The MazeCredit: cory stophlet, 2014oouric

It Starts With You

Veterans’ medical benefits are worth fighting for; unfortunately the fight is mostly one of slow processing and long waiting times for appointments. Over the past decade the Veterans Administration (VA) has made positive strides towards improving the application process; however, in many cases, it is beneficial to enlist the aid of a veterans support organization.


The Maze
Negative Press
Active Military Basic Requirements for Qualifying    
Guard and Reservist not in Active Service (Federal Active Duty)
Out-Sourced Medical Care
Box of Chocolate
File Early Ask for Help
Detailed Military Medical Exam

The Maze

Filing for veteran’s benefits can be like running in a maze of moving paths and doors. Although the Veterans Administration (also referred to as the Department of Veterans Affairs) has tried to improve and stream-line the application process, for many veterans there will still be stumbling blocks, long waits and unnecessary struggles to get approved for medical care and benefits. Over the past decade the Veterans Administration (VA) has made positive strides towards improving the application process; however, in many cases, it is beneficial to enlist the aid of a veterans support organization.

Negative Press

Every U.S. military veteran is eligible to apply for veterans benefits and there are a lot of available benefits. The two most sought after are Medical and Educational benefits. This article will cover the most common and arguably important: filing for Medical Benefits. Over the past few years there has been a lot of negative press  about the difficulties veterans have had in getting the Department of Veterans Affairs (also known as the Veterans Administration or VA) to accept, register, and get veterans into medical care system. Some of that negative press is warranted from the respect of a long drawn-out filing process and long waiting lists to get your first appointment. Have faith. Once you are finally accepted into the system, and get your first appointment and actually see a medical care professional, the VA patient processing system does work.

VA's Fully Developed Claims Program:

The Fastest Way to Get Your Compensation Claim Processed

Basic Requirements for Qualifying     

The first obvious question is: who qualifies for medical benefits? The easy answer is to say "a military veteran." Now for the not so obvious question or easy answer: who is a veteran? I’ve published a three part article here at InfoBarrel that goes into this qualification issue. I suggest reading through it if you have any doubts as to whether or not you qualify as a veteran. For now the all-purpose answer is: a person that served in the active service (federal active duty, Title-10, Title-10 AGR, National Guard or Reserves activated for a federal missioncompleted 24 months or the duration of ordered active service (i.e. Guard/Reserves deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, most other overseas locations etc.), and honorably discharged from active service. Note: State Active Duty (SAD) under control of the state governor does not qualify for federal veterans benefits. 

Again, review my Who Qualifies as a Veteran article; it includes the legal definition, law references, VA references and more; and it all comes from my personal experience running like a rat through the VA maze.  

Guard and Reservist not in Active Service (Federal Active Duty)

If a service member is injured on active duty (annual training or inactive duty for training) and the injury or illness is to the extent that he or she can no longer perform active military service as determined by military medical evaluation, the service member is normally discharged under regulatory guidelines of a Medical Discharge. In this situation, even if you were never federalized for active service deployment, the VA has the prerogative and latitude to consider the service members’ veteran’s qualification on a case by case basis. Ever since the Persian Gulf War the military and the VA have been more proactive with veterans' requests for medical assistance and flexible when evaluating Guard/Reservists following the end of their military service. If you fall in this category it can be an extremely slow and agonizing filing process because the federal definition of a veteran has not been changed to reflect the current state of the military and the regular activation of National Guard and Reserves personnel for wartime and conflict response deployments.

Source of Medical Care

As a result of all the publicity and visibility of injured or wounded veterans resulting from post 1992 operations (examples: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo-Bosnia) many service members with major injuries are being retained on active duty for the full extent of their medical treatment, with some exceptions for service member's requesting to be nearer to home. Whether discharged from the service or not, often these service members continue getting care from the closest military medical facility. In rarer cases when it has been determined that a service member with combat relate injuries should return home and no military or VA care facility is within a practical distance from the service member's home of residence, the military or the VA have made arrangements for medical care through the closest civilian medical care facilities. However, if the VA is expected to manage or schedule out of system care, the veteran is still required to be processed into the VA system.


Just so you know, I talk from experience; it took me a year to get into the system; another year to be evaluated for a service-connected rating; after that, things started getting smoother and easier. Although, sometimes from the time I schedule an appointment to the actual date of that appointment can be 30-60 days, at least I get the appointment. On the other hand, if you need emergency care now as in, – “I’m sick now; I have pain now”, and those situations can be a problem. You can go straight to the emergency room of the VA but they will make you wait until a doctor is available.

Box of Chocolate

To help handle the large number of veterans seeking medical care, the VA no longer relies on medical doctors alone for patient care. Depending on the particular medical requirements and staff availability, instead of a medical doctor your primary care professional or specialist might be a physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or registered nurse.  As Forrest Gump said, “It’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get” – just a bit of humor.  Don’t worry about that, frankly the best and most personal care I have received has been, and still is, from physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. 

Nashville Tennessee Veterans HospitalCredit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairsment

File Early Ask for Help

First, let me strongly advise my fellow vets and current service members to file for VA benefits, at the earliest possible moment, preferably before or on the date of military discharge. It can be accomplished online or in paper form (hard copy) i.e. snail-mail. I highly recommend filing VA Claim Forms for medical injury(s) and illness(s) through the Disabled American Veteran's (DAV) Organization, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), or the American Legion. They can forward your claim to the VA and acted as your legal representative dealing directly with the VA Regional Office (the folks that make the final determination). Most VA hospitals have a patient advocate (PA) assigned full time that can also assist you in filing for benefits; however, remember, that PA is a VA employee; not an independent veterans representative. In any case, having an expert represent or directly assist you is often the key to early success. You can contact these veteran organizations directly.

  • Disabled American Veteran's (DAV) organization [The author of this article used the DAV for assistance in filing for benefits; with great success].
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization
  • American Legion organization

If you chose to file on your own, the VA has an “EZ” Claim Form available online directly from their Veterans Affairs website.  

Working with a Veterans Service Officer to File a Fully Developed Claim

Detailed Military Medical Exam

Before leaving active-duty, make sure you get medically evaluated and the results documented for every single injury, pain, mental or emotional stress (don't be afraid to talk with the mental health folks), tooth ache, itch and cough. The VA relies more on the active duty medical evaluations above that of any civilian medical evaluation you might pursue after the end of military service.

4th Infantry Brigade Combat TeamCredit: U.S. Defense Department, 2010

Last Word

Again, don't get too frustrated with the process, but do get assistance from veterans’ organizations if you want the extra help maneuvering through the system's maze.