Incomplete paperwork blamed for many delays in VA disability payments
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Veterans with service-connected medical problems can help speed their claims for disability ratings with the Veterans Administration by making sure medical documentation is in order, said a Veterans Administration representative now visiting U.S. bases in Japan.
“Among the biggest misunderstood aspects of the VA claims process is knowing what medical evidence is needed for service-connected medical conditions,” said Kimberly Stewart of the VA in Washington, D.C. She said processing claims often are delayed because retirees fail to send the VA either medical evidence of their service-connected conditions or their mailing addresses. Veterans also must forward a copy of DD Form 214, report of separation from active duty.
Stewart is spending four months in Japan explaining to retirees, and those about to leave the military, what they can expect from the VA.
Of the 25 million veterans now alive, almost three of four served during a war or an official period of hostility. Some 70 million Americans — about a quarter of the U.S. population — potentially are eligible for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, family members or survivors of veterans, VA officials claim at their Web site, www.va.gov.
Claims now also can be initiated online through the Web site.
Stewart told the Misawa Military Retirees Association this month that medical documentation for service claims must be current “so the VA’s rating board can make decisions regarding the percentage of disability” a veteran is considered to have — which in turn determines the monthly payment that veteran will receive.
If the VA must request a claimant’s medical records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, “that can add between 60 to 120 days to the claim process,” she said, “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
VA doctors look for chronic medical conditions that are service-related, or aggravated due to service, Stewart said. Disability ratings are based on a medical condition’s severity.
Monthly tax-free disability payments for a veteran with no dependents range from $104 for someone rated as 10 percent disabled to $2,193 monthly for someone rated 100 percent disabled. Payments to veterans supporting wives and parents are slightly higher.
Stewart said veterans living overseas placing a claim with the VA must have a medical evaluation. Those evaluations are arranged by the VA through the U.S. Embassy at local military bases, or with physicians contracted by the Defense Department.
Veterans referred by overseas military hospitals to Japanese physicians must have those doctors complete a form citing the specific medical conditions being claimed. “We ask that Japanese medical forms not be translated,” Stewart said. “We do that ourselves.”
She said even disabled retirees who chose not to file a claim with the VA when they retired years ago still may qualify for compensation if medical documentation — a paper trail — exists to establish that their disability is service-related. But ordinarily, Stewart said, claims must be filed within one year of retirement or separation from service.
And the VA has an appeals process for veterans or retirees unsatisfied with VA decisions, she said. “Some people get upset when they learn of a 10 or 20 percent rating.”
Appeals must be made within a year after a veteran is told of the VA’s disability rating. “You can always request a re-evaluation based on new medical evidence, but … there must be a medical trail of evidence,” Stewart said, adding that in some cases, rating decisions can be adjusted during the appeals process.
During her stay in Japan, Stewart is working at the Fleet and Family Service Center at Yokosuka Naval Base near Yokohama. She can be reached at 243-9617. She said she plans to make additional visits to mainland Japan installations including Camp Zama on July 30-Aug. 1; Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station Aug. 11-12; Misawa Naval Air Facility Aug. 13-15; Yokota Air Base, Aug. 18-20; Sasebo Naval Base, Aug. 25-27 and again to Camp Zama Aug. 28-29.
Stewart is to visit Camp Fuji on Sept. 2-3; Iwakuni, Sept. 9- 11; Atsugi Naval Air Facility Sept. 12; Sasebo Sept. 15-19 and Camp Zama Sept. 22-23.
Stewart said information about VA offerings, including home loans, disability life insurance and vocational rehabilitation, also can be found at the VA web site.