A veteran can be his or her own worst enemy when it comes to dealing with their VA disability claim. Common examples include repeatedly sending in the same evidentiary documents, and not taking the time to thoroughly read through the Statement of Case (SOC) that the VA sends to the veteran after you give your request for disability benefits.
Once you send any medical documents or other evidentiary evidence to the VA, all that needs to be done then when you communicate with the VA is to remind them that you had before submitted those documents. Even better, if you can remind them of the date that you originally sent them the documents, this helps keep things organized and will most likely result in the case manager being able to find the information quicker. That is why it is imperative that veterans dealing with the VA keep copies of everything on their case in a well-organized home filing system. This applies even if you are being assisted by a Veterans Service Officer or V.S.O. or a representative from one of the approved veteran’s organizations. (refer to my links section of the site for a complete list).
Personally, I prefer the Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.) because they have a higher clearance rate than any other group. They are especially effective in service-connected claims. However you are free to choose who represents you and remember that you are not required to be a member of the organization. You are also now allowed to hire an attorney to represent you in your case appeal. Make sure that you and your representative work well together on your case and that you are happy with what you hear. If you suspect you are receiving bad information or that you are being lied to then I would switch. I have had this happen to me so be careful of certain representatives, especially the Veteran’s Service Officers. Keep in mind that the VA does not want you to get your benefits approved. They will do every thing in their power to confuse you, discourage you and flood you with disinformation. Don’t ever give up!
Repeatedly sending the VA copies of documents that you’ve already submitted is time wasted and can lead to confusion on the part of the VA claims administrator and can cause further delays in the completion of your case.
Also, failure to thoroughly read and scrutinize the SOC that the VA sends you is risky as well. For example, the first few pages of the SOC will usually include a paragraph informing the veteran how long he or she has to give a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). A NOD letter is a simple letter for you to write back to the VA essentially telling them that you disagree with their decision, and why you disagree. If you do not know consider what it is you are claiming and reconsider. If you are worried about what you say then run it by your representative or someone else you trust such as a good friend, family member or spouse. It does not have to be perfect, just on time.
With new claims the VA allows one year from the date of the SOC for you to give a NOD letter. This is not the case with existing claims wherein you are requesting an increase for an existing disability. In those cases you will usually be given only 60 days to give a NOD letter.
It is vital that the veteran read the SOC from start to finish, and pay particular attention to the deadline that the VA has established for your response. When that deadline passes and you have not submitted a NOD postmarked no later than midnight of the last deadline date, the VA’s decision becomes final. So it is imperative that you are timely in this matter.
Also advisable is to use the Post Office’s green “Certified Mail” tag when sending documents or correspondence to the VA. This will need the VA to sign a receipt when your letter is delivered to them, which the Post Office then mails back to you for your records. This receipt is legal proof that you submitted your response before the deadline. File it in your home records system.
Why are these things so important? Because you can lose out on substantial sums of back pay in cases where the VA has approved your claim, but not at the percentage that you feel is commensurate with the effects that your disabilities have on your lifestyle or earning capacity that you have lost as a result of your disabilities.
When a claim becomes final, you will have only two ways to reopen it. The first is by submitting “new and material evidence” that clearly bolsters your case, and the other is when you or your VSO or representative find what you believe to be “clear and unmistakable error” (CUE) in the VA’s decision-making process. If you would like more information on the legalities of this you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a book that lists examples of errors and references to earlier cases where examples of errors were pointed out and the veteran’s appeal was ruled in their favor. I will try to put up a link to this information as well as soon as I have it available.
So just what is “new and material evidence”? Let’s say you were denied for fibromyalgia and you allow your claim to become final on this issue by failing to submit a NOD. Then, two years later the doctor starts to give you medication for fibromyalgia. Since you were not taking this medication previously, this becomes new and material evidence.
As a Persian Gulf War Veteran, fibromyalgia is a “presumptive” condition that is listed under Section 3.317 of the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR); “Compensation for certain disabilities due to undiagnosed illnesses”. But the fibromyalgia must be serious enough to call for at least a 10% rating. For a veteran to get to the 10% level for fibromyalgia he or she will need to be receiving medications specifically meant to treat fibromyalgia. So if you are prescribed new medications for this or other conditions, it’s important that you recommend the VA so that this can be considered in reevaluating your case. This is how “new and material evidence” comes in to play.
On the other hand, a claim wherein you have discovered what you believe to be “CUE” is a little harder. In these cases it is advisable for the veteran to seek out a good VSO or someone who understands the laws of veteran’s disability claims. A good VSO will be aware of the relevant court cases that have been decided in favor of veterans with issues like yours.
Bottom line, be ever mindful of response deadlines that are included in the Statement of Case (SOC), and consult with the experts if you believe that the VA has made an error or errors in deciding your case.
Finally, always remember that YOU are your strongest advocate. Be always on the alert, read everything that the VA sends you, and then act accordingly. The old adage applies; “if you snooze, you lose