking, more claims filed through VONAPP (the online system) are turned
down or have to be appealed then claims done the other ways.  This isn't always the case,
but if you're going to use VONAPP, you must
make sure you follow up the submission of
your claims form with all of the evidence you have.





Also, if you're going to file your own claim (in person or by mail) you should be prepared to
work at it.  I'd like to be able to tell you that filing a claim is a simple, straightforward "walk in
the park," but it's not.  You're going to need to learn about the VA Claims system, learn
how to do things properly, and become a
super organizer of information!

Using a VSO is probably the simplest and most straightforward option.  You meet with the
VSO, they help you get everything filled out and organized, and they send it in.  It's a free
service and if you have a
good VSO, it's a beautiful process.  But, if you end up with a VSO
that doesn't know what they're doing or is burned out from too many years on the job, you
can quickly run it to problems.  Your best bet is to ask around for recommendations from
other Veterans about who they used.

Finally, the option we used was the "hybrid" option.  We had a VSO who helped us get
everything together, etc., but I walked the application through (took it in person to our VA
Regional Office) and handled all of the follow-up, etc. (calling our VSO when I had
questions).

If you need help deciding, I
highly recommend visiting two websites.  First, a site called
"
How to Assemble VA Claims" which was written by a Vietnam Veteran's wife and
extensively covers the whole process of putting a claim together and helps you weigh the
different options for filing a claim.  Second, visit the "General Claims" section of the
Veterans Benefits Network (an online forum run by Veterans who are dedicated to helping
others get their military service related benefits).

How to Get Organized for a VA Claim

First, it's important to know that using the services of a good VSO (Veterans Service
Organization) or SO (Accredited Service Officer) will make the process much easier.  In
PTSD/TBI world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.  Just to leaving military service and trying to
figure out where to live and work can take all of your energy.  No problem.  You have 365
days from the day you separate until your claim has to be filed.  Take things a step at a
time.

If you're reading this before separating from the military, make sure you
get copies of all of
your medical records before leaving.  If you're already separated, and don't have copies,
CLICK HERE for information about how to obtain copies of your service military records.

You will also want to get copies of all "civilian" medical records.

Next, if you (or your Veteran) will be filing for PTSD or TBI, you'll want to get "Buddy
Letters".  These are letters written by military co-workers, family, or friends about events
that caused your PTSD or TBI, or how having one of these injuries effects your daily life.  
CLICK HERE for more information about Buddy Letters.














Once you have all of these items, the "fun" begins.  You can simply take your records and
go to your VSO or SO and turn them over.  However, many of them are overworked and
overwhelmed... so if you want to help them (and yourself), it's worth it to get things
organized. Here's how we handled that...

I went through and read every single medical record and made "piles" for each condition.  If
a record applied to more than one thing, I made a copy (one for each pile).  Then I put
each pile in order by date - with the earliest record on top.  I finished each stack with a
short note indicating when the issue had started and the date of my hubby's first trip to a
doctor or medic for that issue.

Then, I made a list of all of the conditions with the worst/most difficult at the top of the list.

Next (**Don't skip this step!!**), I made copies of everything so that we could keep the
originals and send copies to the VARO.  This is important!!  If something crazy happens,
you don't want to have to go through getting all of the records again.  

Finally, I paper clipped each pile and put them together with the conditions list in a big
brown (9" x 12") envelope... a neat, helpful package designed to get my hubby's claim
rolling quickly :)

Websites and Other Resources About VA Claims

How to Assemble VA Claims - The most extensive site I've seen on the subject.  Well written
and
very detailed!  Perfect for "do-it-yourself" claims or for helping you weigh different filing
options.

The Veterans Benefits Network - An online forum run by a all-volunteer staff of Veterans
devoted to helping others get their military service related benefits.

What to Do (and Not Do!) When Trying to Get VA Compensation - A really good article
written by a US Army Veteran and a Veterans Advocate / Lawyer.  Good stuff!

VA's List of VSO's (Veteran Service Organizations) - Find a local organization the can help
you file your claim.

Help With Your VA Claims - A good overview with plenty of key information

Document List for Filing a VA Claim - Checklist so you're sure you have everything you
need!


This article was written by Brannan Vines, the proud wife of an OIF veteran and founder of
FamilyOfaVet.com.  To contact Brannan, you can reach her by e-mail (brannan -at-
familyofavet.com)

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