In order to receive disability compensation from the VA, you will need to demonstrate that you were honorably discharged from the U.S. military and that you have a condition that is connected to your military service: a direct connection, an aggravated connection, a secondary connection, or a presumptive connection.
In order to prove you have a disability, you will need medical records supporting your claim. There are other records that you may need, but actual medical evidence is critical. Medical documentation can demonstrate your actual medical condition and paint a picture of the symptoms and the severity of your disability.
Collecting your Medical Records
What you collect depends on your condition, but be sure to assemble all medical evidence, including records of doctors’ visits and doctors’ notes, x-rays, MRIs and other imaging, blood test results and other test results, mental health visit records and diagnoses, etc. Some sources of medical records may include:
- Service treatment records (STR) – you may do this through your VSO or by contacting the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), part of the National Archives
- Records from the VA hospitals or doctors you’ve visited for medical care or advice
- Records from private healthcare services – i.e. non-military health services such as primary doctors, hospitals, physical therapists, psychologists, or any other medical service providers you have visited
- Post-medical stay records – for instance, surgical wounds, casts, or other medical devices that limit your mobility after surgery
While the VA has a “duty to assist,” don’t depend on them to get your medical records very quickly. To make sure your claim is settled as fast as possible, collect the records yourself and submit them along with the other required or recommended documents.
Additional records you will need in order to strengthen your claim include:
- Service records, military personnel records, and separation documents – these are necessary to document your duties, stations, and deployments
- Medical opinion from a healthcare provider that supports the link between your medical condition and your service (if no STR or in addition to the STR)
- The right VA forms, filled out by the right people – this is where many veterans make mistakes, holding up the completion of their claim or leading to an inaccurate denial of the claim
- Disability Benefits Questionnaire, Disability Benefits Report, or Personal Statement
- Lay witnesses or “buddy letter” to strengthen your written personal statements about your injuries, condition, or limitations
- If submitting for individual unemployability – medical evidence showing inability to maintain gainful employment (little odd jobs don’t count) due to a service-related condition
- If submitting for an increased claim – current evidence from a medical professional or lay witness that shows your disability has worsened
- If submitting for a secondary service-connected claim – diagnosis of the new physical or mental disability from a medical professional and the link between this condition and the already-established service-connected disability, with medical records or medical opinion supporting the link