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Sometimes the Veterans Administration (VA) will require an applicant for disability benefits go through a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam before deciding on the claim. If you have been notified that you need to go through this exam, here is some information on what you can expect.
What Is a Compensation and Pension Exam?
The Compensation and Pension exam will typically take place in a doctor’s office so your disabilities can be thoroughly evaluated. It will probably be performed at your local VA clinic or hospital. The examining doctor will write a report and send it to the VA office where you submitted your benefits application.
One of the biggest things to remember about this exam is you need to be as truthful as possible regarding your disability. While you do not want to exaggerate your problem, you also do not want to diminish it. Tell the doctor exactly what impact your symptoms have had on your life, even though it might be uncomfortable for you to do so. Be as honest and forthcoming as you can and be as courteous as possible at all times.
Once the exam is complete, the doctor’s report to the VA will include information on the severity of your symptoms as well as your medical history. The report will also likely include the doctor’s opinion as to whether or not your disability is related to the time you spent in the military.
What Happens at a C&P Exam?
When you attend a C&P exam, it is much like a routine doctor’s visit. In most cases, the examination will be held at the VA hospital or clinic where you receive regular treatment for your disabilities. Unlike a routine doctor’s exam, however, the doctor will not prescribe any medications for you or suggest any treatments. Their goal is to evaluate your condition to determine if you are eligible to receive benefits.
If your disability is a physical one, the doctor will ask you some questions about your disability, examine you and, if necessary, use medical tests. If your disability concerns mental health, the doctor will want you to explain your conditions and will ask you some questions about them. There is a chance they will also do some psychological tests. Do not worry as this is a routine part of the examination.
After the doctor has finished the exam, they will write up a report and send it the VA regional office. The regional office will consider the doctor’s exam as well as other medical evidence. It will then decide whether you qualify for disabilities and what your rating should be.
Some Tips to Help You at the C&P Exam
Although the C&P exam is not the last word on whether you will receive benefits, it is perfectly normal to be a little anxious or nervous when you attend the exam. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process:
1. Understand the Purpose of the C&P Exam
A C&P exam has two main goals — the doctor must determine if your disability is related to your military service and how disabled you are, while the second goal is to determine the “evidentiary gap.” The difference between what is in your service and medical records and what the VA sees in your records comprise the evidentiary gap. Evidentiary gaps are almost always the reason that an applicant for disability benefits is denied those benefits.
If this happens, do not get angry. Instead, pay attention to what the doctor’s report identifies as the missing elements. Doctors will signal you about problems with your records. Pay attention to what they focus on the hardest. It is essential to get the doctor to review the evidence that is in your file. One way to do this is to avoid providing too much information during the exam. Keep your answers short and to the point. That way the doctor will be more likely to examine the evidence in your file.
2. Arrive Early
As we noted above, it is perfectly normal to feel a bit anxious. Therefore try to arrive at the VA hospital or clinic five to 10 minutes early to give yourself some time to relax and calm down. You will also be better prepared to answer the questions the doctor will ask you.
3. Answer Only Questions You Are Asked
Veterans frequently make the mistake of saying too much about their condition. When the doctor asks you how you are feeling, do not spend the next half hour regaling the doctor with tales of your disabilities and how they have affected you. It is too much information for the doctor to absorb and comprehend properly.
So when the doctor asks you about a question about your disability, answer that question — not the question you want to answer. Doctors who perform these examinations probably do between 15 to 20 a day, sometimes more. They know the questions to ask to draw out the information that they need. Answer those questions.
4. Use Straightforward and Simple Answers
Here is a goal to set yourself. Before you go to your C&P exam, see if you can tell someone why your disability is connected to military service in about 20 to 30 seconds. If it takes you longer than that, you are probably not getting to the point. Remember, your goal is to get the doctor to review the medical evidence in your file.
You want to tell them something such as, “My file has my complete statement on why I believe my disability is related to my service. But generally, after I injured my arm during my years in the service, I find it very difficult to do simple tasks like button my shirt, hold a coffee cup or clean myself after using the bathroom without a great deal of pain.”
When you give too much information, you are giving the doctor who is performing the C&P exam more avenues to deny your claim. When you keep it simple and straightforward, it will prompt the doctor to review the evidence in your file.
5. Be Polite and Courteous
While the doctor performing the C&P exam may not be the nicest person in the world, you want to treat them as if they are. It helps to remember what they are dealing with. The VA system is overloaded, and most doctors are doing way more than they should. These burdens mean that the doctors only have a few moments to work with you during your C&P exam and review your records. They may not be familiar with your condition, but they still have to make a decision about it. In this situation, even doctors can make mistakes.
Your C&P exam is not the final word on your disability claim, so even if there is a mistake, you will have a chance to rectify it. Be polite and courteous. Treat the C&P physician the way you would treat your regular physician. Do not be rude when you answer questions or make smart remarks. It will not help your case. Many veterans feel frustration at the way the VA system works but those problems in the system are not a C&P doctor’s fault.
6. Do Not Try to “Lawyer” Your Claim
This goes back to the point that we made about keeping your answers simple and straightforward. Do not use legalese or theories about your disability that you have read about on the internet. Talk to the doctor like a regular person, not like a lawyer or an accredited representative from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO). Just tell the doctor your symptoms and how they limit your everyday life.
C&P doctors usually only have a limited amount of time to do each examination. Complaining about the problems with the VA system or mistakes the VA has made in the past dealing with your disability only takes time away from your exam. When you keep your answers simple and straightforward, you give the doctor time to do a proper examination.
7. Remember the C&P Physician Is Not a Judge
The purpose of a C&P exam is for a doctor to determine if your disability is service-related and the degree to which you are disabled. They do not have the final word on whether you will receive disability benefits. That decision will be made by your local VA office.
So do not argue with the doctor about whether you should receive disability benefits. That is not their job. Anytime you give too much information or argue too much with the doctor, you are working against your best interests.
8. Do Not Exaggerate
Tell the truth about your disability. Be simple and straightforward about how it affects you and limits your ability to live a normal life. Be brief about why you believe your disability is service-related. If the doctor asks you a question like, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain throughout the day?” do not say it is a 10 all day long. If it was, you would be in the hospital.
Be more precise. Perhaps it is a four when you get up in the morning, a three around lunchtime, but then as the day goes on, the pain becomes more intense and peaks at about a seven or eight. That will help the doctor better evaluate your disability and see you as someone who is genuinely injured and not just trying to get benefits.
9. Get a Copy of Your C&P Exam and the Doctor’s Name
When the examination is completed, politely ask the doctor for a business card. If they do not have one, ask them for their name. There is a straightforward reason for doing this. If you need to contest the results of the C&P exam, you will need to challenge the doctor’s credentials. Otherwise, the VA will assume that you found the doctor competent and you felt the exam was a good one. But you need to know the doctor’s name to challenge their report.
Your lawyer or your VSO representative will know how to challenge the doctor’s credentials if needed.
10. Make Notes About the Examination
As soon as the examination is finished, go to the hospital or clinic cafeteria or a nearby coffee shop and write up notes about the exam. Think about the tests the doctor performed, what instruments they may have used, what questions they asked you and whether they reviewed your file. Your notes do not have to be perfect.
Put a date on the notes, and if you have a family member or friend with you, have them look over your notes and sign them as a witness.
After you have made these notes, take them home and put them in the file where you keep all your other VA medical records. If you need to challenge the C&P exam at some point in the future, having a record of what happened made only a few minutes after the exam was over will give your statements more credibility.
The Importance of Keeping Your Appointment
A few final words on the importance of keeping your scheduled appointment. If you miss the appointment, the VA may deny your benefits, and you may have to wait months or even in some cases years to have your appointment rescheduled.
Therefore it is essential that all the concerned parties have your correct mailing address, your email address, and your phone number.
The VA medical center is responsible for sending you your C&P notice that contains the time and the date of your appointment. Even if you apply for benefits at your VA regional office, VA medical center will not know your correct address since it does not have access to your records at the regional office. So as soon as you apply for benefits, make sure that the VA center or clinic where you go for regular treatment and where you will probably receive your C&P exam has your correct mailing address.
If the medical center sends your notice to an old address and you miss your appointment because you did not know you had one, you cannot use this as an excuse.
If the scheduled time for the C&P exam does not work for you, you can reschedule as long as you have not missed the appointment. Call the number for C&P exam scheduling immediately so you have adequate time to reschedule.
What Happens If the Doctor Does Not Have My Records?
When the VA schedules you for a C&P exam, they will send your claims file to the doctor who will do the examination. Occasionally this will not happen. If your exam is taking place at the VA hospital or clinic, you can ask the doctor to pull up your medical records on the computer. This will not give them any information or any private treatment you have received, however, and so they may not be able to make a complete decision.
If you do not live near a VA medical center or clinic, the VA may send you to see a doctor that does not work for the VA. If the VA has not sent this private physician your records, they will have no access via computer to your medical records and the exam will likely need to be rescheduled.
Therefore, if possible, check with the doctor ahead of time to make sure they have received your records and bring critical documents that you think will support your claim with you. Do not bring everything that you have collected in your VA file but only the most important 20 to 25 pages.
Do some advanced work and you will make your appointment go smoothly and cut down the amount of time that the VA needs to decide whether you are eligible for disability benefits.
Contact KBG Injury Law If You Have Questions About a C&P Exam
If you would like more information on the Compensation and Pension exam or if you have questions about any aspect of the VA disability benefits application process, get in touch with KBG Injury Law.
You can call us at 1-800-509-1011 and schedule a free consultation. You can also contact us online and leave us your contact information and some details about your situation. A Member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.
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