As a Veterans Benefits Attorney and a service connected disabled Veteran, I would like to help More Veterans get More Information about the VA Claims Process.

So I added a new feature to the Veterans Law Blog – a Veterans Disability Attorney Answers Your Questions.

The feature is getting more and more popular – how do I know?  Because the questions I get are getting harder and harder for me to answer.

That’s a good thing – the tougher your questions, the more we can work together to educate more Veterans about the rules and the law of the  VA Claims Process.

Keep this in mind though – the Q&A with  Veterans Benefits Attorney on the Veterans Law Blog is NOT legal advice.

Bottom line: “Veterans Disability Attorney Answers Your Questions” Feature is not meant to be legal advice.  Don’t rely on it as advice.

I’m answering your questions very generally to get the most information to the most people – but also because I do not give legal advice on the Veterans Law Blog.  Nothing – and certainly not a blog – is a substitute for good legal advice from an accredited Veterans Benefits Attorney.

 

NEW FEATURE: Veterans Disability Attorney Answers Your Questions.

I can’t see a reason why Veterans Advocates should not teach Veterans how to improve their own VA Claims.

So, in today’s post, I’m going to answer a few questions that have come in through MailCall lately.

Just remember – nothing in this post is intended to be specific legal advice.

*****

Veteran Scott W. asks:  “The VA is trying to deny my claim for my back, because I never went in for treatment until now. Its been fifteen years since I have been out. Can they do it?  I hurt my back in basic.”

Answer:  Bottom line up front:  The Law doesn’t care if you seek treatment on the day of an injury in service, or wait until the end of time to seek treatment.  If you believe that an injury in military service caused a current disability or limitation, then you are entitled to service connection of that condition – and the compensation that goes with that service-connection.

In fact, the MOST common reason for denial by the VA is the also the most WRONG reason for denial: Lack of Treatment for a condition is largely irrelevant to the question of service connection.

Why?

We all seek medical treatment – and don’t seek medical treatment – for different reasons.  In a combat situation, you aren’t going to go running off to the aid station if you hear your ankle “pop” and feel it go numb getting into a firing position.

In basic, you’re just not going to go for treatment if you hurt your back falling off an obstacle on the course… if you can hang with the pain. Most folks just don’t want be recycled and start that nonsense all over.

If you suffer – like I do – from the hellacious ringing in your ears known as Tinnitus, you will know that there is NO treatment that can cure or fix the condition, so why would you go to a doctor?

Tinnitus is the “Gift that Keeps on Giving” for Artillerymen –  the endless pounding of howitzers and rocket launchers (and a couple concussions from grenade blasts) have brought blood from my ears.  For the rest of my life, everything I hear has a  “High G” soundtrack playing in the background. 

And after service, many of us can’t afford the high cost of medical treatment UNTIL we get service connected for our military injuries.

But all 4 of those situations could involve injuries that can cause lifelong problems. The Courts have been VERY clear: the lack of treatment is not evidence of whether or not a condition is related to military service.,

Here’s the practical reality, though: the longer the time between military service and the filing of the claim, the harder it will be to PROVE to the VA that your current disability is related to military service.

That is, after all, one of the 4 Pillars of your VA Claim:  Proving to the VA that your current medical condition is related to your military service.  Proving this element is like Building a Bridge.

There are 5 Ways to Build this Bridge – and I’ve discussed them in GREAT detail in my Guidebook “The 5 Paths to Service Connection”. {Click on the image to the left to learn more about how to get the ebook individually or as part of a package.}

*****

Veteran Art S. asks:  “I read your answer to a question a couple weeks ago about getting medical records. I still can’t understand how to find military service treatment records.   I feel like I’ve looked everywhere.”

Answer: So I’m going to let y’all in a little secret. Actually, it’s not a secret, I learned it from one of y’all!  But not many Veterans know it.

I’m going to teach you the steps my firm follows to find old service treatment records.

And, I’m going to lay it out in the way I know best – a checklist of ways to find your military service treatment records.  I’m going to warn you, though, you need patience or the temperament of a detective…this stuff can be a challenge.  I call it “pulling the string” – if you pull a string long enough, nice and easy, you will eventually find the end. Pull it too hard, though, and you break it or detach it from what its tied to.

Here are several ways to get your MILITARY Treatment Records:

1) The easiest way?  Get copies from every medical facility you were treated at BEFORE leaving the military.  Service members get records a lot quicker when they ask for them while in service.

2) That’s not an option? Get a copy of your 201 File (your Military Personnel Records Jacket) from the National Archives. MOST times, it will have MOST of your medical treatment records.

3) Records missing from your military service records? Go to the medical facility where you were treated – the army, navy or air force hospital or clinic USUALLY retains records for a very long time, and they can tell you where they archive them.

4) The facility no longer exists? Go to the military branch chain of command and start asking where the records at that closed facility are now stored.  I found medical records from Vietnam for one of my clients in a DHS helicopter hangar at a facility down on the border in El Paso Texas.  We also found some at the Fish and Wildlife Service.   I shit you not.

5) Dead end?  It happens.  Sometimes, you can go straight to your old unit – or the unit that carries the flag if yours no longer exists – and find records of military service and military service treatment.   We’ve found records for current and past veterans, for example, in the S-1 shop of the unit they were assigned to.  Should they be there? HELL NO!  Do I care about that?  Not really – I tell my client and let them deal with the privacy aspect…I just want records to prove my client’s claim.

6) Still no luck?  RECREATE the records.  The Veterans Court taught us, in the Jandreau case, that as a lay person, you can CREDIBLY document evidence of symptoms, treatment and past diagnoses of medical conditions: this is the PURE, RAW POWER of Lay Evidence.

Tempted to jump to Step #6 and make it easier?

That’s one approach, and it may or may not be what you should do, but you better be darn sure that if your records are actually found they won’t say anything contradictory, or the credibility of your claim will always be at issue (I’m not talking about lying or truth-telling…legal credibility in VA Claims is more about the consistency of evidence over time).

Why?

The VA has an uncanny knack for finding lost medical records when Veterans offer a lay statement that they were diagnosed with a condition in service.

 

 

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