Initial Application for VA Benefits
FULLY DEVELOPED CLAIM PROCESS
The application process for Department of Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits is a sometimes confusing and frustrating experience. What follows is a summary of what I did right and what I did wrong. My hope is that those members of the Class of 60 who have Parkinson’s Disease and are just now applying for VA benefits will benefit from my experiences and avoid some of the mistakes I made. Ken Richeson B-1
FULLY DEVELOPED CLAIM (FDC) PROCESS
I selected the option to have my claim for VA disability benefits processed under the “Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program”. This program is designed to expedite the claims process by including all information regarding your claim with the initial application. However, if at some later date you wanted to present additional evidence concerning your claim, it could be done but your claim would then revert to the standard, albeit slower, process.
VA presumes that if you are a veteran with Parkinson’s Disease and served in Vietnam, your Parkinson’s Disease is service connected. Therefore, you do not have to provide any evidence concerning service related disability other than the dates you were serving in Vietnam, information that is already readily verified by the VA through their access to your official military records.
You do, however, have to provide evidence that you have Parkinson’s. Therefore, since I was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s in December 2011, I included all medical records after that date from my primary care doctor and my neurologist. The codes they use in their records will be key to the VA’s decisions concerning the degree of disability to be used in their decisions. Therefore, I would recommend using a minimum of two doctors, one of which should be a neurologist.
In my case, it took seven months for to VA to approve my application, which in retrospect wasn’t too bad. So I consider this as one of the things I did right
INITIAL APPLICATION FOR VA DISABILITY COMPENSATION
The starting point is completion of VA Form 21-526EZ, Jan 2014, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. It can be downloaded from the VA web site www.va.gov/vaforms and comes with a detailed (and confusing) set of explanations, instructions and requirements. Fortunately most of them do not apply to the application for disability compensation.
Of key importance are the entries you make in “Section 13: List of Disabilities That You Are Claiming.” Since I was basing my claim solely on Parkinson’s Disease, all I did was enter “Parkinson’s – Agent Orange (exposed 6/65 – 7/66, VN)” in Section 13. These are the dates of my first tour in Vietnam. You do not have to prove that you were exposed to Agent Orange or that your Parkinson’s Disease is service connected. The VA has already made the presumption that your Parkinson’s Disease is service related.
Submission of the application constitutes an election of VA compensation in lieu of military retired pay if it is determined that you are entitled to both benefits. Since I had read a lot about “Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay [CRDP), it is here that I made my first mistake by checking Block 21 indicating that I wanted military retired pay instead of VA compensation. The net result of this error was to waive any VA compensation, which was the whole reason I was making this application. (I did say the explanations were confusing.) Fortunately, the VA gave me a way to correct my mistake later although it slowed the process down significantly.
Finally, in order to qualify my wife, Pat, for additional dependency benefits, I had to complete and submit VA FORM, 21-686c, JUN 2014.
COVER LETTER FOR INITIAL APPLICATION
There is no requirement to use a cover letter when forwarding your claim to the VA. However, I chose to do so in order to highlight the key information contained in my application: e.g. length of service, diagnosis of Parkinson’s, assignments in Vietnam, request to use the FDC process. (A copy of the letter is attached.)
Where do you send the application? That is a good question and the answer is buried in the instructions. Specifically, it states: “Mail or take your application and any evidence in support of your claim to the closest VA regional office. VA regional office addresses are available on the Internet at www.va.gov/directory.” I followed those directions and that was my second mistake, as the website gave me the address to the wrong regional office which caused a delay while VA rerouted my application.
VA ACKNOWLEDGEMENT LETTER AND VETERANS SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS
My initial application was sent by registered mail on September 23, 2014. In response, I received three computer-generated replies from VA, which stated that they were “processing” my application.
On December 8, 2014 the VA sent me an acknowledgement letter noting that I had a claim pending but that I did not have a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) assisting me. VSO’S are VA trained and chartered resources that are available at no cost. They can be identified at www.ebenefits.va.gov. In retrospect, not having a VSO was my third mistake, as a VSO would have helped me avoid my first two mistakes.
VA MEDICAL EXAMINATION
On April 13, 2015, VA notified me that they had requested an examination through a private medical facility in order to determine the current level of my disability. I was instructed not to bring my medical records. I was asked, however, to fill out a questionnaire in advance of the appointment, which I did. However, the medical doctor that examined me was not interested in discussing any details, to include the questionnaire.
Since my Parkinson’s Disease had progressed during the interim seven months, I was now concerned that VA would not have all of the information that was needed to make an accurate evaluation.
VA DECISION LETTER
The VA enclosed in their decision letter a copy of the form I needed to file to make that waiver. The form was completed and submitted to the Department of Veteran Affairs on May 22, 2015.
The VA granted the waiver on July 19, 2016 and awarded me VA Disability Compensation retroactively to Oct 1, 2014.
1. The “Fully Developed Claim Process” is an excellent choice for anyone submitting an application for VA disability compensation benefits that is based solely on Parkinson’s Disease and service in Vietnam.
2. The assistance of a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) or other claims expert is needed since the application process is more complicated than it appears.
3. Medical records submitted with the initial application will be the sole basis for the VA’s determination of degree of disability. Therefore, records from at least two doctors (the Primary Care Doctor and a Neurologist) should be included. Records should also be specific concerning extent and effect of your Parkinson’s Disease.
LTC Alfred K. Richeson (Ret)
Williamsburg, VA 23188
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C. Regional Benefit Office
1722 I Street, N. W.
Washington, D.C. 20421
Re: Alfred K. Richeson
VA Form 21-526EZ
Dear Veteran Affairs Representative:
I retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel with 20 years service on July 31, 1980. I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and am applying for disability compensation and related compensation benefits based on my exposure to Agent Orange while on active duty in Vietnam from June 1965 thru July 1966. During that time I served as an Infantry Battalion Advisor and Assistant G-3 Advisor to the 9th ARVN Infantry Division in the IV Corps Regional Advisory Command in the Mekong Delta. I also served a second tour in Vietnam from June 1972 to March 1973.
Please process my request in accordance with the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program. An original VA Form 21-526EZ and required supporting documentation to include all relevant, private medical treatment records are attached. Also included is a completed VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents, since Patricia J. Richeson, my wife of 54 years, is my dependent and fully qualified for the US Military Survivor Benefit Plan.
Thank you for your assistance and, if you have any questions, my contact information is noted below.
ALFRED K. RICHESON
LTC, USA (Retired)
Tel: (757) 229-3903
Cell: (757) 813-1909