In the first installment of this series – preparing for your C&P Exam – I encouraged you to keep the exam in perspective.
What is that Perspective?
Honestly, it comes down to recognizing that the purpose of the C&P Exam is NOT to convince the doctor that your injury is service connected, but to let him or her conduct their exam and draw their conclusion.
In the end, your current disability either is or is not related to military service. Regardless what the doctor says, what the VA Rater says, the limitations or symptoms either are, or are not, related to your time in service.
A doctor’s opinion can’t change what is or is not. It’s just another piece in the puzzle of proof.
And the C&P Exam is just another piece in that puzzle. It is not the only piece – but if we view it as such, we often make our claims harder than they have to be. And we certainly make them more stressful.
Today’s tips – 3 more tips in my series on how to keep your C&P Exam in perspective – are focused on your interaction with the C&P Examiner.
Tip #4: Be Polite and Courteous – and Know What the Examiner has to Deal With.
I’ve said it before – there are some real shit-bird docs in the VA system. Even if you are a VA C&P Examiner reading this, I think you would agree with me that you can think of a colleagues that is not doing what he or she is required to do.
There’s the examiner that comes into the room – grumbly and angry – and tells you that you have five minutes to tell your story.
There’s the examiner that will hear something different than what you said – and twist your words to fit his/her medical theory.
And there are the examiners that just plain don’t get it – they may not have the medical training needed to draw the conclusion that they are being asked to draw.
All of these examiners have something in common – they are working in an overburdened system that overloads them with information and gives them a minute amount of time to sort through that information.
Your C&P Examiner has a short time to talk to you.
He or she will have 15-20 (or more) exams to do in a day. Each of those exams will be for a Veteran with at least 750+ pages of records to comb through. Sometimes they will have to draw conclusions about complex conditions that they are not trained to handle.
And a good bit of the time, they will make mistakes. They will get it wrong.
It’s not the end of the world if they do. But what is important – in the grand scheme of fixing this system – is that we treat every C&P Examiner with a modicum of courtesy and respect.
Say hello. Smile. Be pleasant and courteous. Know that even if this doctor concludes that there is no nexus between your military service and your condition, it will not be the end of the world. There are ways to “correct” a bad C&P Exam.
And there are other types of opinions that you can use – like the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ).
Get their name, and talk to them about their background – and after the exam, write down thorough notes about what happened – good and bad – in the exam. What did they test? What did they measure? What body parts did the doctor look at – and not look at.
If you are going to legally attack a bad C&P Exam, you will need this information to challenge the methodology, measurements, and conclusions.
And you won’t be able to do this if you start the exam on a bad note.
So – above all – be courteous, civil and concise.
Tip #5: Don’t Act Like a “Professional Claimant”.
C&P Examiners do exams – dozens a day – every day. For weeks on end. When you are exposed to this many Veterans, you start seeing patterns. Especially if you are a doctor trained to identify and analyze patterns of symptoms and limitations in a medical condition.
Listen – C&P Examiners can spot the Professional Claimant a mile away. And if they see you as a Professional Claimant, it will taint the exam and the outcome of the exam.
So resist using legalistic phrases, theories, concepts.
Talk like a human being – not a lawyer or a VSO.
Tell the doctor about your symptoms. Your limitations.
Have a concise statement as to why you think your disability and your service are related. (Take a look at the first post in this series to get an example of how to put together such a concise statement).
And whatever you do, don’t go off on rants about the VA Process, or complex legal theories, or past errors.
The system is screwed up – we all get that. But one VA C&P Examiner isn’t going to fix the whole system or remedy every past error in your case.
So keep it simple and basic: talk only about the symptoms and limitations of your disability, and have a one-sentence statement about nexus to tell the doctor when you are asked.
Tip #6: Do NOT Advocate to – or Debate With – the C&P Examiner.
C&P Examiners are doctors – not lawyers and not judges.
Though their opinion will carry some sway – a lot of sway – with the Rater in your claim, in the end it is just an opinion.
Let them draw their opinion. If it is negative, or doesn’t fit the facts, there are other doctors with other opinions that the Rater or BVA can balance and weigh to find the truth.
Do NOT try to prove your claim to the examiner. Most Vets that do try to prove their claim end up overwhelming the C&P Examiner with facts that he or she may or may not be able to process in the moment. They will overload them with case law and legal language – much of which is irrelevant to the Doctor.
And remember – there is a mortal battle between doctors and lawyers. Since the first lawyer sued the first doctor, they have always had a very cat-and-dog relationship (I say this somewhat “tongue in cheek”). If you start talking like a lawyer, you are going to shut that doctor off to understanding your medical condition, and I can guarantee that your exam will end with a negative opinion.
Think about it in the context of your most recent job or profession – if someone walked in and started barking all this legalese while telling you how to do your job, what would your reaction be?
You’d feel bullied or attacked. You’d feel insulted and marginalized. You might zone out on the person talking, and miss what they are really trying to say. Or you might do whatever you had to do to get that person out of your office, or cubicle, or maintenance bay.
Nobody likes being bullied. So don’t advocate your claim to the C&P Examiner – it’s not the time and place to advocate for your claim.
It is the time to talk about symptoms and limitations – and to DRIVE the examiner back into your C-File and medical records to study the claim.
Rather than launch into the medical and legal theory of your claim, and spend 15 minutes forcing the C&P Examiner to “zone out”, why not push them to look at the records.
Consider this exchange:
Doctor: Tell me about your sleep apnea symptoms since you left the military.
Veteran: My medical records and claims file detail all of the symptoms – the many apneas throughout the night, my need for a CPAP, the daytime sleepiness problems from getting a good nights sleep – but the bottom line is that since service, I wake up several times each night gasping for air, and the only relief I get is when I wear this CPAP machine.
You got your point across – succinctly. You pushed the Examiner to look at the facts (and if she doesn’t, that will be obvious in her decision). And you did it in a concise and courteous way.
Bottom line – the C&P Exam is not the time to be an advocate or a lawyer.
Keep your discussion limited to symptoms and limitations only, and your one-liner about why you think it is service-connected.
I’ve got MORE Tips coming tomorrow – the next few tips will be really practically oriented – things you can do to prepare for and be organized in your C&P Exam.