To win disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), you must establish the existence of a disabling condition, document the severity of the condition, and provide evidence establishing that your disability was caused by your military service. In many cases, private medical evidence proves crucial in documenting the seriousness of the condition.
Why Private Medical Evidence Is Valuable
Private medical evidence is simply evidence from a healthcare provider who is not part of the VA medical system. This could be your family doctor, a specialist you’ve consulted, or someone who treated you in the emergency room or an urgent care clinic.
Common types of private medical evidence include:
- Results from diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans
- Treatment records indicating what treatments have been tried and if they were effective
- Doctors notes showing the progression of your condition over time
- Patient files
In many cases, private medical evidence overlaps with the evidence you’ve obtained from VA medical care providers. However, the VA encourages you to submit private medical evidence because it further documents the severity of your disability. Private medical evidence is particularly valuable when it comes from someone who is familiar with your medical history over time and can provide an informed opinion regarding your prognosis.
There are two ways to obtain private medical evidence for your VA disability claim:
Obtain the evidence directly.
You can obtain private medical evidence yourself by completing the healthcare provider’s information release form to request the relevant records.
Ask the VA for help.
If you want the VA to gather private medical evidence on your behalf, you need to complete VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and VA Form 21-4142a, General Release for Medical Provider Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you submit the completed forms with your claim for disability benefits, the VA will try to obtain the evidence for you.
Generally, medical care providers will waive their normal record fees when a veteran is requesting evidence to support a disability claim. However, it is possible that there may be a fee to obtain the relevant records. The VA can’t legally pay for private medical records, so you will be notified if they are unable to obtain evidence on your behalf because there is a fee involved.
Ideally, your original application for VA disability benefits should be as complete as possible. However, you’re not out of luck if you forget to include evidence or don’t fully understand what evidence is needed. Here’s what you can do:
- If your application is pending, the VA will allow you to submit new evidence for up to one year. If your application is decided before the one-year mark, you’ll still have the full year to submit any evidence that you believe is relevant.
- If your benefits were denied, you can file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and submit new private medical evidence with this document to begin the appeals process.
- If you’ve already completed the NOD, filing a Form 9 substantive appeal to take your case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) gives you another opportunity to submit new evidence.
- If you’re currently receiving benefits and your condition has deteriorated, you can submit private medical evidence with your request for a higher disability rating or an application for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits.
Regardless of when you submit your private medical evidence, you should only submit each document once. Submitting duplicate copies of evidence is a common mistake that can lead to unnecessary delays.
How Our Veterans Benefits Attorney Can Help
The process of applying for VA disability benefits can be quite overwhelming—especially if you’re dealing with significant health challenges. An attorney who understands VA disability law can help you build the strongest possible claim. This includes gathering all relevant private medical evidence as well as other types of evidence such as buddy statements or personal statements and preparing a persuasive argument for your appeal.
Do You Need to Speak With a Veterans Benefits Lawyer?
If you need to speak with an experienced veterans benefits lawyer, please contact us online, or call our Virginia Beach office to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia, including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Suffolk.