(71) Persistence Pays Off: Filing for a VA disability

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


Emergency 

William went to the emergency room this week. He called the VA for authorization to go to a local hospital because the closest VA hospital is 75 miles away. The VA quickly authorized and documented his need to go local.

It does not always work this fast. In fact, with the VA, things often move at the speed of grass growing.

His emergency room doctor referred him to a local Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor in the local area. The VA would not approve this and required him to return to the Denver VA hospital for his follow-up. His calls to the VA went unanswered and his blood pressure kept spiking into the stroke zone. He continued with his calls to the VA, trying anyone who would listen and help.

Two days later, a registered nurse called and made an appointment for the following day. While we made it through the snow, William suffered a panic attack on the drive to the hospital—something that frequently happens because of how VA staff treated him in the past.

Obtaining a Disability Rating 

The VA stands as a huge bureaucracy. Pushing a large bureaucracy towards action often leaves the Veteran angry, frustrated, and feeling unwanted. Unfortunately, dealing with the VA can trigger panic or anxiety attacks for the Veteran, as so many have experienced problems accessing services.

Obtaining a disability rating ranks among the most difficult tasks of dealing with the VA. We learned that often it takes years of effort to receive a disability rating. The first rating given to a Veteran generally falls low and the Veteran needs either to appeal the rating or try again in another year for a rating adjustment.

In my husband’s case, it took three compensation reviews, spanning 40 years, before he received his 100 percent disability rating. Unfortunately, it required the partial loss of one lung to receive the final rating. Through the aid of a State Veterans’ officer, he no longer needs to persist in his fight for compensation.

Disability Ratings Require Persistence

Many of the veterans or their spouses I’ve met mention that they either have not applied for a rating or gave up.

DO NOT GIVE UP. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO COLLECT YOUR BENEFITS.

IT TAKES PERSISTENCE.

It is difficult enough for the Veteran to seek help. When the Veteran must persist in a battle to receive a compensatory rating, he/she often gives up or settles for a percentage lower than the disability allows.

As a Veteran with PTSD ages, the disability worsens. The Veteran requires greater resources to care for his/her needs. Consequently, updating the compensatory level is critical to the well-being of the Veteran.

Establishing your initial disability rating should be done right out of the military, as soon as any sign of PTSD or other disability surfaces.

The VA offers a page of links to address PTSD and get help with your claim. Here is the link: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/Veterans/get_help_with_va.asp.

Filing Your First Claim

Filing your first claim may be the most difficult one to file, as documentation of your disability is required. My husband needed to submit letters, testifying to his PTSD. We acquired his medical records from non-VA providers, who cared for William over the years. Then, proof of his current condition needed to be linked to injuries from the Vietnam War. It took months to prepare his claim.

The following two claims moved quicker but still took about one year each to process. With every setback, William tried again. With the last claim for full compensation, the medical doctor conducting his review made it easy. This doctor’s diagnosis of his condition went beyond what we expected. In fact, William ended up with a 160 percent disability rating. Of course, 100 percent disability is the maximum considered for compensation and benefits.

At the hospital yesterday, we spoke with a group of retired Marines, serving popcorn to Veterans.

“Marines never give up,” one Veteran told us. “We serve until we die.”

That is the tenacity a Veteran needs to receive a disability rating—never give up.

Dogged Determination 

We find that Molly embraces the same persistence needed in filing a claim. She never gives up begging for food even though she knows the only place she will get food is from her food dish. She chases the wild turkeys even though she knows she will never catch one. She dances in the snow, hoping the nearby deer might play with her even though they never will.

Molly’s persistence might be because she forgets about yesterday’s experiences or because she always hopes. That is what it takes for a Veteran to prevail.

Post your Comments: 

Who helped you or your spouse file  your disability claim? Please comment below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.