Thom Stoddert 

Agent Orange Clearing the Confusion

You made a claim for benefits to the Veteran’s Benefit Administration and then you get a letter from them that makes no sense what so ever. You may be panicked, confused, frustrated, and/or angry. Do not feel alone, you just got a letter that the VA is required by law to send to all claimants with the purpose of helping the claim. It’s called a “VCAA letter”, sent in accordance with the Veterans Claims Assistance Act.

  These letters are very general; intended to cover every possible situation and rarely address the recipient’s needs. They are supposed to give the veteran information to help in the claims process. However if you can not understand them, what good are they? Hopefully this month’s article will help when you get this piece of mail that is mandated by public law for the VA to send to you.

  The VCAA letter starts off with identifying what you have claimed and gives a little VA law, after this it’s down hill. It asks for evidence you have already sent in. It almost always asks for your DD-214, which in 95% of the cases has already been sent, and they have already verified it. It then asks for you to provide documents that you wouldn’t have and doesn’t really pertain to your claim.

The letter asks you to identify all of the medical treatment that you have received and doesn’t specify for what. You are thinking; “I am submitting a claim for an increase in the rating percentage for my arthritic shoulder, but it seems they want the doctor’s address that treated my cold five years ago.”

  I have seen letters asking a veteran for the names, SSN, and ages of all the children who live with him though he was just making a claim for an increase in the rating percentage of his left knee that he injured in the service thirty-five years before. So now where does a veteran begin to make sense of this?

  First of all, take the VCAA letter only as seriously as it really pertains to you. If this is not your first claim with the VA, they already have a copy of your DD-214 that they have either received form you or was given to them by the Federal Records Repository. They will most likely have verified the accuracy of your character of discharge. So don’t worry about this request too much.

They may ask for additional personal information. If you already have filled out the VA form-526 completely then they have pretty much all the personal information they need from you.  So if they ask for the divorce degree that you got from Mabel in 1951 and it really has nothing to do with your asthma claim; don’t worry about it. First of all, Mabel outlived husband number two and three and lives on the other coast; she doesn’t even know that you have asthma.

  What is very important is providing all of the information
(name, address, telephone, and times/dates) of the medical
providers that have given you treatment for what ever you are claiming. The VA does need this info to support your claim. Unless all of your treatment was at a VA facility, the Regional Office will send you a “release of information” form for each of your previous doctors/clinics giving them permission to release your medical records. This is a time consuming legal requirement that can not be gotten around. So move fast, it is to your benefit.

  The VA will make two attempts to get your private medical records. If the doctor/clinic does not comply, the VA will contact you asking you to obtain them and send them in to the Regional Office. If you get a letter like this,  hustle, it is to your benefit. In the case of VA medical treatment, the Regional Office does not need your permission to obtain your medical records they can simply look them up on the computers.

Suggestion: when you make a claim with the VA, send in copies of the medical records that refer to your claim. Provide them with the names of the clinics/doctors that have treated you for the claimed condition. If you can get copies of the release form, fill them out and send them in with your claim. Write a letter explaining what you have done and why. In the end, you will have saved a lot of time and it may get your claim adjudicated faster because you have furnished much of the evidence needed for the claim development. Remember that 90% of the time used in determining a veteran’s claim is used in the evidence gathering phase.

Very important: if the VA sends you a second letter asking for a specific piece of information, comply quickly even by telephone or fax(though certified mail-return receipt requested is even better). Always include your full name, address and C-file number/social security number in every correspondence. Sending in information with no way to identify who it is from or who it is for, only fills the trash can. I mention it because it happens every day, and the vet later on goes around bitching that the VA lost his records.

  In summary, when you get a VCAA letter, act fast on the requests that do pertain to you and don’t worry about the stuff that does not make sense. If you do make an error the VA will attempt to contact you again and resolve it. But do read the VCAA letter several times.

That Stupid VCAA Letter

Thom Stoddert
Thom Stoddert
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