Updated: Dec 30, 2021
I'll lay out when you need to start your VA claim and how to manage your documents. It's never too early to think about your health!
*My experience retiring from the Army When you go to exit the military, whether it’s after one year or 20, there isn’t always a clear answer on how to set up your claim with the VA. I found the whole process to be confusing with vast amounts of conflicting information. Do you wait for the VA to contact you? What can you claim? When should you start? I’ll work on answering all of these questions and more here. Officially, you can submit your VA claim 180 days from your ETS/ retirement. The VA will not contact you to start this process! This means you need to have all of your paperwork together and ready to hand deliver or mail on that day. If you want to start receiving your VA benefits immediately on your exit from the military, this is a very important step. My VA claim took 8 months from my first appointment to completion! First, you need to request your medical records. Depending on your care facility, this can take anywhere from 14 days to several months. My treatment facility couldn’t get me a copy of my records until the month of my retirement; even after requesting them six months out. This is your claim and no one will work as hard as you will to make sure it’s done right. You can get most of your records off Tricare Online. Choose the Health Record App and select Download My Data to get the majority of your information. Don’t forget to change the From and To sections to match your service dates to get everything! Then go back and get each appointment's note. This is very important! The visit notes will give you what your doctor diagnosed you with and give a brief description of what occurred. They will not be included in the Download My Data process. From Tricare Online:
Select Health Record App Select Download My Data Change From and To Dates Select all available checkboxes Download To get there, use the left-hand menu to choose Encounters. Again, don’t forget to change the From and To dates to capture your entire service. In the last column of the table on the right, as of today at least, you will find the Note section. Most will say Yes, click that and save it. Each one of these notes can be several pages long and you are looking for the A/P section. I don’t know what that stands for, but it’s basically your diagnosis for that visit. You will know which appointments are important, like broken bones and missing fingers, and which ones aren’t, like your walking chit/ profile. From Tricare Online:
Health Record Select Encounters from left-hand menu Change From and To Dates Click each Note: "Yes" and download You will want to save each file with a name that describes what it is, i.e., 13May2018 Broken Ankle, 27Jan2002 Hurt Feelings Profile, 04July2004 Migraine etc. This will help you later on when it comes to filling out your claim for disability. The VA will want to know the first time it occurred, how it happened (illness or injury), how has it been treated etc. The naming structure will help you go back and find every time it occurred along with the first time it occurred, which can be very important. In my 20+ years of service, I had over 200 files and a simple file search for “ankle” “migraine” or “hurt feelings” made my life so much easier. My doctor's notes also included exactly how I said the injury or illness occurred which made it easier to fill out the VA’s claim paperwork.
You want to be able to back up what you are claiming with documented proof. Part of the process is submitting your entire medical history to the VA i.e. your doctor's notes that are named after each diagnosis. Make it easy for them to get you a disability rating! So, you have a folder on your desktop with all 200+ of your medical visits through the years. What’s next? Go to the VA website and start your claim or call someone for help. I used a Veterans Service Representative from the Virginia Department of Veteran Services and she was amazing! I suggest using them or finding a similar service; it’s totally free, why not? She walked me through filling out the paperwork and finding every one of my diagnoses from the file of appointments I gave her. In the end, I claimed over 40 individual items. Remember, you can claim a problem even if it isn’t in your military record. I did for a few items that I never needed to be seen for, and I got awarded disability for some of them. It works. Once the claim paperwork is complete, it’s on you to deliver or mail the packet in to the VA. When the VA receives your claim, your 180 days begins. That’s just the average time it takes to complete a claim once it has been received. If you got the claim in before your ETS/ retirement, the soonest you will receive your first payment is one month after your ETS/retirement (mine took two months). If the claim was filed before you got out but the VA takes longer to process your claim, you will receive backpay to the ETS/retirement+30 days mark. Good Luck out there! -Chief