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Lessons Learned Filing for VA Disability

Hi folks, I’ve been away from the blog for two years, and wasn’t very active for two years before that. I’m hoping that I’m on the verge of a comeback. For now, I wanted to write up some lessons we learned filing for VA disability last year. I realized that we’re already forgetting some of the pain and frustration we went through, and I thought that if I could memorialize some key points here, it might help others navigate the unknown territory and provide some starting points and resources for more information.

Don’t Assume Everything is in Your Medical Record

To prove a service-connected disability, the VA is going to be looking for a diagnosis of your injury or condition in your medical records, during your years of service. To ensure that you actually HAVE that information, request your medical record from the unit and scan or make a hard copy of the entire thing. The VA will need a copy for the claim, and you need to review it first, to make sure you have support for the things you want to claim.

Read through it all. Look for your specific diagnosis detail. Flag those pages with sticky notes, make a catalog of the page numbers where to find things, whatever method works for you to help easily find that information again. If you don’t own the full version of Adobe Acrobat or don’t have access to it in some way, I would suggest it’s worth the money to invest in it. It will make the process faster, but this is all doable with paper copies if that’s your only option. With Adobe, you can use the Find function to search for key words for your condition and jump directly to the information you need.

As you go through your records, you may find that (a) you don’t have the diagnosis that you thought had you been given at some point, or (b) that some of your records are missing from the file. (We ran into the latter.) If you are missing a diagnosis that you thought you had, see your doctor about your condition(s) and have them documented into your record before you separate. Get copies of any additional records to add to your master copy at home.

If records are missing altogether, which is what happened to us due to service in remote areas and being treated at civilian facilities, start reaching out to those facilities and request your medical records. Don’t assume all your records were appropriately provided and added to your military file. We thought it had been done, and it fell through the cracks.

Use DD Form 2870 to request your records. We had better success at obtaining records in a timely fashion when listing the unit HS as the person to release the records to. Just be diligent and stay in constant contact with the HS to follow up and know that the records were received, and make a copy for yourself when they come in. You can request to have records released to you personally, but some facilities dragged their feet when we did that. Regardless, if you have to track down old records that were not in your official file, be prepared to make a lot of calls, and to do a lot of follow up. Don’t expect someone else to take care of it for you or to make you their priority. You might have some headaches at this stage, but just keep following up until you have everything you need. If any records are sent directly to you rather than the unit, make a copy to for yourself, and then provide them to your HS to be added to the official file.

Get Help with the Actual Filing

Use someone who knows the system to help you file. We used Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and I would highly recommend their service. (We had some frustrations but it was worth it in the end.) There are many other Veteran Service Organizations offering filing assistance as well. Contact a VSO and find a representative to work with early on; don’t wait until you need to file and you’re up against a deadline. Many transition officers are volunteers with limited availability and very full schedules.

VA Pays One Month Behind – and a there’s a “Zero” Month

Our decision paperwork said our payment start date was November 1st. When no payment arrived, we contacted the VA and this is what we were told. Keep this in mind when planning your budget.

Because we received your claim within one year of your release from active duty (RAD), the effective date of your claim is the day following your RAD. Your RAD is September 30, 2018, so your effective date is the first of the month following your discharge date which is October 1, 2018. Your payment entitlement date is the first of the following month. You will receive this money the first of the next month (because the VA pays one month behind). For example:

RAD: September 30
Effective Date: October 1
Payment Start Date: November 1
Actual Pay Date: December 1

OMNIBUS RECONCILIATION ACT OF 1982, Public Law No: 97-253

Payment of VA benefits starts the first day of the month following the award of benefits. The award date is the date the application was received or the date the individual became a Veteran which leaves a “zero” month of payment between the discharge or retirement date in which no benefits are paid.

The Math is Confusing

Most people know this but don’t really understand it. I won’t try to explain it either, because I get it but I don’t think I can explain in a few words. If you want to try to understand it better, a very good explanation is provided by the VA here, along with a lot of other helpful information. Bottom line, if you have, for example, 7 disabilities with the following percentages: 50, 20, 20, 10, 10, 10, 10, your combined won’t be 130, it will be 80. This awesome website will do the math for you so you can do some estimating and planning your budget so you’re not just waiting and wondering how your claim might add up.

Be Realistic About Expectations

Read up on how the VA determines their ratings. Think about your condition(s) and research how the VA will view them. You might think something is terrible to live with and should be considered more severe than how the VA views it. It might be a hard pill to swallow but knowing up front how your health conditions are translated into “disabilities” by the VA ahead of time will help you be more prepared. It will also let you know whether you need to revisit your doctor to discuss and document the severity of a condition. If you’ve never been truly honest with your doctor about the severity, your records won’t support your claim. Don’t sweep your condition under the rug because you feel like you’re admitting weakness. If you’ve been adversely affected or injured during your time of service, disability is a benefit that you have every right to claim.

Types of Claims and When to File

There are many different types of claims and everyone’s situation is different. We filed a claim through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) but that might not fit your situation. Visit the VA website to read more about the many different options. Or contact a VSO to start getting hands-on help from a transition officer.

If you have questions about our experience that I haven’t mentioned here, please feel free to contact me. I’ve included additional links for other resources that I used or found helpful below.

Actual VA Schedule for Disability Ratings – dry and technical, but helpful

More about VA math

Veterans Benefits Video Series on YouTube

Veteran’s Law Blog

A Successful Hunt

Three cheers for a freezer full of venison! We have about 50 lbs of wild meat to keep us for many months thanks to Don’s excellent hunting skills.

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He did a pretty good job of mounting his first set of horns using the Iron Buck Antler Mount too! He found the mount at a local Academy but is also available on Amazon and at Bass Pro, among many other stores. It is a quick, easy to use, do-it-yourself mount.

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Hunting has opened the earth to me and let me sense the rhythms and hierarchies of nature.
~ Charles Fergus

A New Adventure

We brought home some new toys last night – dual sport Yamaha TW200‘s.

Don can barely contain his glee. He’s been riding things like this since he was about 5. Me, not so much. My dad bought me a 3-wheeler ATV when I was around 5 but I wasn’t sure about it. One of my fearless friends at my birthday party jumped on for a ride. I watched and pondered whether I was brave enough and she promptly tipped herself off going over uneven ground. That was all the confirmation I needed that it wasn’t for me. LOL  I think it sort of became my sister’s after that. I may have ridden it some, probably with her, but I really can’t remember.

I’ve been a passenger on many a motorcycle, both with my dad when I was young, and with Don. And we’ve had our own 4-wheel ATV which I enjoyed immensely. But I never had to learn gears or shifting or any of that. This is going to be a new experience for me.

Luckily these bikes are perfect for the beginner rider. To some they are not much more than a glorified scooter. Not a lot of power, lightweight, and small with fat tires. We can ride them both on and off-road but it will be mostly off-road for me until I get the hang of things and take a motorcycle safety course for my on-road endorsement. I don’t see myself doing a lot of on-road riding but it may come in handy some day so I might as well learn and have the ability. Don hopes to do some commuting to work with his bike. They get about 78 mpg so they can make a great commuter vehicle if you don’t have far to go or much gear to pack.

I had my first crash course in riding last night. We got home from the dealership after dark so we just stayed in our apartment complex and we puttered around it twice, me in first gear only. I only killed the engine once and throttled too much by accident another time. No harm, I just went a little faster than I was prepared for. LOL  Being around all the parked cars, and some neighbors pulling in or out of the complex was a little nerve-wracking. My hands were sore from death gripping the handles when we were done. I will need much more practice in unpopulated places like the woods or the beach as I learn the finer points of shifting and maneuvering. At least I didn’t fall or hit anything last night!

We would be out riding today if it wasn’t raining like mad. Figures. 🙂

Happiness is a state of activity.
~ Aristotle

Summer Storms

We had a whopper of a storm Friday night and another Saturday afternoon.

Friday’s blew in with a vengeance, seemingly out of nowhere. We ran outside when it first started and the wind was blowing so hard it could have been a hurricane. It’s actually the hardest, most intense storm we’ve seen in all four years that we’ve lived in the south.

Our power was knocked out pretty quickly.

We decided to sit outside and enjoy the show a bit.

It was hard to really capture the storm in photos. The rain was just dumping, lightening was strobing, and the thunder shook the house. So much so that it knocked this picture askew in its frame!

Stranger too, Olli wanted to come outside with us and he was happy as a clam despite the storm activity.

Milo on the other hand…was not so sure.

Milo did come out for a bit but pretty quickly wanted back inside.

Olli didn’t seem the least concerned even when the thunder cracked and boomed right overhead. But you better get out of his way if there are strangers about. He’s got a stranger fear like none other. He was outside with me one day, middle of the afternoon, enjoying the sun, and some neighbors were parking a boat nearby. One person was outside the vehicle directing the driver and Olli went into ‘stranger-danger’ panic mode. He couldn’t even really see them but he could hear the strange voices. I find it curiously funny that things like storms don’t bother him but strange voices do.

Saturday morning, all was calm, the sun was shining as usual. We got our power back early in the morning but the internet and cable were out till early afternoon. When, another storm suddenly cropped up again. Just like Friday night, it was intense. Thankfully it only last about an hour or two before moving on.

Here’s a look at our drainage in the parking lot, before the Saturday’s deluge…

And after…

How you view a storm is a question of perspective; provided you find the right rock to watch it from, it could be the most incredible thing you’ll ever witness.
~ Dan Stevens

Simple solutions are sometimes the best

One of my latest favorite things is…drum roll please…a shower cap!

Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done!

Really. Not kidding.

It’s such a simple little device and something that I’d always associated with old fashioned ways, only having seen grandmothers and aunts use them. I didn’t see the practical use until recently. See, I finally listened to the girls at the salon about three years ago and stopped washing my hair every day. For years I’d been preached at that it strips your hair, causes additional breakage, that it’s just not necessary, yada, yada, yada. I finally decided to give it a try.

I got into a routine of washing every other day, or maybe every third day depending on how I wanted to wear my hair on a given day. But, as someone with long hair (past my shoulders) it meant that on the days that I didn’t wash, I put it up in a bun with a clip (uncovered) and showered. My hair always still got a little wet which sometimes didn’t matter, sometimes was a pain in the butt if it was in decent enough condition to still wear half down in clip or in a pony tail. It ended up that on my washing days, I wore my hair dry and down, and then on the non-washing day I had to wear it up in the clip. Back and forth, one then the other. It got dreadfully dull and routine.

But this past fall, we were visiting some relatives in Texas and low and behold a shower cap was in the bathroom. I gave it a test run, just to see what I thought and I was instantly in love. Within a week of returning home I ran out and bought one and it’s given me so much more freedom! I feel silly for my previous close-mindedness about the infamous shower cap and marvel every day at its simplicity. Now on days that I don’t wash, I put my hair in a ponytail and hold the tail up with a clip, slip my cap on, shower, and then afterwards, I can wear my hair any way I want. I can flat iron it and wear it down, I can leave it wild, put it in a pony, whatever.

Really girls, you’ve got to share this with your friends! If a peer had told me how much her shower cap made her life easier, I would have given it a try long ago.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo DaVinci