The Mailbag

A selection of inquiries and comments.

Dear Mr. Strickland:
I have a few questions I hope you can answer for me. My spouse is an Oef/Oif veteran who did three years active duty as a combat engineer. All of 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq. We are wanting to file a va claim for disability but are running into difficulties. All of the civilian practitioners or specialists  we have seen will not give a formal diagnosis. They told us to list symptoms. My spouse's service records are very thin except for adjustment disorder after deployment, mention of increased risk for traumatic brain injury, ptsd, back pain during last physical during ETS. The one VA dr we saw 8 years ago said if there was a concussion it was mild not a tbi due to not being unconscious and more adjustment issues to civilian life. Since then I have watched my spouse's health get worse, unable to work, and we are both concerned about chronic multi symptom illness being a possible explanation for their neurological issues and unexplained joint pain. How do we proceed with the claims process? The VSO said we didn't have enough evidence to file. Thank you.

Hello E,
To file a claim for disability requires at least 3 elements. (1) There must be an event documented that caused, contributed to or aggravated the claimed disability. (2) There must be a medical diagnosis of an injury or disease (a "condition") that can be somehow tied to theevent. (3) There must be evidence that the claimed condition is disabling to a measurable degree. For example, to claim a TBI the veteran must prove the event (often an IED or similar) actually happened, then he must have a clinical diagnosis of TBI from a physician who has expertise in the field of brain injury and lastly the veteran must show why that is disabling. Much the same can be said for claiming PTSD; The veteran must prove that events happened to cause PTSD, he must have a clinical diagnosis(and usually must be getting treatment) and finally, he must prove that PTSD is causing him to be disabled. A veteran can't win a claim by making statements like, "My back hurts during exercise." That misses all 3 elements...there is no active duty event to show that he hurt his back, there is no medical diagnosis and there is no measurement of any degree of disability. The VSO is wrong. Any veteran can at any time file for any disabling condition he or she wants to. There are no restrictions on who can file for what. Winning the claim is an entirely different matter though. If the claim doesn't meet at least the 3 elements above, there is little to no chance that the veteran will prevail. Your first task is to find a doctor who is sympathetic to the veterans complaints of ill health. You don't want to tell the doctor that you're trying to file a claim, you must tell the doctor that there are symptoms and that you hope the symptoms can be explained and treated. If the veteran wants to claim a back injury, the doctor must first make a diagnosis of why the back is injured. Then the vet has to tie that to an event while on active military service. One of the best ways to get this done is to seek an IMO from a disability doctor. Often enough, this is the only way to validate a claim.
Good luck,


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