Among the most important steps in the VA disability process is the Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination. These exams are administered by the VA to determine both your eligibility for and rating of your disability claims. Although they are just one piece of evidence in the rating process, many VA adjudicators, especially at the lower levels, give them a lot of weight. Adequately preparing for your exams can help ensure you are making the most out of the process.
While C&P exams may feel like a hurdle, it’s important to note that they are meant to help you prove your claim. VA administers C&P exams as part of the “duty to assist”, which requires that VA “make reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claimant’s claim for a benefit.” 38 U.S. Code § 5103A.
That said, in practice, not all examinations live up to this intention. Many examinations feel more combative than supportive, and some examiners may bedismissive or under-trained. Where many C&P exams go wrong, and where a VA-accredited attorney can help, is by failing to properly comply with the law. With that in mind, here are some tips for navigating the process.
1. Attend Your Exam
Because VA places a lot of weight on C&P exams, it’s important to attend. If you do not attend or reschedule your examination, it will most often result in a denial of your claim. If you are unable to attend a scheduled examination, attempt to reschedule it. (These days, most C&P exams are conducted by third-party contractors, such as Veterans Evaluation Services, or VES, which means you often have to contact the contractor directly to reschedule.) If for some reason you miss a scheduled examination, submit a statement explaining why. If you provide “good cause”, VA must provide another examination. 38 C.F.R. § 3.655.
2. Be Truthful and Measured
During the C&P examination, you want give a detailed yet truthful account of your condition. Avoid understating or overstating your condition; your objective should be to provide a clear and honest picture of your disability. Inconsistency between statements or other records can throw your testimony into doubt.
3. Write Down Your Symptoms
Prior to the examination, take time to make a detailed list of your symptoms. Having a written record helps ensure you don’t overlook or forget to mention important details during the examination. Focus on things you can observe (such as the degree and location of pain you feel), rather than complex medical issues (such as diagnoses). If you’ve already written up a lay statement of your conditions/claims bring this and use it to refresh your memory.
In some cases, C&P examinations will assess the relationship of your condition to service. In those cases, you may also write down what you remember from service and/or describe the history of your condition. For instance, if your disability is related to a car accident from service, you may write details such as when/where it happened, who you were with, how you were injured, what treatment (if any) you received, etc.
4. Reflect on Your Worst Days
When detailing your symptoms, remember to describe both on average and as they are on your worst days. While it is essential to remain truthful, focusing on the severity of your symptoms during flare-ups will offer the examiner a complete view of the challenges you face. Relayingobservations such as the quality, frequency, and intensity of pain, the kinds of activities or movements you can or can’t do, and how severe your disabilities are without medication, are all useful details. Generally, you want to give specific examples of how your conditions impact your life and ability to work.
5. Bring a Companion
If possible, bring along a close family member or a friend who understands your condition well. They may be able to provide insights and observations that you might overlook or have grown accustomed to, offering a more comprehensive picture of your daily challenges. Have them complete some of the steps above, such as writing things down.
6. Gather Relevant Records
Before the exam, VA examiners are tasked with reviewing your claims file. Although examiners should have access to your all of your VA records, and have relevant records tabbed by VA claims processors, they often overlook evidence. Bringing records can help ensure that examiners take everything – especially private treatment records – into account.
Relevant records could include medical histories, treatment records, and any documentation that evidences your disability. For example, you might bring copies of medical notes from a private doctor, photographs of your condition, prescription bottles, or written statements from friends and family detailing your disabilities. Examiners should have access to all records already in the VA system, but be sure to submit these to the VA directly if you haven’t already.
7. Maintain Composure
It’s normal to feel nervous during an examination, but maintaining composure will help in clearly articulating your condition. Keep in mind that, in the process of appealing and maximizing claims, veterans can undergo several examinations on the same disability. So don’t sweat it – if something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world.
If a problem does arise during an examination, you can write down your side of the story and submit it to the VA. For instance, if you feel an examiner did not listen to you, let the VA know. You may also request the examiner’s credentialsand receive a copy of your examination.
8. Consult With a Legal Expert
It may be prudent to consult with a lawyer specialized in veterans disability compensation. Their expertise could offer insights that you might not have considered and aid you in navigating the process more smoothly. Moreover, as mentioned above, VA examiners often commit legal and other errors. VA-accredited attorneys are uniquely positioned to challenge unfavorable C&P examinations, and help you collect evidence necessary to support your claim.
The C&P exam plays an important role in obtaining VA disability benefits. Gathering your medical records, preparing a symptom list, describing your condition on bad days, and bringing someone familiar with your situation can make a difference. If you have questions or need further guidance, consulting an attorney who specializes in veterans’ disability claims can be a helpful next step. At Ban Law Office, we’re committed to helping veterans navigate all aspects of the claims process, including C&P examinations. Reach out to us for customized guidance and support.
Note: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not replace professional legal advice.