The veterans benefits claims process is a grueling one from what I’ve heard. Not only is having to revisit experiences of combat trauma difficult, trying to document each and every incident on the many claim forms you’ll need to fill out for the VA to get your benefits to kick in is anything but easy. What follows are a few tips and resources that I’ve come across. I hope they help you as you move forward in completing your paperwork.
First, a few tips from VVAW’s Military and Veteran’s Counseling Handbook [pdf]. Of special importance to you as you begin the claims process is the information on page 8. Please take a look at that page, if you read only one from this handbook. The most important thing to do first is to file your claim immediately if you believe you have combat service-related PTSD:
After a claim is accepted, the VA will pay starting the first of the month following the month in which a claim is filed. The "claim" need only be a letter giving your name and address, listing the problems and saying that they are service connected or that they have made you totally disabled. You can submit the completed application within a month of that first "claim."
The VA handles most claims "routinely" that is, slowly, no matter how anxious you may feel. The VA will "expedite" a claim only if you submit evidence of financial crisis, and a letter of support from Congress will help. … If you do nothing else, file the claim, always reply to letters from the VA and don’t miss any appeal deadlines.
Important resources to use once you’re ready to begin:
- Print up a copy of PTSD Help Network’s PTSD Worksheet. Filling this out ASAP will make completing the necessary claims forms a lot easier in the long run.
- Sign up for an account at the American Gulfwar Veterans Association’s bulletin board. This group has been wonderful in answering these types of questions. Even if you don’t sign up, take a look at their excellent PTSD Claims FAQ (from A to Z) page and the incredible links here.
- The National Gulf War Resource Center has a nicely organized ptsd claims process page.
- Check out VA Watchdog’s How to File a Claim Page. Easy-to-understand steps to help you get through the mountain of paperwork.
- Highly, highly recommend Infinity Publishing’s Military Veterans PTSD Reference Manual. It’s available online for free. Chapters 7-10 are especially important to take a look at for help in filing your PTSD benefits claims forms.
- Another solid recommend: Vietnam Veterans of America’s PTSD Benefits Guide.
- A must-read Google knol: A Military Veterans Guide To Disability Compensation and Pension Benefits.
- Download "The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide" by Veterans for America — all 599 pages available as a PDF, or skip directly to Chapter 5: Explaining the VA Claims and Appeals Process [pdf].
Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Since many others have gone before you and probably had a lot of the same questions, you don’t need to be alone on this.
A quick look at the official steps you need to take to get the claims process going from the VA’s National Center for PTSD:
How can I establish that I am disabled due to PTSD caused by military service?
A determination of service-connected disability for PTSD is made by the Compensation and Pension Service, an arm of VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration. The clinicians who provide care for veterans in VA’s specialized PTSD clinics and Vet Centers do not make this decision. A formal request (claim) must be filed by the veteran using forms provided by the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration. After all the forms are submitted, the veteran must complete interviews concerning her or his social history (a review of family, work, and educational experiences before, during, and after military service) and psychiatric status (a review of past and current psychological symptoms and of traumatic experiences during military service). The forms and information about the application process can be obtained by Benefits Officers at any VA Medical Center, Outpatient Clinic, or Regional Office.
The process of applying for a VA disability for PTSD can take several months and can be both complicated and quite stressful. The Veterans Service Organizations provide Service Officers at no cost to help veterans and family members pursue VA disability claims. Service Officers are familiar with every step in the application and interview process and can provide both technical guidance and moral support. In addition, some Service Officers particularly specialize in assisting veterans with PTSD disability claims. Even if a veteran has not been a member of a specific Veterans Service Organization, the veteran still can request the assistance of a Service Officer working for that organization. In order to get representation by a qualified and helpful Service Officer, you can directly contact the local office of any Veterans Service Organization. You may also wish to ask for recommendations from other veterans who have applied for VA disability or from a PTSD specialist at a VA PTSD clinic or a Vet Center.
My claim for a VA PTSD disability has been turned down by the Benefits Office, but I believe I have PTSD due to military service. What can I do?
Contact a Veterans Service Officer who can explain how to file an appeal and who can help you gather the information necessary to make a successful appeal. You may want to contact a Service Officer who has extensive experience in helping veterans file and appeal claims specifically for PTSD.
I can’t get records from the military that I need for my disability claim. What can I do?
Veterans Service Officers can help you file the specific paperwork required to obtain your military records. If your Service Officer is not able to help you get necessary records, ask him or her to refer you to another Service Officer who has more experience in getting records.
If you have any helpful resources of your own to share, please add them in comments. And good luck with your claim. You deserve the very best care for your service to our country — make use of all of the resources that are due you!
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