A Guideline for your VA compensation and pension exam
A VA Compensation and Pension Examiners’ perspective relating to psychiatric exams. It is a good guideline for all exams, but they only did psych exams.
The VA has examined me 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 way towards getting you what you are entitled to. Written by: Steve A. Neff MSW
This person is going to judge you. It’s their 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 they can? – Steve A. Neff MSW
Do not talk about alcohol or drug-related issues. You are not there to be assessed for those problems. You are there to be evaluated 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. Incoherent, concise sentences, and not rambling rants that lead nowhere
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. If possible, have letters from people you served with, unit diary copies of incidents during your time and space, and letters from family members. You may run into someone like me who checked stories out.
Family member letters usually don’t add much weight to your case because families are there to support you, and examiners understand that.
If sleep is a problem, 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 VA 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 relating to that question. You need to be rated for the worst times you have had. I always chose 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 might 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 lying and struggling with memory. The above does not mean that examiners cannot be scammed because they can be.
What to Expect during the Medical Examination
You should expect the examiner performing your medical examination to evaluate the condition(s) listed on your claim for benefits. Depending on the number and type of disabilities claimed, the length of the examination will vary. Psychiatric examination or for multiple disabilities requires more time to evaluate. If necessary, the examiner may ask more questions about your disability history, review pertinent medical records, or order additional testing or examinations.
I discovered veterans lying and dealt with them by reporting this to the proper authorities at the VA. It’s a Federal criminal act to lie 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 challenging 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 veterans. Ask your wife how well you’ve done in the past ten days versus your 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: “Well, I’m doing pretty good.” Should I write, “The veteran reports that he is doing pretty good?” Not if you want your claim adjudicated fairly.
- Be on time or a little early
- Be polite. Yelling at the examiner for the injustices you perceive will do nothing but alienate them.
- Curse at your own risk. You can get your point across better with proper English.
The best answer I ever got from a veteran was from 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, and my wife says I’m really grumpy, and the bill collectors call all of the time.
This veteran just told me he couldn’t sleep due to anxiety, the heart of PTSD, was depressed (remember grumpy?), another critical 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 emotions 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 knew clearly about his problems and what he wanted to say. I spent some extra time with him. He ended up 100% service-connected for PTSD. He had his ducks in a row, paperwork all present, and had done enough clinical work before the exam that he knew his problems and, more importantly, how to express them to another person.
Steve A. Neff MSW