I recently attended a NOVA (National Organization of Veterans' Advocates) conference where the focus in assisting Veterans in their pursuit of disability benefits centered on a very common sense tactic: being simple. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the news for several issues but perhaps no single issue is more important than the backlog of appeals. The appeals backlog has prevented many veterans from receiving the benefits they are due. Therefore, the focus at the NOVA conference presented advocates a game-plan to get back to the basics and to hopefully expedite the appeals process for the veterans we assist. These two areas stood out the most to me:
Buddy/Lay Statements & Diagnostic Codes
Buddy/Lay Statements are considered statements from those in a position to provide a firsthand account of your prior medical conditions, service history, or current medical conditions. These statements were commonly discussed throughout the NOVA seminar with the idea that these should be used as much as possible. These types of statements can provide an account of your disabilities and the struggles you endure on a daily basis. If possible, attempt to have the statements notarized or in the form of an affidavit. While the statements do not arise to the credibility of a medical diagnosis or nexus, they do provide valid, pertinent testimony on behalf of the veteran that must be reviewed by the VA when determining veteran's entitlement to disability benefits. If a veteran appears at a hearing before a Veteran's Law Judge, the ability to have a sworn statement from a fellow service-member or spouse can prove invaluable.
Diagnostic Codes are the codes used by the VA in determining how they evaluate your claimed disability/injury. When a veteran files for a disability, he/she does not need to know a diagnostic code and only needs to indicate the general area or issue he is alleging. It is, therefore, up to the VA to determine how to rate the claimed disability. Again, because of the appeals backlog, there is some potential for the VA to use the wrong diagnostic code for a claimed disability. On most decisions by the VA, the last few pages of the decision include the diagnostic codes. A review of these pages is absolutely necessary. If, for some reason the diagnostic codes are not presented with the decision issued by the VA, the VA regional office that sent the veteran his decision should be immediately contacted so as to issue the final pages of the decision containing the codes. Additionally, for your ease of review, a complete breakdown of the codes is found in the Federal Register here.
These are two practices that our firm is using in helping veterans achieve the benefits they deserve in as timely a manner as possible. If you are a veteran or know someone who is and you believe you are entitled to VA disability benefits, please give our Mobile, Alabama office a call at (251) 343-1111.