Written by: Steve A. Neff MSW
The following is written from a C & P examiners perspective relating to psychiatric exams. It is a good guideline for all exams but I only did psych exams. I’ve been examined by the VA for multiple problems and this is my format when I go to be examined. A little common sense and clarity of thinking will go a long ways towards getting you what you are entitled.
Be on time or a little early.
Be polite. Yelling at the examiner for the injustices you perceive will do nothing but alienate him/her.
Curse at your risk. You can get your point across much better with proper English than you can with outlandish language.
This person is going to judge you. It’s his/her job and that is why you are there. To be adjudicated fairly. How would you like to be remembered? A skuzzy stereotypical veteran? Or a troubled one who is doing the best he/she can?
Do not talk about alcohol or drug related issues. You are not there to be assessed for those problems. You are there to be assessed for your psychiatric functioning as today relates to your service history. If the examiner asks about alcohol or drugs, politely remind them that you are not there for those issues, if you’ve ever had them, but for how impaired you are in your daily functioning. It’s best to avoid even talking about them.
Got a VA horror story? I can tell you a worse one. Don’t waste your time with how badly you believe you’ve been mistreated. The examiner only has a short time to figure out how impaired you are and they need the facts. In coherent, concise, sentences, and not rambling rants that lead no where.
Answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you don’t know say so.
This is nearly a no brainer but be honest. Don’t embellish your stories with fanciful tales. Just the facts please . Be able to document everything you tell the examiner. You may run into someone like me who checked stories out. If possible have letters from people you served with, unit diary copies of incidents that occurred during your time and space, and letters from family members. Family member letters usually don’t add a lot of weight to your case because families are there to support you and examiners understand that.
If sleep is a problem for you don’t sleep the night before. Go in on the ragged edge of tired out. But do your best not to be rude and insensitive. Payback in a C & P exam is you lose. Not all examiners are that way but I have met a few that should not have been examiners.
When responding to examiners you need to pick the worst moment of time relating to that question. You need to be rated for the worst times you have had. I always picked a really bad day and related all of my answers to that day. The day I could not sleep, was anxious and startled easily, was grouchy to my wife and friends, felt like my heart was coming out of my chest, and nothing went right for me. That day should have been in the last 30-90 days. If it was a year ago you may not need to be having this exam.
The questions you are being asked are on a script in front of the examiner. After examiners do this for a while they get a sense of what is in front of them. It’s not too difficult to determine when someone is flat-out lying and when they are struggling with memory. The above does not mean that examiners cannot be scammed because they can be. I discovered veterans that were lying and dealt with them by reporting this to the proper authorities at the VA. It’s a Federal criminal act to lie in order to gain monetary compensation. And the odds are you will be prosecuted. It simply isn’t worth it.
Examiners are generally good people trying to do a very difficult job. Make it easy for them. I always advocated having the individual’s husband/wife in the room with me during the exam. As an examiner I enjoyed having someone’s spouse with them. Husbands and wives can tell the truth much better than the veteran. Ask your wife how well you’ve done in the past ten days versus your own opinion of how you’ve been doing. Quite a dramatic difference if you are truthful!
Remember to report how you REALLY are doing and not how you’d like to be doing. One of the questions I always had a hard time asking was, “How are you doing today?” Most veterans want to be doing MUCH better than they really are. It’s like we know we can be doing better, and have done better, but our pride does not want to let anyone know how badly we really are doing. Veterans would answer the above question with, “Well I’m doing pretty good.” Should I write down that, “The veteran reports that he is doing pretty good?” Not if you want your claim adjudicated fairly.
The best answer I ever got from a veteran was a former Marine Vietnam Veteran who said, “If I’m here I can’t be doing very well now can I? I haven’t been able to sleep for the past ten days over worrying about this exam, my wife says I’m really grumpy, and the bill collectors call all of the time.”
What this veteran just told me was he couldn’t sleep due to anxiety, the heart of PTSD, was depressed (remember grumpy?), another key facet of PTSD, and he’s had problems with his work history if he can’t pay his bills. He wasn’t angry about what he said. He was so matter of fact it took me a bit to realize what he had said. He could have been talking about having a cup of coffee for all of the emotion he expressed.
These are things I can explore further with the veteran. I don’t have to hunt or pull teeth for information. This veteran controlled the exam because he was clear about his problems and knew what he wanted to say. I spent some extra time with him. In the end he ended up 100% service-connected for PTSD. He had his ducks in a row, paperwork all present, and had done enough clinical work prior to the exam that he knew what his problems were and more importantly how to express them to another person.