4 Lessons I Learned Filing For Disability Benefits


David McCauley is back with another great post!  You can see his other post, “Surviving An Involuntary Separation”, in the Related Links section below.  

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The waiting game of collecting disability benefits and adequate medical care is frustrating for many veterans. Long waiting times and misconceptions about ratings can exacerbate the situation, but remembering these four lessons I learned can go a long way toward making your claims process a smooth experience.


1. Patience is a Virtue

Image of yellow stools on blue wall in the waiting room by DepositPhotos.com | The-Military-Guide.com

Take a number… it might be a while…

The first and most important step of the process is collecting your medical paperwork, and this can understandably take a long time. Therefore, patience is paramount. You will need to submit any and all paperwork supporting your diagnosis and severity of conditions. Signed statements from family, friends, and doctors that affirm the extent of your infirmities can also be useful. These all can help establish your case and stack the deck in your favor.

When I sent my paperwork off in October of 2013, I did not receive a notice of receipt until April 2014. It was another 12 months before I received a final decision. It may not take that long for you, but you should be prepared to wait. This example highlights the importance of submitting correctly the first time – no one wants to play the waiting game a second time.

More veterans than ever are applying for rightfully earned disability. Older vets from Vietnam are suffering health complications related to Agent Orange exposure, and the younger vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing a myriad of medical conditions. Many of these veterans are facing chronic illnesses that require regular and dedicated attention from medical professionals, and this is part of the reason why it is so important to file for adequate care.


2. Sometimes You Expect Too Much

Many people I have met have suffered from ‘delusions of grandeur’ and expected too much, something I have been guilty of as well. It is easy to think that this will be the solution to all our problems – medical and financial. We scour the internet for percentages and perks, hoping that this windfall will cover our medical needs and perhaps a few wants along the way. Then when our awarded percentages and coverage don’t meet those expectations (or even worse, the claim is denied), we become even more frustrated.

The key thing to remember is that we all must carefully manage our expectations. It is often difficult to find an apples-to-apples comparison, but your doctor might have information about the outcomes of similar cases. In any case, multiple disability percentages don’t always work out how you expect.


3. Sometimes You Expect Too Little

These moments don’t come often, but you will sometimes find yourself being pleasantly surprised by the results of your efforts. Each verified
service-connected condition can provide care related to that disability free of charge, and the addition of any condition can raise the overall percentage of your disability pay.

Some disabilities will not boost your overall disability rating yet are still worthwhile to pursue because they can enable you to receive free care related to the condition. This represents a savings and benefit that you might have otherwise ignored. As we transition into an age where our healthcare systems are increasingly personalized and customized to each unique patient, we must remember that sometimes you get more than you expect. It is the best practice to dutifully record and report all conditions, and then carefully manage your expectations.


4. You’re Not Alone

I am fortunate in that I am acquainted with many supportive military veterans who struggle with injuries and disabilities. Keep in mind that there are approximately 3.8 million disabled veterans in the United States. There are two things you have in common with every one of them – you all signed on the dotted line to serve in the armed forces and you all had to go through the arduous process of obtaining disability care and benefits.

Collecting your files and submitting a disability package is a lot of work. It is emotionally involving, and you place many hopes and dreams upon the possible results. Yet sometimes even with every part perfectly aligned and every piece of supporting evidence, your claim will be denied. This does not mean that you should give up. There are still paths to recourse.

Above all, remember that you are not alone. Veterans are an outspoken, yet supportive group. Even if you don’t know anyone in your area, there are a multitude of support and advocate groups that want to listen and help you file and fight for your benefits.


David McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked as an intelligence specialist. After the service, he has dedicated his time to writing about veterans affairs, technology, and the defense industry. He is currently finishing his undergraduate degree at Boise State University.

Related articles:
Surviving An Involuntary Separation
Preparing For The Unexpected
Education And The Disabled Veteran
‘Legal Presumption’ Of Disability for Vets, Former POWs
How Do Veterans File a PTSD Claim?


WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

1 Comment
  1. A little over 4 years from my first claim package submission with VA, while I was still on active duty, until final award and closure. In brief my observations:

    -Its not about you: The system by intent and design is vertical, opaque and laborious. At time adversarial, but if patience and persistence is applied the system does work.

    -Never take ‘no’ as the final answer, 1st or 34th time, there is a ‘yes’ and do not quit until you make it happen.

    -You are your best friend and best advocate in the system, if you take a lase fare attitude, the system and others will. Far too many times vets approach the VA as an entitlement system, it is not, and assume others will champion their case. Wrong on both accounts, Help is there, DVA, AMvets, VFW. Legion, but still ball is in your court.

    -If not an expert in copying, filing, records and dealing with folks on the phone, you will be.

    -The vast, vast, vast majority of VA workers are kind, compassionate, dedicated and want to help you. The system and institution tends to effect them just as much as you.

    -Never give up, be the pest if need be, and run all leads down. It can work, at times you just need to give it kick at times.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?