A Message from a VA Rater
This is a letter from an individual who rates VA benefits on the daily. If you really want to maximize the benefits you believe you rate, here is great guidance straight from the horse’s mouth!
As a rater for the VA I have noticed some mistakes that vets make and listened to many talk about how they forgot to tell the C&P doctor something about their conditions. I have also talked to so many veterans who don’t seem to remember aspects of their conditions unless I ask specific questions, and you can’t guarantee the C&P doctor will probe as deeply to bring out what needs to be said.
So, I am recommending veterans complete a personal statement for each and every condition.
If you are filing for 13 conditions you will have a statement for each condition.
I am sure some will worry this will be a lot of paper and bog things down. As a rater I appreciate organization and having a concise statement for each condition. It makes it easier to understand the whole picture and if you are on the borderline of say a 30 and a 50 percent the statement gives me evidence to support going higher instead of lower. So here is what you should have in your statement. First of all, list how you obtained the condition.
For example: In May 1980 while in the field I was jumping out of a deuce and half and when I landed my ankle rolled to the side and I felt a sharp pop and sharper pain. Well I rubbed some dirt on it and went back to work. Three days later my ankle gave out while walking up steps. In 1984, I was playing basketball and when I came down from a dunk my ankle hurt like crazy. When I went to the ER, they diagnosed me with severe ankle sprain with tendonitis. That gives a clearer view than saying “I hurt my ankle”.
Next you want to explain that you have had issues with your ankle ever since you got out. List the day and month of other times you have hurt or gone to see a doctor due to the pain. Then you will want to have a recent visit and diagnosis within about 6 months of your filing the claim. You will want notes or letters from current doctor in order to document what you statement says. And you will want a current diagnosis, such as Severe Ankle Strain with Tendonitis and Degenerative Joint Disease.
Thirdly you want to write about how this affects you. So, you want to tell them you can’t wear heels anymore, can’t jump for basketball, running is out and let the doctor and the rater know just how this condition changes your lifestyle. Things like I used to ride motocross and now I can’t stand on the pegs and if I try, I end up wrecking. I have trouble walking my dog for anything over a short distance. I have to wear a brace most of the time or else my ankle rolls, I have to soak my ankle daily and take pills to ease the pain, and at times the pain in my ankle disturbs my sleep.
This will help all understand just how your condition is and the impact on your life. This is the same if it is for a sprained ankle, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hearing loss, shoulder impingement, or how the scars on your face affect your view of yourself.
It is imperative you have a statement for the conditions with gray areas such as the mental conditions like Anxiety, PTSD and so on. For these, pretend you lose your voice and this statement has to speak for you to the C&P doc and the rater.
You write this statement and have a copy for you that you take to the C&P exam, a copy for the C&P doctor and one for the VA. Do not assume that something you hand to a C&P examiner will actually get to the VA Rater!
Start with listing your stressor and as much info you can provide, such as who saw the incident, what any of the buddy statement writers say about your symptoms and what symptoms you have.
For example, “I usually have three to four panic attacks a week. During these panic attacks my heart races, I am sweating with a fan blowing on me, my chest is tight and hurts, my head aches, my vision gets blurry and I feel like running away.” And you can also cover how it impacts you such as lack of friendship, not being able to make meaningful relationships, being a loner at work, have bouts of anger and irritability for unexplainable reasons.
If you think about some of the symptoms, people under great stress have memory and cognitive issues because the stress changes the chemical make up in your brain.
Having the personal statement will allow you to remember and cover ALL symptoms in the C&P exam. Also, with having handed him a copy there is no reason why he/she shouldn’t put it in the exam report.
Plus, having given it to the doc you can then go get a copy of the C&P exam and if it is not there, file a complaint with the patient advocate. Remember it is a tool to help you so you need to create a strong accurate one.
Much as I would like to take credit for coming up with this, I have to give credit to a vet who sent me his claim and had statements for each of his 43 conditions he was claiming. With his statements I could scan and find the important parts I need to make a decision. I could also cut and paste the symptoms into my rating narrative and justification for higher disability ratings. Since it was very organized and thorough, I was able to complete my rating in about half the time, and yet had strong support for giving him a higher rating for his PTSD. His statement was also instrumental in the doctors being able to separate his PTSD from his TBI symptoms.
Bottom line is the more work you do up front, the better your chances in getting what you have earned.
Personal Statement Example
Name: John Doe Social: XXX-XX-XXXX Contact Info: Address XXXXXXXXXX Phone: (XXX)XXX-XXXX e-mail: XXXXXXXXXXX@xxxx.com
Condition Facts: Detailed information concerning how you got the condition.
Was there an exposure that resulted in a disease (i.e. asbestos developing into mesothelioma)? (Note exposure is not in itself compensable unless a condition develops into a condition.)
What is the accident or injury (i.e. broke/sprained knee on obstacle course) leading to current diagnosis?
What is the stressor for your mental condition (i.e. combat, personal trauma such as witnessing a serious accident or military sexual trauma?
The more detailed information such as date and time of the incident the better.
Treatment in Service: As closely as possible document what treatment you received for the condition. Such as follows:
Fort Jackson SC – Emergency Room visit 4 Jun 2001 – Knee trauma from playing flag football. Twisted knee in pile up. Put in a cast.
Pope AFB – Treated by Dr. Welby for knee giving out. Given therapy and Ibuprofen.
Norfolk NAS _ Treated by Dr. Kildare for knee swelling. Took x-rays and provided with Percocet. Given profile from exercise for 6 weeks.
Treatment out of service: Again, documenting the type treatment your received and as accurate a detail as possible.
Hope Medical Center – Boston – Dr. Strange did ex-rays and assigned me to therapy (List dates of Therapy)
Johnson and Johnson Orthopedics – Dr. Smith performed knee replacement surgery 9 Aug 2003. Put on 8 weeks therapy.
Johnson and Johnson Orthopedics – Dr. Smith Follow up to surgery. Given handicap paperwork for handicap sticker.
The same can be done for all other conditions. Just list the treatments and dates.
Symptoms: Download the DBQ for the specific condition and go through the questions. Your list of symptoms should be taken off the DBQ and answer the questions. So for a knee you would list what you experience. Things such as follows:
My symptoms are sharp pains when I bend my knee (on a 1 to 10 it’s a 7). Climbing up and down steps causes pain. At times my knee gives out and I have fallen. I can only move me knee so far. My doctor says I have arthritis and when it is cold my knee aches.
Note for mental conditions it is imperative you include all of the symptoms. If you only have five or six symptoms listed but actually have more you experience then it is likely you won’t get what you are entitled. The need to list any and ALL symptoms is imperative. Also providing a word description its equally imperative. A sample of how to list symptoms is as follows:
One of my symptoms is memory loss – I have trouble remembering important dates and events. I have forgotten birthdays and anniversaries. If I don’t write down an appointment or put it in my phone then I will forget it. I have forgotten the names of friends I used to hang out with.
Another symptom is panic attacks – I have panic attacks more than twice a week. When I am having a panic attack my chest hurts, my heart is racing, I sweat even if I have a fan blowing on me, my vision gets blurry, my stomach hurts and I get diarrhea.
And so on.
How the Symptoms affect your social and economic lifestyle: And finally, you have to let the rater and C&P examiner know how this affects your life. This is the part that is not covered by a DBQ but is important for you case since that is why you are compensated, because it affects your life in other areas. For example, “my lack of trust for people and being suspicious of their actions makes it hard for me to make friends and I have family members I no longer speak to.”
Another example, “my anger makes it hard for me to work for certain people. I find it hard to work with these people and have had several fights at work.”
The more detailed and specific you are in the statement the clearer it will be to the rater.
SIGN AND DATE
This statement can be on a VA Form 21-4138 HERE: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4138-ARE.pdf
This can be in letter format. Sign and date and place at the bottom this statement:
“I CERTIFY THAT the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
Written by Mr. Christopher Edwards, VA Rater