How to Organize my Disabilities
Before I begin, I want to ensure you understand the terminology that I am using in their article:
NOD: Notice of Disagreement
VA: Department of Veterans Affair
USPS: U.S. Postal Service
I wanted to offer something that would benefit you overall in the event your disability claim(s) come back as denied, or the VA disputes your claims. It is not the end-all-be-all but it works great for me and anyone else I have helped out in the past. It does take a little time to organize, but in the long run, by organizing your information as I do (and explain below), you will be able to have a quick reference and a timeline compilation for a rapid reply to ensure the VA does not ‘lock’ their ratings in because you forgot about submitting a Notice of Disagreement.
First off, I recommend submitting your appeal/NOD immediately after receiving your disability determination letter (if it is a letter specifically for acceptance or denials of disabilities submitted). Although the VA will express to all veterans that you have a year to submit supporting documentation for disabilities claimed, there ARE some letters that will inform you that you have 30 or 60 days to respond to their letter. Lessons learned: Do NOT assume that you have a year to reply to the VA because 1) you could forget, 2) the letter may specify a shorter span of time to respond.
Create folders on your computer.
Create main ‘VA Medical Information” folder.
Depending on how you wish to set things up, what I do is: I create a master folder inside the ‘VA Medical Information’ folder and name it: Last Name, First Name. Then I enter that folder and create specific folders of priority.
I start with: 01_VA_Blank_Forms. This is to house all of the forms that I may need to use/submit to the VA.
Next will be: ‘2016 (or whatever year needed) VA Information’. This is to house all of the information that is sent/received in 2016 (or whichever year you are in). Inside this folder will house:
Example Image: I then create: ‘01_[year]_VA_Letters_to_Me’(Example: ‘01_2016_VA_Letters_to_Me’). This folder will house a scanned copy of the letters that the VA sends me. I usually omit the pages that are not pertinent to save space, not that word/PDF documents take up too much space.
Next folder will be ‘02_[year]_NOD_Appeals_Letters_to_VA’ (Example: ‘02_2016_NOD_Appeals_Letters_to_VA’). This will house the letters, scanned PDF’s, etc. that I send to the VA.
The next folder will be ‘03_[year]_Political_Letters_IN_OUT’. This is to contain any of the letters sent/received asking for help by the local politician. Inside of this Folder will also contain an excel document with the following categories/setup:All paperwork in and out have copies that are digital and reside in the organized folders.
It is wise to thumb through all pages of your service record to catalog all of the locations you have been and pertinent history (and associated data) to have a quick reference if your locations are in question by the VA.
Service Medical Record
I create three (3) excel documents and these documents will reside in the main folder created on your drive and labeled ‘VA Medical Information’:
1)Master Medical Documentation 2)Disability by Body Parts 3)VA Results and Correspondence Tracker
The ‘Master Medical Documentation’ file is where I list everything that I captured from the medical record, in no specific order, just as I encounter the disabilities. Once everything is annotated, then I organize everything on new tabs by year (example: all of the 2010 disabilities will be listed in date order on the ‘2010’ tab on this excel document).
The ‘Disability by Body Parts’ document will have the disabilities listed by body part (each body part will have its own tab) and in date order. This allows you to see which are chronic conditions (those that last greater than 3-6 months) and which are not. I usually create a tab for ‘other’ conditions and name it as ‘other’ because some disabilities are not easily categorized by body part.
The ‘VA Results and Correspondence Tracker’ document is specifically for tracking ALL traffic in and out to the VA. This will allow you to keep track of things as ‘sometimes’ people make mistakes and disabilities can ‘disappear’. That would not help your case at all.
On the document, I list all of the disabilities being claimed on the far left column. Then I annotate information for the specific disabilities moving rightward and include the dates on the top of the update. For an example: Lets say I claim Ringing in the ears (this will reside in A3 cell), Memory Loss (this will reside in A4 cell) and Lower back pain (this will reside in A5 cell). Cells A1 and A2 are left blank because the ‘B’ column will need those spaces (the 1 and 2 spaces moving rightward) for the dates and name of the updates. By doing it this way it will allow you to track the specific disability rightward as the correspondence moves back and forth between you and the VA.
So we now have A3-A5 disabilities listed. So in the B column we put the date we submitted our initial claim for these disabilities (example: Jan 1, 2001). So cell B1 will have the specific information as to who it came from: “Initial Claim to VA” and B2 will have the date: 1 Jan 2001. Then I write in cells B3-B5 “Claim submitted”.
When the VA comes back with a rating on the Tinnitus (ringing of the ear(s) but not on the others, we move over to Cell C1 and write: Results from VA and Cell C2 will have the date: 1 June 2002. Then, I check to see which cell number (row) has the “Ringing of the ears” claim and move underneath the column that I just created and add in the information for JUST the ‘Ringing of the ears”. Example: “VA Rating 10% SC” [SC = Service Connected]. For the other disabilities, under the ‘C’ column and most-recent date, I write ‘NO DATA’ for the other two disabilities. This is what allows me to maintain constant contact with all of my claimed disabilities, which will allow you to not ‘forget’ about what you have claimed. Some may find this excessive but unless you have a really good memory on EVERYTHING you claimed, you could very well forget what you claimed a year ago. If you forget and the VA ‘forgets’ then you could lose out on a rating for that disability, then good luck in trying to get that covered in the future.
By doing it this way you can make sure you are aware of disabilities remaining so you can call the VA, AND send a written letter to the VA inquiring about the disabilities the VA ‘forgot’ about. If you are not proactive about your case, no one else will be as proactive as you should be. Remember: there are some great support organizations that exist to help the veterans (VFW, DAV, AMVETS, AMERICAN LEGION, etc.) but sometimes, not all of the time, once a ‘good’ organization is known that organization usually gets flooded with veterans who want them to help them. They could have the best intentions but because they are so bogged down with veterans and their claims, they end up too busy to provide complete support as they had in the beginning. That is what happened to me.
Civilian Medical Records or Reports
You will want to log all of this information as well, which means a separate excel document or a new tab on existing excel documents. The main point is you will want to ensure everything is organized, otherwise it may take you a very long time to find pertinent supporting data thumbing through each page of your records each time.
Now that you have organized your digital storage locations and files, you will want to make sure you maintain a ‘running’ copy (paper) of all of your paperwork. The reason for this is simple: electronics can fail you.
I suggest you maintain a 5” 3-ring binder for your VA traffic (if you have only 3 disabilities you are tracking you may not need a 5” binder). This binder houses a paper copy of all of my correspondence back and forth with the VA. I separate the sections as follows:
Section 1: VA Correspondence IN
Section 1 will house all pertinent VA paperwork received. I make sure I write down the date I received the VA correspondence because the date received is not the same date sent.
Section 2: Appeals Submitted w/letters to VA
Section 2 allows me to track my letters (which I write the date sent onto the main page of the letter AND the VA documents) as well as WHEN the submissions were received. This is why I send my submissions through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as ‘Signature Receipt Requested’. This means I can input the code from the receipt onto the USPS website and get the information of who signed as well as the date and time it was signed for. I then screen capture that information and print out just the screen capture so I can staple it to my submission copies.
By doing that, I can quickly see when my submission was sent, when it was received and who signed for it. This way if the VA states that they never received any of my paperwork I can produce a copy of what I need to prove otherwise. This is very important.
Section 3: Logbook of calls to/from VA
Section 3 logbook is for you to update with each time you call the VA to inquire about your claim and each time the VA calls you. You want to keep a record of this because you may need to be able to reflect back onto how many times you had to call the VA if you are asking for any ‘outside’ assistance and want to prove your attempts. Part of this section is so you can write down the duration of the call, who you spoke with, time of call, the subject of the call and the highlights of the call. This may come in handy down the road.
Section 4: Other VA documentation-NON disabilities
Section 4 is for other VA documentation for college/GI Bill information, etc.
It is my expressed hope and desire that you will not need ANY of the information I am writing about in this article but please take it from someone who has been fighting for years and years against someone(s) who desperately wants me to have a hard time getting my disabilities covered, if you can’t prove it happened then it did not happen. You need to have proof.
Once again, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us through the CONTACT US page and we will get the information you need (if we don’t already know it) and get it to you as soon as possible. Be safe.