By By Jeremy WiseDecember 3, 2009
In response to an issue raised during October's Army Family Action Plan conference, Army Career and Alumni Program staff encourages Soldiers to learn the Veterans Affairs' disability ratings process before they separate or retire from the service.
During the conference, some Soldiers told AFAP committee members it took up to 18 months to receive their disability ratings, far too long in their opinions, ACAP Transition Services Manager Bryan Tharpe said.
For optimal processing, Soldiers should file disability ratings paperwork anywhere from two to six months, or 60 to 180 days, before retiring or separating from the Army, Tharpe said.
Completing paperwork in that window allows forms to be processed on time and at a better-staffed VA center, Tharpe said. When Soldiers file at the ACAP office here, staff members send the paperwork to the regional office in Montgomery, where employees then direct it to Winston-Salem, N.C., for final processing.
If servicemembers wait until they retire or separate, delays in the process occur as the paperwork is processed in Montgomery, VA Military Services Coordinator Duane Mason said.
To prevent this, Soldiers should be proactive in filing paperwork that helps them receive disability benefits. Soldiers can pick up ratings forms at the ACAP office in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 185 or download them from www.va.gov.
Servicemembers will also need copies of their complete medical histories.
If they gauge how long it takes Lyster Army Health Clinic staff to make copies, Soldiers can have that portion ready 180 days before they retire or separate, Tharpe said.
When forms are completed, servicemembers can return them to the ACAP office, where a VA representative from Montgomery will pick them up. Soldiers can also enlist the help of Disabled American Veterans chapters, whose members can help in the filing process.
Ken Prier, Enterprise's DAV Chapter 9 commander, said servicemembers can really benefit from using DAV's services.
DAV chapter service officers will explain the VA disability ratings process to any Soldier and will help that individual complete forms. The trained officers will make sure any service-connected disability is noted.
"We know VA centers are underfunded and understaffed. We work within the system to help," Prier said.
DAV chapters can provide a limited power of attorney to represent servicemembers in any appeals processes, Prier said. The services are free, and separating or retiring members do not have to join DAV.
"It is worth a Soldier's time to call us," Prier said.
A list of local DAV contacts is available at ACAP or Lyster's VA Clinic offices.
For more information on the disability ratings program, call ACAP at 255-2558.