This photo was taken a lifetime ago during my second deployment to Iraq.
This was in the hallway in our Battalion Aid Station on FOB (Forward Operating Base) War Horse in Baquabah, Iraq. It was at the end of this deployment that I had the misfortune of falling out of a helicopter as we were loading it and blew out the L5, S1 disk in my back (rest assured, I only fell about 8 feet and it was a result of bad organization and my own clumsiness, rather than being shot at by the enemy). That happened, too, just not in this part of the story.
Several surgeries, several years, and one retained scalpel later, I ended my Army career. I now receive a retirement check and VA disability. In about 2010, we began to give military veterans the ability to begin to set up their VA disability claims while they were still on Active Duty. Now most veterans who are receiving medical retirements know their VA percentage prior to leaving Active Duty. Regular retirees find out their percentages within about 6-8 months of leaving Active Duty. That’s terrific progress. It beats waiting years and claims getting lost in the system.This article assumes that VA disability is currently in place.
This post will cover how to modify your assigned percentage if your medical condition changes.Why would your medical condition change? Well, let’s look at a hypothetical example:
- Mr. Smith completed two Iraq deployments. As part of his military service, he routinely burned trash as a rotating duty on his FOB. He estimated that he burned trash about 6 days out of every month. 5 years after leaving the military he developed emphysema (he never smoked). It leaves him chronically short of breath and he has difficulty doing the physical tasks at his job.
Now Mr. Smith needs to go back to the VA and have the emphysema added to the list of his service connected disabilities. Let’s walk through how to do it.
- Find your local VA representative by using your favorite search engine. These are usually found assigned to each county. Make an appointment to sit down with the representative (don’t walk in unless they have designated walk in times). Bring your DD214, your VA ID card and your disability percentage letter from the VA to the appointment. Ask if there is anything else they want you to have on hand.
- You can do this online using the ebenefits program. Don’t do it. It is MUCH easier and efficient to have the representative complete the form for you. It will only take about 20 minutes and your form will be directly uploaded into the VA’s claims system.
- In a few weeks, the local VA office will call you with appointment times to have the conditions you are adding to your disabilities evaluated. Even if you get all your care at the VA, it is extremely important to go to these appointments! If your primary form of health care is at the VA (which I recommend for claim percentage changes), you will not need to bring anything to the appointments. If you typically receive your care through a Tricare program or another form of insurance, bring copies (not originals) of any pertinent records with you to the appointment. Be prepared to authorize a release of medical information with those providers.
- Make sure your contact information is correct and up to date for both your physical, phone and email address when you go to your appointment. You can do this by using the self serve kiosk where you check into your appointment. You can (if you don’t already know this), complete your travel voucher at the kiosk and electronically sign it. Did you know that you should complete a travel voucher EACH time you step foot into a VA for health care even if you live blocks from the VA?
- That’s all there is to it. The VA will make their determination within 90-180 days (this is the guideline they aspire to meet according to my VA representative). It goes much faster if your care is primarily through the VA. It is possible to check on the status of your application on ebenefits. You will also receive written notification in the mail. The pointers above can help your forms get processed quickly and result in an expedited decision. We’ve all heard horror stories about wait lengths, hopefully this can be avoided .
- If you don’t like the percentage assigned to you, your letter from the VA will include an appeals form. If you are appealing, follow the instructions carefully and let your VA representative know, he/she might have some handy tips and tricks to facilitate the resolution of your appeal.
I hope that you find these tips helpful. I was not able to find a lot of information on the internet when it came time to modify my percentage, so I can hope that veterans and family members can learn from my relatively recent experiences.
My experience at my local Veteran Affairs hospital has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I’m thrilled with my health care and I love my provider. However, I know every VA is different. I would love to hear about your experiences with this process, please feel free to comment below or use the contact form.
Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul. ~Michel de Montaigne