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From Soldier to Civilian: How to Establish VA Benefits
One of the most difficult parts of transitioning from a soldier to civilian life is navigating the VA healthcare system. Here are some helpful tips to make the transition smoother and more manageable as one gets used to their new off-duty lifestyle.
Write it All Down!
Whether it is a major issue or a common cold, go to sick call and get it documented. When you start your transition, the VA requires a copy of your medical records. It is difficult to claim a disability when you have never gone to a physician and had it documented. It is vital to approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
Make Copies of Your Records
The VA will require you to provide a copy of your medical records. As you are aware, paperwork can get lost easily. Do yourself a favor by making copies of everything. If you will need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those medical records so don’t give away your only copy!
Establish an E-Benefits Account
Each branch of the military has some sort of class that can help you transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This is a website that allows you to track and manage your benefits. You can establish care at a local VA medical center through this site and get tons of helpful information to make your transition into civilian life easier on you and your family.
Don’t Fear Disability Claims
The best advice to remember is – claim everything! Whether it is a major injury or muscle soreness, claim it all. Don’t be afraid or think that your issue is not severe enough to claim. If you have had an issue with your health, be it physical or mental, caused by your time in the military, or your underlying condition can become worse over time, claim your disability. Meet with a VA representative and get help filing out the paperwork.
Reach out to VFW Service Officers
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) aids those who served in an armed force in filing VA claims. Often the process of filing claims is confusing, and you may find yourself in need of help. VFW service officers are trained to help veterans develop their case. They will review your claim and apply the current legal regulations. They can assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. They will also schedule hearings before the VA and Board of Veterans Appeals to present your case if needed. All of their help is completely free of charge to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
Get your Medical Documents Prepared Ahead of Time
Get your medical documents together as soon as possible so there are no delays if filing a claim is necessary. Although you may not have to, be prepared to appeal your claim. It is always better to have all your paperwork and information ready and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Be Patient with the Process
The process of filing a claim could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is nothing you can do to speed u the process. Every VA area is different in regard to timing, so be patient and follow up often to stay on top of your claim. Monitor the process through E-Benefits and keep in mind that many others are submitting claims too so it may take time.