The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
December 2004
VETERANS BENEFITS UPDATE
 
 

The Next Generation
 

BY LEONARD SELFON, DIRECTOR, VETERANS BENEFITS PROGRAM

In the spirit of our motto, “Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another,” VVA has focused its attention on the men and women who have returned from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). With large numbers of OEF and OIF returnees facing separation from military service due to injuries, thought must be given to insuring that they are prepared to make the transition from active-duty personnel to veterans.
 
Injured service personnel with residual disabilities often are placed on medical hold prior to discharge. During this time, they may be evaluated for their continued fitness for duty by a medical/physical evaluation board (MEB/PEB). There are several scenarios for disabled servicemember’s separation: permanent or temporary disability retirement (accompanied by a disability percentage rating that is not binding on future VA claims adjudicators); disability discharge with severance pay; or disability discharge without everance pay. Disabled individuals facing these procedures have the right to a full and fair hearing prior to the military’s decision, unless they specifically waive that right. If the servicemember has received private medical treatment for the conditions in question, clinical records corresponding to such treatment should be obtained and presented to the MEB/PEB.
 
The service may offer a disability retirement package that could result in higher payments than corresponding VA disability compensation payments. Careful thought must be given before the servicemember accepts the military’s proposal. For purposes of this discussion, we will concentrate on the situation in which the servicemember is discharged without a medical retirement.  
 
Prior to separation from service, the servicemember should attempt to obtain a complete copy of his or her service medical records. These records should include the service entrance and separation examinations (including self-reports of medical history), inpatient and outpatient treatment records, any interim examination records, and copies of the MEB/PEB reports. The records should be kept in a safe place. One of the first things that happens when a veteran files a VA claim is that the VA requests copies of the service edical records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. After the claim is filed, the veteran or his or her authorized service representative can compare the records that the VA received with the records that the veteran obtained from the military.
 
It is also a good idea to collect letters and audio or video tapes that the servicemember might have sent home while deployed. They can be used later to help corroborate physical or emotional trauma that occurred during the deployment. 
 
Servicemembers who experienced traumatic events that could have engendered Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) should write down the details of the event (time, location, and nature of the event, who was there, and who they spoke to about it), as well as their thoughts and feelings at the time and at present. Capturing the details while they are still fresh in the mind is an important safeguard in the event that PTSD does not manifest for a long time. It also can serve to refresh the veteran’s recollection and lead to securing more evidence when needed. Similarly, if the servicemember is suffering from a chronic condition or is experiencing an increase in the severity of symptoms, a daily journal describing the symptoms will help the VA assign a disability rating to the condition once it has been service-connected. 
 
Finally, a claim for VA disability benefits should be filed as soon as possible. Under current VA law, the effective date of an award of service connection is the day after a veteran separated from military service, if the claim is filed within one year from the date of discharge. The VA now will accept a claim for service connection prior to the servicemember’s separation from service. Some military bases allow veterans service representatives and VA personnel on base to help claimants file VA claims. In addition, military separation examinations, if conducted under VA protocols, also can serve as compensation and pension examinations for VA benefits purposes.
 
Military personnel who have returned from serving in OEF and OIF should contact an accredited veterans service representative before discharge from the service. A state-by- tate list of available VVA service representatives is located on our web site. Go to www.vva.org and click on “Veterans Benefits.”

   

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