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Making a succesful VA claim

Mike Baechle

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As a former loadmaster currently drawing disability compensation from the VA, I have several strong suggestions to make:

1.   MAKE YOUR CLAIM SOONER THAN LATER:  Your disability benefits, when granted, will run retroactively from the date you made the claim.  Once you file a claim, there will be plenty of time to gather data and documentation.

2.   DON'T TRY TO HANDLE YOUR OWN CLAIM:  I say this as a (now retired) attorney who did handle his own claim. The VA Regulations are quite complex, and there are many hurdles to clear.  Go instead to a VSO (Veterans Service Organization) such as the DAV (Disabled American Veterans).  Their services are free, and their people are trained by the VA to understand the VA Regulations.  There are other veterans organizations who provide this service, but my dealings with DAV have left me quite impressed.

If you want to try to navigate the VA Regulations, they can be found on the VA website, VA.org.  However, it is easier to go directly to the electronic Code of Federal Regulations, found at http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=549cda86648188a6a068def5530850c9&rgn=div5&view=text&node=38:

3.  DON'T CHASE YOUR TAIL trying to get documents to prove that you served in Vietnam (or wherever).  What you imagine will be sufficient may not be at all sufficient.  The VA can only consider what is called "competent evidence"; what constitutes "competent evidence" is set out in the VA Regulations.  

At this point my own story becomes relevant.  As I said, I handled my own VA disability claim.  The VA denied my claim 3 times, the first two times on grounds contrary to VA regulations.  The third time the VA denied my claim, it did so on the ground that I had not proved that I was in Vietnam.  The VA apparently does not consider the Vietnam Service Medal as evidence of Vietnam service. 

I tried several times to get my mission records from the National Personnel Records Center; they "couldn't find them".  After three attempts at this, I went to my US Senator to request assistance in getting these records; he was unsuccessful as well.

I went to a VSO and explained my problem. The VSO whipped out a VA Form called "Statement in Support of Claim", and had me fill in the details of my Vietnam service.  I submitted this in support of my claim of service in Vietnam.  It was the only "competent evidence" I had or could get.  At the time, I did not understand the legal significance of this document.  I later came to understand that this document, once you sign it, has the legal effect of an affidavit.  Your statement that you had boots on the ground in Vietnam (supported by the facts you are able to state) is "competent evidence".  The burden then shifts to the VA to disprove your Statement in Support of Claim. 

This changed the whole ball game.  It was no longer my problem that the NPRC could not find my mission records.  Indeed, now the VA had a problem:  Since the NPRC said my mission records "did not exist", the VA could not prove that I did not have boots on the ground in Vietnam. 

4.  NEVER GIVE UP:  First, you must understand that the VA is not going to give you anything, or start from the assumption that you are entitled to anything.  You are going to have to prove your claim, and prove it with "competent evidence".  Having spent many hundreds of hours in reading VA Regulations and Board of Veterans Appeals decisions about VA claims, I can see why:  the VA is presented with a large number of cases which are unsupported by competent evidence, and in some cases are outright fraudulent.

In addition to my own case, I prosecuted a VA claim for a friend, and litigated it thought the Board of Veterans Appeals (I won).  It is on the basis of my two, very time-consuming, experiences that I say DON'T TRY TO HANDLE YOUR OWN CLAIM.  The process is just too complex.  This is why you should go to a VSO to handle your claim.  The VSO's know the drill. 

That said, let me tell you why I say to FILE YOUR CLAIM SOONER THAN LATER.  As I said above, your date of filing the claim will dictate when your benefits will start.  On the claim I handled for my friend, after we won in the BVA, he not only started getting benefits, he immediately got a check for $40,000 for benefits retroactive to the date of filing his claim.

If you lose your claim, don't just go out and refile it; this would start any retroactive compensation at the later date of your refiling.

When your claim is decided, the VA will send you a document explaining the basis for its decision.  You have a period of time to file what is called a Notice of Disagreement.  This will preserve your earlier date of filing. 

If you remain unsatisfied, you can file an appeal.  However, if you have not provided "competent evidence", you will lose your appeal. 

An appeal can sit in the pipeline for a year or more, sometimes for several years.  It is better to get the matter resolved (in your favor) without having to file an appeal.  This is why I say:  USE A VSO such as the Disabled American Veterans.  Their philosophy is to get a resolution without the necessity of an appeal.

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Mike, Thanks for this info on filing a claim. I just started the claim process for IHD, MI, Bypass Surgery. I have requested records as others have recommended on this site. I'm working with a county VSO who is knowledgeable of the process. Your view on the appeals process was well received. The main issue with C-130 personnel is proof of service in Vietnam while on TDY status. The VA and the Air Force should have recognized this problem without us having to justify our service because of their political decisions and poor record keeping.

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Thanks Mike for the timely info. I went thru the paper drill with the gubberment but thankfully I had copies of my travel vouchers for all the TDY's from Clark AB to Vietnam. They grudgingly said I was boots on the ground, am sure it ruined the paper pushers day when he had to do it. Ha Ha :D Bill

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There is no way to tell what will be accepted. I put together an evidence packet that included Travel Vouchers, APRs noting my TDY days in TSN and number of combat missions flown, pictures of me in Saigon and a narrative about my missions and duties. I was entered into the Agent Orange regestry and had my AO related disability approved without a corrected DD214 or letter from the Air Force confirming BOG in Vietnam. My suggestion is to make your initial packet so compelling that it is more likely than not that you did serve in Vietnam. I did send the same packet to Randolph AFB and got a letter back that acknowledged my Boots on the ground. The letter came back after my decision was rendered awarding me 20%. I might be one of the few that got the VA to actually read a packet and not just look at my DD214.

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  • 3 months later...

There has been a lot of discussion on here about proving boots on the ground. I suggest going through the Air Force and getting a letter from them acknowledging "Boots on the Ground". The VA is very difficult as you can see. Many of the evaluators are civilian and appear to go out of the way to turn you down. Reed through the forums and you will see several examples of getting"The Letter" from Randolph AFB..

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