7 Ways for Veterans to Prepare for C&P Exams
Mistakes can result in thousands of dollars in lost VA disability benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a tax-free monthly payment to veterans who suffer from a disease or injury connected to their military service or those whose service made an existing condition worse.
In order to receive this benefit, veterans must prove to the VA that their condition is service-related and undergo a compensation and pension (C&P) exam for the VA to determine a disability rating, based off the severity of their illness. The higher the disability rating assigned, the more compensation the veteran will receive.
During the examination, a medical provider will review health records, ask additional questions, perform a physical exam, and order blood work or other tests, as needed.
Veterans can miss out on thousands of dollars in benefits if they don’t provide ample documentation or properly communicate the extent that their ailment affects their daily life. To help former service members maximize their benefits, we spoke with Chas Sampson, a former VA decision officer and Iraq War veteran who founded Seven Principles, a firm that assists veterans in the VA claims process. He recommends taking seven steps to boost the chances of a successful disability claim.
1. Properly submit your initial disability paperwork
If you are eligible for VA disability compensation, gather any and all evidence you have to support your claim. Be sure paperwork is completely filled out with supporting documents and find out if you need to file any additional forms.
If the VA does not receive proper evidence and documentation, you may not even get to the exam stage of the process. Making an appeal in that case is difficult because the VA has already once decided the applicant does not have enough evidence, Sampson says.
If you are seeking a new or higher disability rating, the same rules apply. Under federal government guidelines, the disability must have a “nexus,” or direct connection, to an event in military service. It can be especially helpful to provide a nexus letter from a qualified health care provider that the examiner can review with your other medical documentation.
2. Communicate the severity of your ailments
When explaining your illness, make sure to connect how it is a result of your military service. If your condition waxes and wanes, and you aren’t feeling much pain on your examination day, articulate how you feel on the worst day to provide a true depiction of your disability.
Any new non-VA medical records that you may have before your appointment need to be submitted online through an accredited representative or mailed to a VA regional office. The C&P exam provider can’t submit these documents for you.
3. Stick to the topic
Many times, veterans go into an exam and tell stories of their service, Sampson says. Keep in mind that the examiner may never have served in the military, may be unfamiliar with wartime experience and may not know military terminology or jargon. Keep the focus on the medical facts and the service-related disability.
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4. Communicate openly
“As vets, we are very prideful group. We signed up to serve our country. We love serving our country,” Sampson says. “When you add the nature of us being proud service members and the essence of this being a very tedious process with a lot of paperwork, sometimes things are forgotten.”
Think of the exam as the one chance to prove and explain to the VA what you have been experiencing. Winning an appeal after a C&P exam can be even more difficult because the exam has already utilized taxpayer dollars, Sampson says. A delay in receiving benefits is only to your detriment.
On the day of your exam, relax and make sure you have memorized exactly what you plan to convey at your appointment.
5. Consider using a C&P coach
From his 10 years of experience as a C&P advocate, Sampson says veterans who are coached and educated on their disabilities through a firm like Seven Principles, which charges a fee for its services, find that their disabilities rating increases, on average, by 30 points. A higher rating results in higher benefits.
The VA does not charge a fee to file or appeal a claim.
6. Be patient for a decision
The VA’s response time to a claim varies by case. When someone makes a good case on their own or has utilized a veterans advocacy group, it usually takes 60 to 90 days after the exam, Sampson says. Weaker cases take six months to a year. In one instance, Sampson encountered a claim that took two and a half years because the case wasn’t well supported.
7. Be prepared for future exams
If you’re submitting 10 claims, you may have 10 individual C&P exams. Some claims require a “routine future examination,” and those could come once a year over 10 years, or every other year over 25 years, Sampson says.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.