Georgia Veteran’s Advice: Get documentation on military injury to get VA benefits
Ned Reese is considerably more successful helping other veterans get disability benefits than he has been with his own case.
After having trouble with a claim he filed to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Reese volunteered to be a service officer at the state headquarters for Disabled American Veterans in Macon. In 1996, the Vietnam veteran sought benefits for post traumatic stress disorder, and his case is still pending.
But he has learned in recent years just what documentation veterans need to get benefits. He has also taken annual training to assist veterans.
“If they come to me and I do it, it may take a year or two but they get it,” he said.
The key, he said, is to have an abundance of proof that an injury is related to war service. It’s not always easy.
“They may know you got hurt, but you’ve got to prove you got hurt,” he said.
A Knight Ridder investigation found that it can sometimes take years for veterans to obtain disability benefits through the VA, and thousands die before they get benefits.
Michael Lynch, president of the Middle Georgia Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, also said documentation is key to speeding the process.
“The main things people are doing, or not doing, is they walk into the VA and say they have a problem, and they can’t substantiate that problem,” Lynch said.
A common difficulty, he said, is that soldiers often suffer minor injuries in combat that do not become a problem until they get older. That’s why so many have trouble proving an injury is combat-related.
It’s not uncommon, he said, to see ads in veterans magazines that are seeking fellow soldiers who might have been in a certain battle on a certain day and saw a certain soldier get injured. Such witnesses are often needed to prove combat-related injuries, Lynch said.
To file a disability claim, veterans in Bibb and six surrounding counties must go to the Georgia Veterans Service office on Second Street in Macon, where three people handle an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 veteran contacts per year.
Office manager George Canavaggio said delays in obtaining benefits are not caused by shortage of staff, but more often by a shortage of documentation from the applicant.
“They need the medical evidence to support their claims,” he said.
Newly discharged veterans who have been injured recently in combat can usually have an answer on their claim within a few weeks, Canavaggio said, because most of the time it’s not difficult to document the injury. But veterans seeking claims from the Vietnam era or earlier could expect to wait up to 18 months, he said.
Reese said the difficulty with his claim is that the VA concluded his condition didn’t exist, but he says he has ample proof. He believes a big problem is that medical examinations for benefit claims are done by physician’s assistants.
“I think what is wrong is they don’t have experienced people grading these things,” he said. “These guys, I don’t think, are qualified.”
For soldiers currently serving in Iraq, Reese’s advice is to make sure they get as much documentation as possible if they get injured, even if the injury does not seem serious at the time.
“I would do my best to make sure you get names, places, dates,” he said.
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