On an ordinary Tuesday in December, I woke up with the realization that my retirement request had been approved and I would be walking out of the Marine Corps in July 2019. A great sense of satisfaction swept over me for a great career coming to an end…. then the unadulterated panic began to set in. As a million thoughts raced thru my mind, I quickly wrote a laundry list of the big items that I needed to accomplish in order make that mythical smooth transition from military life to the “real world”.
1. Where to retire to?
2. Buy a house?
3. Write a Resume.
4. Find a Job!
5. Kid’s school.
6. Ceremony stuff.
While each of these initial concerns were certainly a process in themselves, in fact I could write lengthy posts on each one, the procedure that was nowhere on this list that I felt turned into the most difficult was the VA Disability claims process. I guess I naively thought that it would be self-explanatory process with everything laid out to support the veteran. You would think that 25 years of experience would have taught me better. There was more paperwork than I imagined, confusing directions, contradictory information, and general sense from many people that you are lying to scam the government.
Where am I now? Two weeks ago, I finished my exam process and now sit waiting for the rating decision. My rating doesn’t matter for the purpose of this post, I just wanted to share 5 lessons I learned along the way of filing my initial claim that I believe would be beneficial for a service member starting this process.
1. When to file
The VA now offers a Pre-discharge option so that you can file 90-180 days before you get out and receive benefits right away. It would seem like a no brainer to use this option, but so many people I talked to were waiting in order to “go see the doctor one more time” or “too busy at work to deal with the VA right now.” Allow me to refute both these arguments.
First, you can continue to get military treatment after filing your claim. The real truth is that everyone needs to be going to get your injuries documented especially in the last year or two of your career. You have endured physical and mental hardships that most people could not dream of. Ensure you take care of yourself for the sake of your family and those that love you. If you try to rush everything in the last 6 months, you will have legitimate injuries that will get left behind. It is more important to get the process going than to wait for an MRI that may or may not change a previous diagnosis. Once you get a rating, you can always request a rating increase based on new medical information.
Second, if you are in the transition process, let go of the reins. I am not advocating going ROAD (Retired On Active Duty), but I do believe that that you can accomplish several missions at one time. Can you still be a vital cog in your command and get your VA claim filed? Absolutely!! I had a lengthy claim for a variety of injuries and issues, I missed a total of 2 days of work. In reality I could have made it back one day, but my wife and I had an extended lunch together. I know guys who take more than 2 days of leave to go fishing. Nothing wrong with that, but if you can miss work to drink a cold one on the lake, you can certainly miss a couple of days to ensure you have the medical care you will need later in life. On that same note, if you are expecting to get a new job once you transition, do you want your first conversation to be about the time off you need to go to VA appointments? Unless you hit the jackpot with a job, you will be taking unpaid leave to do what the military owes you for time to take care of.
Third, the sooner you file the sooner you rate benefits. For instance, if you use the Pre-discharge system, your benefit date is your end of active service and you will receive benefits 30 days after. If you wait until 2 months after you retire to file, the start date for benefits only goes retro to the date of filing. For example, if your EAS is 22 July, but you don’t file until 12 October then when the VA finally settles your claim (117 day average for a Fully Developed Claim), then your benefits effective date is 1 November. Why would you willingly leave money on the table? Depending on your rating this could be several thousand dollars. I don’t know about you, but that could seriously pay down my daughter’s upcoming orthodontics bills.
2) Getting started (VSO or Not)
The subject of a VSO (Veterans Service Organization) was one I was really conflicted about going into this process. The first time I attended transition seminar a VSO rep gave a 5 minute brief on how to claim things we may or may not actually suffer from. I vowed at that moment I would not compromise my integrity for a few dollars from the VA.
Part 2 of this article will be released soon! Hand your own two cents regarding this topic and want to expand on the first two tips, share below in the comments sections
This article was written and produced by Jeremy Owens