First off, I will say it has not been an easy claims process by any means. The VA claims process has taught me a lot and hopefully I can pass on some knowledge to you.
Keep Trying the Claims Process is Not Easy
As I separated from the Air Force, I had no clue about VA benefits. I gave my name and social to a Veteran Service Officer (VSO), who started the process for me.
I did have medical records to submit, but nothing else. When you approach a VSO, you should have your claimed already substantiated through many different channels.
These channels can be outside doctors, friends, family, and whoever else you can get to submit information on your behalf. If I had done all this in the beginning my life would have been substantially better. I separated from the Air Force with no job, no money, nothing.
I got my first rating and I think my monthly check was $100, now it is over $1551 a month. That would have helped me a lot when I first separated or when I was in college. I think back to those times, thinking I wish I knew then what I know now.
This is something I can offer to veterans, knowledge of how to get those higher ratings in the beginning. Don’t let a denial get you down, you have many more steps to go through to win, including a Board Hearing.
My Current Situation
I received a denial from the VA. When you have an appeal heard through a Board, them may issue a remand. A remand is issues when the Judge on the Board wants more evidence to substantiate a claim.
The letter I got recently was a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC). In this letter the letter the VA told me what their examiner said and gives you a chance to add more evidence before the ruling is final.
in my case the VA examiner issued a denial, so I typed a three page letter stating the VA was wrong. I took the exact words the examiner said and I figured out a way to use that against them.
My appeal is for sleep apnea, which I have had since 2009. In my denial letter a VA examiner said that enlarged neck muscles causes sleep apnea. He also stated that my military service had no correlation. He also says there is no evidence of information in my service records.
If you can show how your military service caused what you are claiming, you might get an approval from the VA.
Here are sections of my letter to the VA. I have a herniated disc in my back, which makes it hard to go to the gym and work out. No matter how hard I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I have still gained 50 pounds since separation.
This has caused me to have a body mass index (BMI) over 30, which puts me in the obese category, so I use this as ammunition to show how my back causes me to gain wieght, which in turn caused my neck muscles to grow. Here’s the full unedited paragraph in my letter.
“I have a VA rating for a herniated disc in my L5-S1 with degenerative disc disease and facet arthritis. This causes pain 100% of my daily life. It causes my back to tighten up, I have back spasms multiple times throughout the day, it becomes so stiff to do anything, and it also causes muscles in my lower extremities to pull like my gluts and hamstrings. My hamstrings have been so tight, I once had a massage therapist stand on them to loosen them up. When my muscles tighten up, it causes me to overextend my hip, which makes it hard to walk. Saying all this, do you think I get much exercise??? Do you think I am able to go to the gym and work out in order to maintain a healthy weight??? I struggle to make it through a day at work, so how am I supposed to come home and exercise to maintain my weight. The VA will say go to the gym before work, but medical knowledge says that a workout in the morning is not good for someone with a herniated disc. If I did work out in the morning and my work suffered because of it, would the VA increase my disability ratings? Probably not!!! I am 65 inches and 200 pounds, oh by the way my Body Mass Index (BMI) is 33.3. BMI over 30 is considered obese, The VA says I’m obese because of my lifestyle choices and my poor diet.”
In this paragrpah I told them whats wrong with me, how it affects me, and why it is related to sleep apnea. I also have a VA rating for a bad knee, here’s that paragraph as well.
“My left knee is also rated for Patellofemoral pain syndrome, basically this means my patella doesn’t track correctly, when it goes off track I am unable to use my left knee. Things that can cause it to hurt more are running, hard impact situations, doing side to side type activities, just to name a few. If I was to continue to use my left knee during an episode it feels like I’m walking with a knife in my knee and every time I bend my knee it feels just I’m being stabbed. Once again do you think I am able to exercise with this issue? Do you think it is easy to exercise when it feels like a knife is in my knee?”
This is how I structure my letters to the VA. In my letters I try to spell it out for them, you know make it easy to connect the dots. If you follow these steps it will help in your fight.
This is all listed in my book as well. I detail how to do this and where to look for information. Anyone can do it, you just need to stop, believe, and take time of your life to take care of yourself.
Also, I’m available to help with your paperwork just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I also have a book for sale that will walk you through all of this, you can purchase that here.