A lot of veterans ask me about the VA claims file, or “C file.” Some request a copy of it, but then aren’t sure how to use it in the way that will best help them get their VA disability claims approved. This is understandable since the files aren’t always organized and normally contain many duplicates that can be hard to handle. The files used to be sent out on paper which wasn’t the handiest because some contain thousands of pages. Now the files are sent out on disc which is a lot easier to handle and, not to mention, the trees are happier with the VA now!
So the C file is what the VA keeps on every claimant (veteran, survivor, etc.) who has ever filed a claim for benefits. It normally contains the application forms, medical records, military records, copies of C&P exams (for more on these, read my blog titled, “How to Handle a VA C&P Examination”) and other records. The C file is critically important because it provides a history of everything that’s gone on with the filed claims and it can highlight what’s needed for claims to finally be approved by the VA.
I know some attorneys won’t formally take on a VA compensation case until they get the C file and review it. For me it’s case by case. By now I have enough history and experience behind me that I can sometimes go ahead and formally take a case and do what I can to develop it until I get the C file. If a veteran is completely confused about what’s happened in their case and where things stand, I normally have to get the C file and review it before I can commit to that case. This is not too uncommon, and veterans shouldn’t feel bad if this happened to them, because VA cases can be extremely confusing over the many years they often take to be resolved.
Once the C File comes in, which can take an extremely long time – up to a year or more in some cases – it has to be reviewed in a way that’s going to be helpful. Personally, I find the best way is to pop the disc into the computer and review it with the help of an Excel spreadsheet or some other organizational tool. This way each page can be logged into the spreadsheet under “date,” “type of document,” “page number” (so you can easily access the exact page you want to get to later), and “comments.” C files are never chronological and you will most likely see pages out of order. And I mean WAY out of order. I’ve had files before that had military records from 1968 followed by a medical document from 2010. The way I organize the review allows you to log every page and then “sort” the spreadsheet in chronological order which creates a clear chronology of each claim. This also lets you see what has been submitted and if the VA overlooked anything. Sometimes the C file is a treasure trove of great evidence to support a claim the VA never saw!
The other thing C files can point out are claims that were filed and never decided upon. Say a veteran filed a claim in 1975, the VA didn’t see or act on it, the veteran got discouraged and gave up. Well, that’s a pending claim and, if located in the C file and ultimately approved, it’s possible the veteran could get a benefit back to when it was filed. In other words, the VA would have to pay the veteran back several decades which can be a LOT of money.
Reviewing the C file can be painstaking but it’s worth the time and effort. I once reviewed a file that was more than 1500 pages long, page by page, and I ended up finding TWO documents that allowed me to develop the claim to a successful resolution. Talk about finding needles in a haystack.
Finally, every veteran is entitled to one free copy of their C file. Survivors can also get copies of the file and I have never had the VA ask for payment to send them out. Suffice it to say, the C file is invaluable tool if used properly.
Questions? Call The Veteran’s Practice, Ltd.!