The transition from active duty to veteran or retiree family can be as confusing as it is exciting. Through the Transition Tales series, MFAN’s Advisory Board combines personal experience with practical advice and resources to assist the whole family through this complex adjustment period.
The opinions in this column are the views of the author, Cindy Meili.
The one thing all military members have in common is that, inevitably, they will make the transition out of service. Whatever the reason or circumstance, the phrase “disability claim” is a hot topic. In this column, I will walk you through the following questions:
- What is a service-connected disability?
- Where do I turn for assistance and how do I sift through myths versus truths?
- How do I avoid scams?
In 2018, my husband’s life was nearly taken by a careless driver operating a 4-ton commercial truck. It was a beautiful November morning in Syracuse, New York. Our oldest son, Ryan, was on his second deployment. Our youngest, Jeremy, was playing his first home high school varsity basketball game. The call came in at 6:46 a.m. and I was told to get to the emergency room as soon as possible. I had always been prepared to receive “the call” or “knock on the door” while he was deployed. Never did I think I could potentially lose him to a reckless truck driver playing a video game on his phone.
That is when I started hearing terms like med board, retirement, and service-connected disability claim. I had heard these terms before but never took the time to understand what they were because we still had years before his actual retirement. This was the day that I decided to learn as much as possible about the process. It has led me to my career today as a fully accredited Veteran Service Officer and the Assistant Director of the Onondaga County Veterans Service Agency.
The disability claims process can be confusing and difficult to navigate with the surge of misinformation, but it does not have to be. Having an Accredited Veteran Service Officer (VSO) as your representative and advocate is essential in submitting your claim. VSOs help you understand the claims process and what is needed to move forward for a successful VA Service-Connected Disability Claim through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). You can find out more about the process here.
It is important to understand that the DoD and VA processes run parallel but eventually come together.
What is a VA Service-Connected Disability?
A service-connected disability is any condition or injury incurred, or aggravated, during active military service. When it comes to how to prove service-connected disability, veterans must provide documentation of the following:
- A current diagnosis of an identified disability
- An in-service event, injury, or illness that caused or aggravated the disability
- And a medical link between the present condition and the incident (often called a NEXUS letter)
There can be different ways to prove your service-connected disability from your active duty service:
- OR/resulting from/during VA medical treatment
Understanding the process and what you can do to assist your service member in making sure they have a plan before retirement can ease the ambiguity of the process. Taking control of this process early will result in a much smoother transition for your service member and your family. The good thing is that you can start preparing for your claim today.
Certain documents are required to support all claims for disability benefits. You’ll need to gather:
- Your DD214 or other separation documents
- Your service treatment records
- Any medical evidence related to your illness or injury (like doctor’s reports, X-rays, and medical test results)
Take advantage of the quality resources available, find a great VSO, and have patience for the process – it can be very frustrating.
Receiving compensation for a service-connected disability can be a lifeline to many veterans and service members who are leaving the military. It can allow them much-needed medical care at a VA Medical Center and make living a meaningful and productive life possible.
How do I find an Accredited VSO approved by the Office of General Council
You can find your local VSO here.
How much should I pay to file my Service-Connected Disability Claim?
The quick answer is $0.00. It is important to know that VA-recognized VSOs, like The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), always provide their services on benefit claims free of charge.
HOW TO AVOID SCAMS
Veterans and their benefits are a target for scams. Be vigilant of organizations that are contacting you on behalf of the VA by telephone, mail, and online. Always take the time to do your research and be informed of the latest scams. Be aware of organizations that charge money for free records. In the scam, fraudsters convince veterans to pay them for already free documents.
If you want copies of your VA or military records, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs, Accredited Veteran Service Officer, the National Archives, or the appropriate service branch.
You can find more information on the PACT Act Scams here.