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This article was shared with us by Jim Strickland and Katrina Eagle. Please see the bottom

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The Dirty Dozen

This is a list of 13 things that you must do or more importantly, not do, while you attempt to

win your compensation benefits. These aren't in any particular order, each is as important

as the next. I know these are important. I see the mistakes every day and I know the results

of making simple errors.

Following these simple rules won't win your claim for you but it will help ensure you don't

lose it.

(1) Don't call the toll free number. Don't email the VA Regional Office. Don't use the

electronic system to file your claim. Do not ever, under any circumstances communicate

with the VARO except by certified mail, return receipt requested. If you break this rule, you

are sure to get the wrong information. When you call or email you aren't contacting your

VA Regional Office, you're in touch with a call center.

The call center has access to a computer system that is rumored to be powered by

kerosene and data is stored on IBM punch cards. The employees are under orders that

you are allowed 3 minutes and not any more. They will tell you anything you want to hear to

get you off that telephone. If you insist, try calling 3 days in a row. Ask the same question

each time. It's likely you'll hear 3 completely different answers, all wrong.

(2) Know who is representing you. Every day I get at least one email that tells me, "The

VA representative called me to tell me I was going to receive 80% on my award." I always

ask, "Who is this VA representative and what is his title and who does he work for?" The

answer is always the same, "Oh. I just thought he was a VA representative. He works for

the VFW. I'm not sure what his last name is but his first name is Jim. I think. I've seen him

around for a long time."

You hand over the future of one of the most important legal moves you'll ever make where

the stakes are counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and you aren't sure who

the person works for?

Before you go out and buy a new washer-dryer combo, you'll scout the ads in the papers,

do some research on the Internet, go to Sears, Best Buy, and Home Depot and you'll

spend hours making a decision that will cost around $1000.00.

On the other hand, you'll walk into any office that looks official, sign over a power of

attorney (!), complete financial paperwork that exposes your weaknesses to the world and

walk away not knowing what to expect or when to expect it.

If you'll spend as much time thinking about your claim and who that representative works

for as you did that big-screen plasma TV you had to have, you'll be a lot happier down the


(3) Be patient. Take 2 hours of quiet time early in the process and read from all the stuff

that is available here and at other web sites. The VA site itself is a wealth of information

and will answer a lot of your questions completely.

Your application for benefits will follow a process. If you've done your part that paper you

submitted is going to slowly wind its way to the first step in the process, then the second

step in the process, then the third step and so on right through over 100 steps that must

be accomplished before it is adjudicated.

Whether you think all that is necessary or not doesn't matter. It's the process that counts

and you need to accept that very early in the game.

Once you've submitted your paperwork and you're confident that you have given VA all the

evidence that there is, you're done. There is nothing else to do but wait. Calling the VA

(see #1) to ask where your folder is is a waste of your time. Don't write any more letters to

VA. Don't call your VSO to ask if she has heard anything about your claim. She hasn't.

Read War & Peace. Build model airplanes. Watch all the Jerry Springer shows you can in

the year that you're waiting and score them according to the types of family values they

teach us. Get a salt water aquarium and watch expensive fish die. Buy more fish. Do

(4) Don't ever display any anger to a VA employee. Yeah, OK. we're all pissed off.

Every last veteran I know can feel their blood boiling at the mention of how the VA treats

those it's supposed to serve.

We were trained to be angry. From day one, before I even got off the bus at Ft. Benning,

Georgia on that miserable hot and humid summer day, I had 3 guys in heavy boots and

stiffly starched combat fatigues screaming their lungs out at me. I was called everything but

a child of God.

I was promptly informed I no longer had a mom, she had been replaced by a guy with 3

Vietnam campaign ribbons who was going to teach me something called 'jungle warfare'.

I had to yell "KILL KILL KILL" for weeks on end, beat my friends to a pulp with a big stick,

stab a lot of things with a mounted bayonet and I learned that ultra-violence was the

answer to every problem I would encounter as a soldier. Extreme pain was a sign that

weakness was leaving my body. My most basic and most important job was to kill people

and destroy their stuff. We were not emissaries of peace, we were warriors.

That was then and this is now.

If you show your angry side to a VA employee by yelling, expressing your displeasure at

waiting, slamming a fist down on a desk, cursing, storming out of a room and slamming the

door or making a direct or veiled threat. you have created trouble for yourself and all

those who have to follow in your footsteps.

Most, not all but most VA employees at the clinics, hospitals and regional offices want to

help you. They're usually every bit as frustrated as you are at the bureaucracy they work

for. They have the same problems of paying bills, raising teenagers, flat tires and

headaches that you have. Many of them are veterans. Many others weren't born yet when

you injured your back. The bureaucracy wasn't intentionally made tougher for you by that

23 year old student intern sitting across from you.

A lot of these people are afraid of you. I was born with a scowl. At my happiest, my brow is

furrowed and my eyes narrow down to slits and I sigh a lot. I've been told often that I

intimidate people so I work hard to overcome that.

Before you interact with a VA employee. in person, on the phone or by letter. take a deep

Think before you open your mouth. You'll be glad you did. The rest of us will appreciate it


(5) A well written letter is your best friend. I hear it every day. A veteran sends me an

email that begins, "The VA lowered my benefits because I didn't show up for an exam. I

didn't know I had any exam scheduled. They say they sent me a letter but the idiots mailed

it to my old address. I changed my address by telling my VSO and I also called the VA toll

free number and I emailed them too. Now what do I do?"

Now you try to get the train back on the tracks.

When you moved and changed your mailing address, it appears you told everyone but the

VA Regional Office that handles your folder. Neither the toll free number or the IRIS email

system is at your regional office. Your VSO can't be relied on to run errands for you.

If you had written a letter, mailed it to the correct address and used certified mail with

return receipt requested and kept the receipt along with your copy of that letter, it is very

likely the address change would have happened just as it should have. If it didn't, you have

good evidence that you did your part correctly and timely. Without that little green

postcard, you got nothing.

Your letter and your copy of that letter are the most powerful tool you have. A single letter

that is brief and tells the reader just exactly what you want is more potent than a hundred

phone calls.

I've provided a number of templates for you to use in other articles. There is just no reason

for you to communicate with VA by any other method.

(6) Don't call your Congressperson or a Senator. I get a lot of email telling me how the

veteran got frustrated at delays so they decided that their Senator would storm the walls of

the VA for them and tell those bad people to straighten up and fly right. Most of these

emails end by telling me that months later they received a form letter telling them that the

VA is still working on their claim and that ends that.

Your elected representatives in Washington make laws, they don't enforce them. Each of

them maintains a number of very busy offices staffed by a dozen or more people. In that

mix are "Military & Veterans Liaisons" or an individual with a similar title and responsibility.

When you write or call to complain about the VA and your claim, your call is routed to that

person. He or she will ask you to complete documents that allow them to view your folder.

privacy issues must be addressed as you have medical records in there.

Then they send a "Congressional Inquiry" to your VARO. The VARO maintains a team of

people to respond to such inquiries within 45 days. Your folder is located, pulled out of line

and examined for any particular glitches or errors. Then it may be sent to the

Representative's liaison for a review.

If the folder and your application are merely going through the usual routine of numbingly

slow progress, that's what you'll hear. If there is missing evidence and VA can't find records

or something is lost, they'll assure the Representative that they're doing all they can and

that message will be passed on to you.

Your Congressperson or Senator won't be aware that you've done any of this with their

office. They each have hundreds of these requests every year. Almost every one of these

inquiries I've seen are initiated by a veteran displaying impatience. Often enough, the

impatience is rooted in ignorance. The vet doesn't understand the process and nobody

told him that his claim may take as long as 18 months.

Some requests and complaints are filed with these offices because the veteran is in dire

financial straits and is depending on a compensation benefit to save the day. The wolves

are at the door, the car is being repossessed, the credit cards are maxed out and the vet

needs the money right now. This is probably the worst reason to call as an inquiry may

cause even more delays. Your folder could have been next in line to be distributed to the

desk of a Ratings Veterans Service Representative (RSVR) and you caused it to be pulled

out of its place in the line.

(7) Don't ask advice from everyone you meet. Once you begin the journey to that

compensation benefits award, you should soon develop a plan and stick to it. An integral

part of the plan is where you'll get guidance from.

Have you decided to use a Veterans Service Officer who you trust? Are you going to DIY?

Are you in an appeal and you've signed some agreements with a lawyer? Whatever path

you choose, stick to it.

There is no one perfect answer to any of the thousands of questions that may come up

during the course of your claim. Different people will have different experiences and those

experiences will shape the way they will advise you to handle your claim.

I'm often contacted by a veteran who will tell me (for example) that his VSO has advised

him that he should not submit another claim for a new condition until an existing claim is

finished. The vet will ask my opinion. Most of the time I'll agree with that advice as long as it

isn't completely out in left field.

A day or two later that veteran will write back to tell me that he checked with his friend, the

one with a wealth of experience in VA claims, and he has a different idea about it all. He

This happens in appeals too. The veteran speaks with a lawyer who agrees to take him as

a client. Papers are signed and the lawyer begins the process by notifying VA of the new

POA and requesting a copy of the folder. Six months pass and the veteran hasn't heard

anything so he calls the lawyer to discover the VARO only delievered the copied folder 2

weeks ago.

The veteran once again starts looking for advice elsewhere and the result is always the

same. this vet is lost, confused and unsure of what to do next.

Changing representation in the middle of the process may be one of the worst actions a

veteran can take unless there is a very good cause. That the claim is taking too long or the

lawyer isn't calling you every week to tell you nothing has happened isn't good cause.

You should only change your POA in a circumstance where you've discovered and can

prove incompetence, your representative is on an extended leave or the representative

dies. Even then, you will want to give a lot of thought to upsetting the flow of progress, as

slow as it may be. It's perfectly reasonable to believe that it's better to allow the claim to

proceed to a denial than to try to make a course correction during the process.

There's a good reason for that old saying, "Too many cooks spoil the broth".

When you make the decision to file a claim, give a lot of thought to how you're going to

proceed and choose your representative carefully. If you've done your homework up front,

when you hit those bumps and delays that come with working with VA, you'll remain

confident that it's just the routine and you'll be happier for it.

(8) Prepare for the worst. Approach your claim as if it is already determined that you'll

lose and have a lengthy appeal.

There are no reliable, precise statistics that allow us to predict which claims will be

approved or the ones that are doomed to failure. We know that even when you submit a

perfect claim with perfect evidence there's a good chance that you will be tied up for a year

or more and then receive a denial letter.

When you get that denial, you'll be stunned as you read along. In the required explanation

from VA you'll see that it's almost as if not one single person actually read your evidence

and/or they just ignored it all. The language they use might make you think that they're

speaking of someones elses claim, not yours. You may read incomplete sentences, pages

that don't seem to connect from one to the next or the date on your letter may be days,

weeks and even months previous to the day you get the documents.

The truth is that it's entirely possible that your complete folder was never examined for all

the evidence. It's possible that evidence you delivered wasn't ever matched to your file. It's

not rare for papers from one file to be accidently included in another file and your denial

may be based on a single page of a report from another veterans medical record.

If you are already in need of

the financial help that you deserve when you take that first

step towards compensation, you must begin to develop your budget as if you aren't ever

going to see any help from the VA.

I meet way too many vets who are suddenly unemployed or underemployed due to their

service connected disability when they decide to file for a benefit. They hear from friends of

the retroactive pay and that monthly deposit and the free medical care and they file and sit

back and wait for it.

Six months later, I hear the panic in their voices after the car was repossessed, they're

behind on the rent and their marriage is in trouble.

This is when the veteran writes to me and asks, "Jim, how can I speed this up? Things are

really bad in my life right now. I need the money."

I always have the same answer; there isn't any way to speed things up. In some very rare

circumstances, a veteran may ask for an expedited decision due to an unusual hardship.

Most often this will only be approved if there is a sudden critical illness that would easily

appear to be service connected. An example might be a catastrophic illness that results

from a complication of diabetes in a Vietnam veteran.

No matter what your situation, after you've completed your filing of the paperwork for your

claim, you must then address your long term finances. You should involve your family in

the discussion so that everyone understands that you're facing a long road ahead.

If you start the process knowing how you'll pay bills each month until the point that you are

(9) Read the fine print. Each time the VA writes to you you'll find a page that applies to

your claim and a number of pages of boilerplate instructions regarding your rights to

appeal and other matters.

The fine print included with a VA letter is as good as it gets. Often enough it will detail why

a particular action is taking place and once you understand that, you can correct the

problem in short order. In a denial letter you may see that they didn't consider an important

piece of evidence that would have supported your claim and you have an instant reason to


The most important detail you'll find is that of timing. Your VA is obsessed with timing.

yours, not their own. That fine print will tell you that if you wish to halt the apportionment of

the money your ex is trying to withhold from your compensation, you must take certain

actions within 30 days or 60 days.

If you 'timely' reply you can request a personal hearing that can halt proceedings for

months while VA makes room in the schedule for you. This can give you valuable time to

gather evidence or get advice on how to fight a proposed negative action by VA.

Reading those pages of legalese will provide the veteran with almost never-ending routes

of appeals, hearings and opportunities to prevent decisions from going against us or to

reverse decisions that aren't favorable. Using the law to enforce your rights is smart.

Getting smart beats getting angry every time.

(10) Get involved. You served your country. You wore the uniform, took the oath and you

agreed that if ordered to do so, you would lay your life on the line for the principles we

believe in.

That isn't enough. You aren't done yet.

When you were active duty, you could vote and that was about it. Now you're a veteran

and you have the knowledge and experience required to understand how our military

forces need the support of the civilian leadership that control them.

If you haven't ever written to your elected representatives before, don't embarrass yourself

by thinking that they should jump up to help you when you have an issue with the VA.

You Congressional representatives want to hear from you on an ongoing basis. Your

Senators each have an easy, simple section on their web site for you to write them a note

to let them know how you feel. Once each month, it may take all of 5 minutes of your busy

schedule to write to say that you support some piece of legislation for veterans.

If you do that on a regular basis, if you aren't a ranter and if you are contributing your

thoughts to them even when you don't need their help, they'll pay more attention when

veterans issues come before them.

Today, the younger veterans need your wisdom, your guidance and the benefit of your

experience. When you returned to the world in 1969, there were few people who were

willing to offer you a hand up.

If you haven't lifted a finger to help our newest veterans but you have time to bitch and

whine and cry about your own benefits, you need to reassess the situation you're in.

Giving your time to assisting these warriors will give you something to do while VA muddles

around with your claim. You won't get the sort of reward from the VA that you'll discover

helping a young veteran rebuild a life.

(11) Learn how to use your computer. If you're reading this, the odds are you're

reading it on a computer. It's often said that filing an application for disability compensation

isn't a spectator sport. It's time for you to get in the game.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't get an email from a veteran who asks, "Jim, who do I call

to get a form to file for disability compensation?" or, "Jim, what are the rates that VA will pay

if I have my rating increased from 20% to 50%?" or I may even get a comment that says,

"Jim, why won't the VA put up a web page that will tell us about benefits for our


I confess that I have moments where I stare at those emails in amazement and wonder.

What I wonder is, "How can a person who manages to log on and use email not know about

that phenomenon known as the Google search engine?"

The Internet is as amazing an invention as the wheel or sliced bread. To have Internet

access is something most of us couldn't have imagined in our wildest dreams as we

entered our military service. Today's soldier can't recall a world without the Internet.

If we take it in it's simplest terms, the Internet is nothing more than a library that houses

information. We all access the same Internet. It doesn't matter if your portal is AOL or

Bellsouth or Comcast, those are just doors that open to allow you access. Once you step

through the door your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has for you, you are surfing along

the same "Information Superhighway" as everyone else.

Once you've arrived on the Internet, the "library" is full of billions and billions of pages of

information. That information is piped up into the Internet from other computers, called

servers, from colleges and governments and private citizens and even businesses that

want to sell things to you. If you want to see what they have to offer, you have to be able to

arrive at their Internet address and then view the information they provide.

To get to a specific place or find specific information on the Internet requires that you know

the exact address of the place you're looking for. If you don't know where you're going, how

on earth can you find your way among those billions of addresses?

Thankfully, that was made easier for you years ago by the development of the "Search

Engine". The first Internet search engine came about 1993 and has quickly evolved into

today's Google.

While there are plenty of competitors around, many consider that the Google engine is the

best available. How do you use it? Simple.

If the Google search bar isn't already a fixture on the landscape of the web page you're

looking at, go to the address bar of your browser and type in and

you're ready to search.

The majority of questions I receive in my mail box are relatively simple and are about basic

facts from the VA. Let's say you want information about benefits for your dependents if you

should die. It's a pretty sure bet that the VA is a good resource for that but you don't have

any clue about where the VA keeps that information. In the Google search bar, type in

"veterans administration" (leave off the quotation marks). The search engine isn't case

sensitive so you don't need to worry about capitalization.

Now hit the enter key.

Bingo, you're on a page that shows you the results of the search by the engine. It may tell

you that it found hundreds of thousands of "hits" of pages that are relevant to your query.

The engine, being as smart as it is, has listed them in the order it thinks you'll want to see


You'll see the main page of the DVA site ( ) and also the main page of the

Congratulations! You've just learned how to use a search engine. You entered a "search

term" and then directed the engine to find a likely page of information for you.

Once at the DVA web site you'll see links to almost everything the DVA has available. A

"link" is a word, phrase or symbol that you may click on that will take you to another place

on the Internet or within the pages of the site you're on.

To find the facts about dependents benefits is easy once you're on the VA site. Look

around, you'll see links to benefits, from there links to dependent's benefits and so on. I

recommend the DVA web site as a first stop for almost everything you need to know about

the VA. The site is massive and it can be complex but with a little time, you'll soon discover

all you ever wanted to know about VA.

The search engine responds to "key words". In the earlier example we found the DVA web

site. If you're seeking information about your time in Vietnam and you need details about

the dates your unit was there, go the the Google search engine and type in your unit name

and numbers. Did you serve with the 9th Marine Amphibious Force? Type in those words.

Were you in Germany? Try "US Army Europe", again, without the quotation marks.

Play with your search terms. Use a combination of words to find information on the

condition you're claiming, Agent Orange, benefits and almost anything else you can think

of. If you see an interesting site, go ahead and explore it, it probably has links embedded

that will lead to other sites of interest to you.

Now that you've mastered the Google search engine, learn how to use the search engine

that is provided on VAWatchdog. ( ) It works the same way but

will restrict its search to the published articles of the site. You can use the VAWatchdog

search engine to find articles that you may have missed on a particular topic or you may

find comments from readers in my Mailbag columns.

The search engine is another of the powerful tools you have to use as you seek the

disability compensation benefits you've earned. Take a tutorial and you'll be an expert in

no time. You'll be glad you did.

(12) Retrieve and then organize your own documents and evidence. It happens

every day. I open my email to read, "Jim; I have been treated by a number of civilian

doctors ever since my honorable discharge. I gave the VA the names and I thought they

were going to get those records for me. Well, they didn't and my application has been

denied. Isn't the VA required to assist me and help me get my records? Can I sue them for

this harm they caused me?"

The VA has a duty to assist you. The obligation to help you includes a reasonable effort to

track down records and to notify you of your rights. The word you want to pay attention to

is "reasonable".

If 10 years have passed since you were treated at the infamous Our Lady of Pain and

Suffering Medical Center, located in beautiful Dog's Breath, Georgia and you want those

records, you better work on getting them yourself. The first mistake I often see is that the

veteran provided the name of the hospital and the city but no street address or direct

telephone number. The VBA Veterans Service Representative who is trying to gather your

records is under no particular obligation to go rummaging through a directory to look that

up for you.

That VSR may fire off a letter in the direction of that hospital and include a copy of your

release but there is never any guarantee they're going to respond. He may even try again.

After that, it's your problem, not his.

Many hospitals today have medical records outsourced to a vendor in another city and

state. If the VA writes to the hospital asking for your records they may get a message to

contact the vendor. In turn, that vendor may require a stiff fee to research and copy

records. yes, they can do that. The vendor may require a photocopy of your driver's

license or other identification for security. Their rules may require all of that and then they

must send the records back to the hospital where the hospital releases them to you. or the


Upon encountering those kinds of barriers, the VSR at your VARO will note his attempts

and move on. without your important records.

If you were treated by a handful of different physicians over the years, practices may have

changed hands, doctors may have moved on. If you were teated by Dr. Quackenbush 9

years ago and his notes will prove your disability, you've got problems if he gave up

medicine and is now a ukulele player in a south seas band. Your file may be in storage, it

could be that the entire practice moved to another building or that the practice, including

your chart, was sold to another group of doctors.

The VSR may send a letter and might even make a phone call on your behalf. If that isn't

productive, he'll move on.

In the circumstances above, had you taken the initiative yourself, you may have been able

to track down your record. Yes, it may have taken you 30 phone calls and days of

frustration but if you are persistent and you find the right person, the one with the keys to

the storage facility, you may get that single piece of paper that wins your case.

(13) You’re not in the military anymore. You no longer have to accept answers you get

as if it was handed down from authority and, or through the chain of command. Question

everything. If the answer or decision is not favorable to you, disagree with it.

Our government’s agencies do not always get things right, do not have your best interests

in mind, and will not always tell you everything you need to know. If you think your claim

has merit, and your belief is based on facts, law, and evidence directly on point to your

claim, then appeal and persevere. Do not shrug your shoulders, give up, and think the VA

must know better and, or must be right. They make wrong/bad decisions all the time;

hence, the incredible backlog that exists in the VBA claims process today.

The disclaimer: This Knol is provided to you to describe general processes and procedures

that occur during the application for disability compensation and pension and other

benefits within the Department of Veterans Affairs System. Any author you find here is not

providing you with legal advice. Any information provided by this Knol or any contributor to

this Knol is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. You should

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