10 Sep Double Checking Your Documentation and Eligibility
The eligibility requirements for each VA benefit is different from the others because they’re represented by different laws passed by Congress at different times. Each criterion, therefore, is unique to the lawmakers who created the law to authorize it at a specific time. This is an example of why it can take so long to get processed with the VA: many times veterans apply to benefits they are not eligible for, and it takes extra time to write responses and reasons for rejections.
If a veteran had an honorable discharge they’re eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill education program, but if a veteran received a general discharge they are not eligible. However, many benefits are still available to those with a general discharge that are available for those with an honorable discharge. This is why understanding eligibility can be of major importance in making sure you receive everything you are eligible for.
Gathering your documents
Not providing adequate paperwork can also bog down the VA’s backlog of veterans benefits claims. There are two principal things that are mandatory to prove when applying:
- Veterans must prove their status as a retiree/veteran with a copy of their military discharge form, DD Form 214. The DD Form 214 provides the VA with such information as when and where the veteran served, medals and rewards received, and discharge characterization.
- A copy of the DD Form 214 is required for most benefits to prove the veteran meets the active- duty serve and discharge requirements.
- Veterans must meet any and all other requirements mandatory for the particular benefit they’re applying for. Each benefit is distinct in its requirements for eligibility from the next benefit. Because there is no catch-all list of requirements for all benefits is why many veterans have difficulty in applying for and receiving many of the benefits they’re entitled to.
Supplying examples of proof
Each benefit not only has different criteria from the next, but it also depends on the situation of an individual veteran. For example, citations from military medals and decorations can aid some veterans. If a veteran submits a citation for the award of the Purple Heart (which is awarded to those wounded in combat), it is clear to the VA that the veteran sustained an injury in the line of duty.
Witness statements can also play a part for example of proof. However, make sure accuracy, grammar, and clarity are all accounted for in the statement or else this could have an adverse effect.
Quality over quantity
Having extraneous documentation to support your claims is not as important as having good documentation. Good documentation is considered:
- Specific: The information you provide through documentation or witness statements need to be appropriate to the benefit desired. The information gathered should be as clear-cut as possible and include precise dates and times, and thorough medical records that detail exact issues and injuries rather than general descriptions. An example of this might be, “The patient is suffering from an injury in the left shoulder caused by shrapnel consistent with wounds received in combat zones,” rather than, “The patient damaged his shoulder.”
- Verifiable: All information and evidence you provide should be easily verifiable in that you can support it from alternative sources. For example, if one of your claims is that you were wounded in Afghanistan, relevant documentation should be available for the VA to confirm your deployment and service in Afghanistan with deployment orders and unit rosters.
- Authoritative: This applies particularly to witness statements. Granted, a witness statement signed by a commanding officer or platoon leader is more credible than one signed by a family member or friend. Similarly, witness statements by medical doctors or officials concerning treatment or injuries sustained during combat are effective.
It’s important to know the difference between good and bad wording for a witness statement. A good statement could run as follows, “On July 25, 2005, my unit was performing routine, simulated combat training at Fort Hamilton Army Post. I witnessed a tank run over Private Smith’s foot and immediately called medical care. He was subsequently transported to the medical facility for broken bones in his foot.” This statement is concise, clear, and accurate with date and location.
Using the VA’s “duty to assist”
Though veterans don’t have to operate alone, the ability to prove eligibility for a benefit is the individual’s responsibility by law. A law was passed in 2000 by Capitol Hill called the duty to assist that made the VA a compulsory assistant to veterans looking to gather documentation in support of their eligibility for benefits. Under duty to assist the VA is obligated in simple terminology to inform inquirers precisely what documentation is needed to support a claim.
Furthermore, the VA is expected to make the effort in helping veterans require necessary documents, depending on the sources of the records.
- Federal Records: Only after the VA has made a reasonable effort in confirming a needed document doesn’t exist, or that continued effort is redundant can they desist in helping a veteran obtain a particular document. Additionally, if the VA does come to such a conclusion, they are required by law to inform the individual and provide alternative suggestions.
- Nonfederal records: Private Doctor Records or sworn witness statements are also under the VA’s jurisdiction for making a reasonable effort to provide. In fact, the VA must send the request themselves. If the documents are not obtained after two months, the VA is required to continue making requests under there is evidence to suggest the records do not exist or are unavailable.
Non federal records, particularly medical records, are of high importance and every attempt to obtain them yourself should be made in addition to the VA. Medical facilities are known to ignore such requests unless issued directly from the patient, not to mention that to obtain certain records a fee is required that the VA is not permissible to pay.