I am a disabled veteran who served over 22 years in four branches of our military, longest as a Navy Chaplain, starting with the enlisted regular Army on Guam in 1949. My diagnosis from the Veterans Administration is “catastrophically disabled” and legally blind with service-connected severe back and leg pain. As a trained psychologist, I have written numerous books and articles for blind veterans’ newsletters.
I recently discovered the hidden ways that I believe many disabled veterans are cheated during their disability claims. I have confirmed these observations with a VA nurse practitioner who has many years of experience with disabled veterans. She reviewed and agreed with all my conclusions.
All disabled veterans waiting for a claim to be reviewed should carefully read what follows. In my opinion, you are being blindly set up to fail, because of systemic flaws in the review process. Please note that claim examiners do not work for the VA. They work for a different, for profit group handsomely funded by the veterans benefit association.
Remember that the examiner is not there to help you with your case but to provide a critical review. It is up to each veteran to be prepared to prove his case, with documents in hand to do so. Veterans seeking claims must arrive at the exam well prepared.
In order to prove the claim being sought, take the following steps:
1. Before your appointment date, go to the VA records office and get a copy of the VA records that are important to your claim. This is the only proof you will have. Without your record, the case is decided based upon the opinion of the examiner, not the facts in your medical record.
2. Bring an adult witness, such as a family member or adult friend, with you to the examining room. This should be someone who would be willing to testify later in your behalf.
3. In order to have a transparent and fair review, ask for the examiner’s name and background qualifications, along with the name and address of the organization the examiner works for and where the report will be sent. This information will be needed later to send an official request to see the official examination report results.
4. Request of copy of the checklist the examiner is using during your visit.
5. Record the entire interview.
6. Answer every question carefully because the examiner uses everything said to base their judgment.
7. Consider asking the examiner to explain everything they want to do e.g., touch you or use any brushes. They thinks they are reliably measuring pain that way. They are not. No one can measure anything without a starting point. Trained medical personnel know that the Gold Standard still in pain measurement is the patient self-report.
8. Upon returning home after your Interview, get another friend and the three of you discuss in detail what happened and your feelings. This will serve to sharpen and refresh your memory. Also record this. These two audiotapes could serve to save you years in case you need to pursue an appeal. They will help validate your case.
9. Always keep in mind that the examiner comes with an agenda and a set list of questions to ask. You will never see their report unless you go through months of red tape and fill out a detailed request form. So, go prepared!
10. I only recently learned there is a priority processing request form which you might be able to fill out through a telephone call to the veteran benefits organization. You can also get many other questions answered there as I have discovered.
11. For your claims testimony, you will be on the witness stand before the examiner, who is judge, jury and executioner, with a summary judgment of your claim. This you will not be able to comment upon. You are not allowed to review the judgment, except through an appeal which takes up to an average of seven years to resolve. Therefore, be prepared to bring the best case possible for your situation, aware that the rejection rate is one out of three.
12. It is appropriate to ask the examiner how familiar they is with your VA record. My examiner did not even know I was blind. I suspect from other evidence she had not even looked at my VA record.
13. Be alert to sneaky questions. When the examiner says something sounding kindly, like “ I guess we will not ask you to move to the examining table because of your pain.” How was I to know that this was a sneaky question in disguise? So if I did not disagree, I was there by refusing further cooperation!
14. It is important that you be prepared to give complete testimony for your claim. You will probably do better if you have a practice session at home with someone who knows your complete situation well. Otherwise, anxiety and tension can play tricks with our memory. Remember the Boy Scout model..
Based upon: 1) my own claims review experience; 2) my many years of interviewing thousands of job candidates: 3) many years as a trained psychologist; 4) with my first-hand experiences as a blind and disabled veteran, this examination process is not just flawed. It’s fraudulent, stacked carefully against the disabled veteran
If the veteran decides to use any of these suggestions, it is on his or her own authority.
Paschal Baute is a member of the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame for both outstanding military and community service.