Gathering and submitting evidence for your claim can be overwhelming! Often, veterans work hard proving their cases only to get an improper denial. How can you make it easier for the VA to give you the right decision the first time? Here are some helpful tips:
Tip 1. Request your claims file
Your claims file, aka your c-file, is the file that the VA keeps containing your service records, medical records, VA treatment records, and evidence you’ve submitted. It’s important that you know what the VA has with regards to your claim. This way, you can determine if they’re missing records or missing a part of your story. Once you’ve determined any holes you need to fill, you can either request additional records from the appropriate source(s) or submit the additional relevant evidence yourself.
Tip 2. Only provide relevant evidence
C-files are often over 2,000 pages long. The decision review officers can easily miss (and often do!) an important piece of evidence. Therefore, it’s important that you don’t make it worse by dumping another 2,000 pages of medical records that are not relevant to your claim. Some people recommend you partake in the “kitchen sink” method to be safe, but that often increases the likelihood that the VA makes errors. So how do you know what’s relevant? Ask yourself what you’re trying to prove
- Do you have a medical record proving your diagnosis?
- Service-connection/ nexus?
- Do you have any records from your time in service proving your diagnosis, symptoms, or an incident causing or aggravating your diagnosis?
- If you don’t have service or medical records that prove what you need, consider asking family, friends, or other service members that you served with to write statements of their experiences that support your claims. For example, if you’re claiming sleep apnea, perhaps a bunk-mate can write a statement recollecting that you often snored loudly and would occasionally wake up choking during your time in service. Sometimes, a medical opinion from a physician is the piece of evidence you’re missing to link your condition to your time in service. Generally, you’re looking for your physician to state that in their opinion it is “more likely than not” that your condition was caused or aggravated by your time in service.
- Are there additional factors that you have to prove for your specific claim?
- For example, if you’re claiming TDIU than you’ll need to gather your employment and educational history. You’ll also want to write a statement explaining how your condition(s) impact(s) your life and your ability to hold substantial employment.
- If you’re claiming PTSD, you have to explain the event or incident that occurred during service that caused your PTSD, referred to as your stressor. Remember, if you don’t have service or medical records that prove your stressor, consider asking family, friends, or other service members to write a statement supporting your stressor.
Tip 3. Clearly label your evidence
After you submit your evidence, people review, separate, and categorize each piece. Sometimes, the people in charge of sorting mislabel your evidence, making it harder for the decision review officers to find what you need to prove your claim. Instead, of leaving it up to chance, clearly label it for them. So for example, label the top of the page with the type of document (medical opinion, personal statement, etc.), your name, and your claim number. Make it harder for the VA to mess up your claim!
We hope these tips help you take control of your claim. Working with the VA can be incredibly frustrating. If you’d like support from experienced veteran advocates, Bosley & Bratch has been supporting veterans since 1995, please call or chat with us online.