Here’s one to Lindsay Lohan and the “not surprised theory.”
The best advice I ever received I get just prior to enlisting, “Document everything.” This advice suited me well in the military and after. Every medical condition I had while on active duty was documented. Every problem I’ve had with the VA has been practically documented away (more on this in my Voc Rehab Survival Guide). Even in areas more personal to me than VA issues, documenting has been the best and easiest way to cover my ass. And it will be the best way to cover yours, too.
Sadly, we live in a society where, if you can’t prove the communication happened, it didn’t. So, I’ll throw an anecdotal story your way with some tips following along with little diatribe on Lindsay Lohan and how “not surprised” I am with VA’s tricks.
Your First “To Do” of All Disability Claims: Cover Your Ass
Document every communication. CYA is not only the best policy, it can be the only policy.
For example, I have had a pending claim for 18 months. This summer, I took a trip back to the Midwest from Oregon to move. Prior to my trip, I told the VA I would be out of town for 45 days – sent it to the VA by fax and told them this fact in person at the Regional Office. I also told my Veteran Service Officer (VSO).
Just 8 days after I arrived in Chicago by car (a 2000 mile drive), the Regional Office contacted me to inform me that they finally un-assed themselves and scheduled my Comp & Pension evaluation for the following week… In Oregon. (They refused to schedule it in Chicago because somehow electronic medical files cannot be shipped from Portland to Chicago!?)
VA threatened to decide on my claim without the exam because I “refused” to attend the Oregon meeting. Luckily, I kept the fax, emailed the Regional Office around 10 times and contacted my VSO. Problem solved? Well, not quite.
I’m still waiting to get that appointment rescheduled now that I moved to Minneapolis. However, I am absolutely guaranteed to get that evaluation rescheduled because a denial of such would be a violation of my right to an evaluation. I may die before getting the evaluation or appealing the lack of one, but that’s the system we have in place for now.
Lindsay Lohan Effect and VA “Not Surprise”
What I’m about to say may shock you. And I don’t mean like the first time Lindsay Lohan was arrested, “Lohan arrested for a DUI,” circa 2007. Or even like, “Lohan, probation revoked,” type of shock you, circa 2010. It’s more like, “Lohan on house arrest and charged with stalking her ex-girlfriend,” kind of shock you, circa 2011. (My 9 year old even saw that one coming.)
Now here it is, the big shocker of whenever it is that you read this: the Department of Veterans Affairs has been known to ignore the law when it comes to disability claims. I know; you’re all shocked to learn that the VA ignores the law, right? It’s true.
[pullquote align="right"]Or when the news reports, “Republican Senator Blank ‘n Blank caught using a wide stance in an airport bathroom.”[/pullquote]Things like this give me a firm case of “not surprise.” Like when you argue with your ex about the same thing you argued about that made her an ex to begin with. Or when the news reports, “Republican Senator Blank ‘n Blank caught using a wide stance in an airport bathroom.” It’s always that second rap on the bathroom stall next to you that gets you, Larry Craig. (He must’ve missed that memo). In situations like these, I’m rarely shocked at my level of “not surprise.”
What’s important to remember is that you always want to be “not surprised.” Rattlesnakes bite. You shouldn’t pet Grizzlies. Raccoons look cute but make lousy house pets. Lindsay Lohan likes to party. (And god bless her for doing it.)
When it comes to the VA, they sometimes ignore the law. Knowing this is true and expecting issues related to violations of your rights should not shock anyone. Now that you’re aware, here’s how to prepare.
Take Your “Not-Surprise” Medicine and Document Everything
- Phone Calls: Ask for the name of the operator and reference number of the call.
- Paper Records: Buy what I call an informal documentation kit (more on this below)
- Create a Spreadsheet: Use this for calls and meetings with VA officials. It will allow you to track all communications in all forms (rumored to also effective with mean bosses and ex-spouses).
- Mailing Correspondence: Send correspondence by mail using Certified Mail with Return Receipt.
Your Unofficial VA Documentation Kit for around $30
- Buy a packet of two tab classification folders from Office Depot or somewhere similar. These folders are like the kind they use at law firms and the VA.
- Get a two hold punch
- Purchase highlighters and 3M sticky tabs
Now you’re ready to kick butt and take names, literally.
Veterans who have had bad experiences with their Regional Office can take a survey to rate your VA Regional Office. We’re collecting information to help identify problem spots the VA is trying to ignore.