Cindy Speaker:  Good afternoon and welcome to our show today. My name is Cindy Speaker. I have with me as my guest attorney Nathan Guin. Nathan, how are you doing?

Nathan Guin:  I’m doing very well, Cindy, how are you doing? It’s been little bit and I’m glad to see you.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah, I’m glad to see you, too. We’re having some bad weather up here in Philadelphia. How are you guys doing down there?

Nathan Guin: I mean, it’s about 65 and sunny outside, so not quite as bad as the nor’easters you’re getting.

Cindy Speaker:  Ah, that’s nice, that’s nice.

Nathan Guin:  I’ll send some of it up there to you.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah, that’d be good. We’re gonna be talking about veterans disability claims today and we’re gonna talk about what kind of information and documentation that a veteran needs to bring to you guys in order to properly evaluate their case.

Nathan Guin: Exactly.

Cindy Speaker: Let’s start off here with the first question. When can I go to an attorney to help me with my VA claim?

Nathan Guin:  Technically speaking, you can call an attorney at any time. But as far as the VA goes, an attorney can’t be engaged, or you can’t have a contract with a veteran, to help them with a disability claim until they receive their initial rating decision. Generally speaking, sometimes we’ll have people call and say, “Hey, I wanna put in a claim” or “I’ve put in a claim and I want y’all to take my case.” We’ll have to say, “Well, why don’t you get a rating decision?” That’s really the first thing we need is a current decision. It doesn’t even really have to be a rating decision if you’ve already appealed one on your own and you get a statement of a case or even a VBA decision. At that point, you say you want an attorney, that’s when you can engage an attorney, really anytime after your initial rating decision is granted or denied. Whenever you get that you can engage an attorney from there.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay, let me just understand that. The veteran needs to apply for veterans disability benefits themselves first and get that decision.

Nathan Guin:  Right, legally it has to be-

Cindy Speaker:  I see.

Nathan Guin: Exactly. It has to be the veteran themselves who puts in applications. Same thing with social security. There’s just a statutory bar to anybody else being able to do it on the front end. It has to be the initial application of the veteran themselves and then they’ll get an initial decision, usually in about four or five months, maybe a little bit less. At that point, that’s when they can call us and really say, “Hey, I want someone to take my case.” We can really look at it and potentially take it.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay, now, what other documents would they need to bring you in addition to the ratings decision?

Nathan Guin: Depending on what the case is, if it’s for service connection, it’s always helpful for a veteran to get their claims file. You request that from the VA, and that is super helpful because it’s basically the VA’s file on you, anything and everything about you and your service, post-service, whatever you’ve submitted to them, whatever they’ve sent to you. That is everything that they’ve got. That’s really helpful and a lot of veterans don’t know to get that or how to get that, but it’s pretty simple Freedom of Information Act request. You can just send it to the VA and they’re required to release it to you. Those are always really helpful if you have them on the front end for increases. If you’re already service-connected, those claims files are a little less relevant at that point. What you’d really want is current or the most recent medical records you can get so that we can evaluate them versus the diagnostic code and what the VA evaluated in making their decision to see, “Hey, can we get you an increase? Do we need to get an opinion on this? Does it look like this is maybe going somewhere?” Depending on what the case is, we would want different information, but that’s generally what we would look for.

Cindy Speaker:  I would guess that if they call you, you’re gonna tell them that, what they need relative to their specific situation.

Nathan Guin:  Right. Basically what they’ll do, if they call in and we have an intake sheet that we take in, and then we’ll get their initial rating decision. I’ll review that because a lot of times that’s all they have at the time is the decision. “Hey, I just got a decision. I got denied. I’m upset about it.” Or, “I’m just sick of dealing with them. I’m already done with the VA.” Stuff like that. Then that’s what they send in to us and a lot of times, they won’t have their claims filed so a lot of it will be, “Hey, I reviewed it, I get where you’re coming from, but there’s some information I’m gonna need to see.” That’s where it’s gonna be. We’ll talk to them about what they need, how to get it, and if they have any questions in the meantime they can always call us and say, “Hey, I got your packet in the mail. I don’t understand this at all.” We can help them with all that.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. It does sound a little different. Let me just go back again to claims file. It sounds like they get the claims file themselves.

Nathan Guin:  Right, unless-

Cindy Speaker: Or do you get it for them?

Nathan Guin: We will give them the form that they need. We’ll basically fill it out with their information and send it to them. They have to sign it and send it in to the VA.

Cindy Speaker: Okay, it’s a form that they send in to get this.

Nathan Guin: Right.

Cindy Speaker:  I see.

Nathan Guin: It’s essentially a letter. It’s a form letter that we have and generally speaking, we could get the claims file but only if we have a contract with the case. If we take a case, we always order the claims file. If we’re able to take one without a claims file, then we’ll, as a matter of course, order one when we take a case. But generally speaking, if it’s for a review and I can’t take the case off of the rating decision, I’ll say, “Hey, we can send you the form, you just need to sign it, send it in, they’ll send it to you, and then let us know.” The veteran ends up being the middleman a little bit there, but it’s really the only way that we can legally get the claims file to them is through them.

Cindy Speaker:  I see. Now, what about medical records? Are they in the claims file or is that separate? They have to medical records separate?

Nathan Guin:  Service medical records, service treatment records, anything like that, will automatically be in the claims file unless they’ve been destroyed or misplaced or for any reason they’re not available. Any post-service records are really on the veteran to submit unless they’re through the VA. Any VA treatment records are constructively in the possession of the Veterans Benefits Administration and basically what that means is you’re two separate systems but you’re both the VA. If the health system has it, we assume that the benefits system has it. That’s basically all that means. Anything that’s private or outside the VA has to be submitted by the veteran or they can sign a specific form to send to the VA, which is a release of information form that allows the VA to get those documents themselves. The veteran doesn’t wanna go down to his or her doctor, pay whatever money there might be to have to get the records, they can just fill out a specific form for the VA. I believe it’s a 21-41-42, I think. But it’s a release of information. You put your facilities and when you’ve been getting treated there, and then they can request those records themselves.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. Very good. How long would you say once they start gathering information, getting the claims file, getting medical records, all that, how long’s it typically take to gather all the documentation so that they can actually be evaluated by you?

Nathan Guin:  For private medical records and things like that, it’s as fast as your doctor can get them to you or as fast as you can get to them. Usually, I think they process within 30 to 45 days at the longest, maybe. I don’t do a ton of records ordering, but I think that’s about right. For the claims file, that really varies. Depending on a lot like the VA regular claims and appeals tracks go, it depends on how many C5 requests they’ve received, how quickly they’re going through them, how voluminous these claims files are to get, and do whatever they need to do to get them on the disks and get them out. It can take anywhere from two or three months to it’s taken 10 to 11 months. It really depends in terms of how that goes, but if you’re trying to get a claims file from anything from the VA, it can get lengthy.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah. Yeah, I bet. Well, Nathan, let me ask you this. If anybody has questions and they wanna reach out to you directly, what’s the best way to do that?

Nathan Guin:  Yeah, the best way to do it is to give us a call at 251-343-1111, or you can reach us at www.GardbergLaw.com. That’s G-A-R-D-B-E-R-GLaw.com. The great thing about VA law is that if you’re in Connecticut, if you’re in Boise, Idaho, if you’re in Washington, if you’re in Alaska, it doesn’t matter. You can give us a call. We’re based in Mobile, but we can handle cases throughout the country for any veteran anywhere. Don’t hesitate to call us even if you’re really far away. Just give us a call if you need some help and we can answer any questions that you might have.

Cindy Speaker:  Fantastic. As always, great information, Nathan.

Nathan Guin:  I appreciate it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get it out there.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh, yeah. Okay, well, thanks everybody for listening today. If you have questions, comments, you can leave them right on this page. We’ll make sure Nathan gets back to you. Nathan, good to see you again.

Nathan Guin:  Good to see you, too, I appreciate it as always.

Cindy Speaker:  Talk to you again soon.