George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

M-VETS and Veterans: We Are In This Together!

M-VETS and Veterans: We Are In This Together

By Student Advisor Fall 2016

One of the hardest parts of working as a Student Advisor at M-VETS, is telling a client that they have to waits months on end to get the services that they deserve. We know that every day our clients wait on the Veterans Affairs (VA) is another day our clients go without the help they need.  M-VETS also understands that whether you’re trying to increase your VA benefits or change your discharge status, dealing with the VA or military can be anything but easy.  The process is not only frustrating and stressful, but it is time consuming and confusing.  Just try googling, “how to upgrade your discharge upgrade.”  You’ll likely come up with results that have multiple pages of confusing directions or webpages that tell you to fill out a DD Form 293 with little to no other advice.  What these websites fail to tell you is how long this process will take and what information you’ll need to gather to create the best possible case for yourself.  Below is a quick checklist M-VETS believes will help you get started with your VA or military claims prior to seeking legal advice.

1. Put your dates Together

One of the most difficult things we have to do as Student Advisors at M-VETS is to tell a possible client that we can’t help them because the statute of limitations to appeal their decision has passed. Before even getting started filling out a claim with the VA, you should know the time you have to appeal your decisions.  When it comes to appealing to the Discharge Review Board, you have 15 years to challenge your discharge from the date of discharge.  The Boards of Corrections provides only 3 years to appeal a decision if you “discover an alleged error or injustice.”  The Boards of Correction have been known to waive the 3-year requirement, but knowing this date is crucial and could be the reason you are denied an opportunity for a hearing or review.  While there are other time limits to consider, these are the important dates one should know before starting a VA or military board claim.

2. Get your documents Together

When you think or are even considering changing your discharge upgrade or increasing your VA benefits, M-VETS suggests that you start getting all your documents together. You should get your DD-214, all your military records, and any relevant medical records.

You should start by filling out a Standard Form 180 (SF-180). With this form, you can request your DD-214, medical documents, and all military documents.  M-VETS suggests that under the “Other” checkbox, you should write “I’m Requesting All Military Personnel and Medical/Service Treatment Records.”  After filling this form out, make sure you print the SF-180 out and sign it with a pen.  Electronic signatures, printed signatures, or no signatures at all will not be accepted by the National Archives.  Once the document is completely filled out and you have signed it, the third page will show you where to send the form to.  Find your corresponding military branch of service, the years you served, and the corresponding address/website you should send the SF-180 to for processing.  If you choose to mail the SF-180 to its corresponding address, you should use certified mail or at least track your mail to make sure it arrives to its proper location.  Getting these documents back from Archives can take as long as 3-12 months, so start this process as soon as possible.

If your case even has the possibility of requiring medical documents or medical evaluations, M-VETS suggests you get started gathering these documents as soon as possible. Getting any medical documents from the VA or personal doctors is sometimes vital to winning a case, even when you don’t think it could be.  For example, you may not think your discharge upgrade would require your medical documents, but, let’s say, during your appeals process, you think you might have/had PTS.  Having both military medical documents, as well as personal medical documents, may show you were suffering from PTS and could help you win your discharge upgrade case.

3. Get your story Together

At the end of the day, this is all about people and helping veterans. While at times, you may feel like a number dealing with the VA, M-VETS knows you are not.  M-VETS feels the best way to show the VA that you are more than just another number is by developing and creating your story.

M-VETS advises its clients to create a personal statement. This statement can be as long or as short as you want, but we have a few suggestions.  First, be honest.  It is imperative that you don’t lie or fabricate your story.  If the VA finds out you lied or didn’t tell the truth, you lose all your credibility.  Second, tell your story.  Talk about your background, why you joined the military, the problems you are experiencing that caused you to contact the VA, and what you’ve done since leaving the military.  This is your opportunity to tell your story, so take full advantage of it.  Third and most important, once you’ve written your personal statement, edit, edit, edit.  A famous Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “there is no great writing, only great rewriting.” This might seem ridiculous, but people notice when there are grammatical or spelling mistakes.  When you put together a polished product, the people reviewing your case at the VA or military board will notice.

Another important part of telling your story is having other people tell it for you. Find at least 3 people who can write a letter that can vouch for your character and/or who can corroborate your story.  This is a really important part of the discharge upgrade or VA appeals process.  The panel or administrator wants to hear stories from other people about your great military career or how you have been a productive member of society since leaving the military.

4. We are in this Together

If you are frustrated with the process, know you are not alone and there are organizations that can help. Please visit our website or give us a call.  Even if M-VETS cannot help you, we can put you in contact with someone who can.

M-VETS Checklist

  1. Put your Dates Together
    1. Discharge Review Board – 15 years
    2. Appeal to Corrections Boards – 3 years
      1. Corrections Boards are known to waive the 3-year requirement “in the interest of justice”
  2. Get your Documents Together
    1. SF-180
      1. Requests
        1. DD-214
        2. Medical Documents
        3. Military Personnel Documents
        4. All Other Documents pertaining to your military service
      2. Print the form
      3. Sign the form
        1. In pen
        2. Not in print (sign in cursive)
      4. Send it to the right address
        1. Know your branch of military
        2. Know the dates you served
        3. Find the address/website that corresponds
      5. Send as certified mail or track the document
      6. Be prepared to wait up to 3-12 months
    2. Medical Documents
      1. Gather any personal medical documents
      2. Gather any military documents you have from any military hospital you were treated at
  3. Get your Story Together
    1. Draft a personal statement
      1. Be honest
      2. Tell your story
        1. Background
        2. Why you joined the military
        3. Military career
        4. Why you are contacting the VA or board
        5. What you’ve done since leaving the military
      3. Edit, Edit, Edit
    2. Find at least 3 people to help tell your story
  4. We are in this Together
    1. Visit our website