Many veterans are confused and nervous about the all too often dreaded “C&P exam.” This is the Compensation and Pension exam the VA often schedules after a veteran applies for disability benefits. There are several reasons the VA might schedule a C&P exam. One reason might be so that the VA can confirm the veteran really does have the condition she claimed on the benefits application. Another reason is to help the VA decide if the condition really did result from service. Sometimes the VA agrees the veteran has the claimed condition and that it’s from service, but they need to know how severe the condition is, which is yet another purpose of the C&P exam.
The exam is normally with a medical professional at a VA hospital but could also be with an examiner outside of the VA. The examiner can be a doctor, nurse, or nurse’s assistant and may not specialize in the condition under examination.
C&P exams are extremely important and can often be the deciding factor in whether the VA grants a veteran the sought-after benefit. They can be very helpful to veterans but they must be taken seriously. It’s beneficial to give them some thought ahead of time and keep some things in mind.
First, if it’s not clear what the examination is about the veteran should call the VA and ask. It can be nerve wracking not to be clear about what the examiner will be, well, examining. It can be especially helpful to know if the examination will cover a sensitive topic, like a traumatic incident. Sometimes in-service trauma can be very difficult to talk about, especially with someone who’s not the veteran’s regular doctor or care provider. If the veteran knows the examiner will be asking about an incident in service that’s hard to discuss, it can be helpful to know that ahead of time and even talk to a treating doctor or therapist about how best to handle it.
Second, veterans should bring helpful documents with them to give to the examiner. If the veteran’s treatment provider has written a useful letter or filled out a form for the claim, that can help and even encourage the examiner to support the claim as well. If the veteran doesn’t have a supportive letter from her doctor, if she finds out what the exam is about she might have time to get one.
Third, veterans should bring someone along who might be helpful to the examiner. A person very close with the veteran, like a spouse or sibling, can tell the examiner what symptoms they see and explain how they know the condition is from service. For example, that person might be able to confirm that the veteran had no issues with his back whatsoever before service but he’s had them ever since discharge and they have just gotten worse over time. But here’s the rub on this one: the examiner can refuse to allow anyone other than the veteran into the examination. So if the veteran does bring someone along, he has to be prepared to ask them to sit in the waiting room if the examiner does not allow them to come in.
Fourth, focus only on what the examination is about. For example, if the examination is so the VA can determine if the veteran’s mental health condition is from service, the veteran should not spend time complaining about how much pain he’s in from a recent car accident that happened after service. The veteran should also not argue about why an examination is necessary or vent about any frustration with the VA.
Fifth, veterans need to let their guards down. This can be a really hard one for a lot of people but it’s necessary. Unless veterans explain what happened in service, if that’s requested, or show the examiner how bad their symptoms are, the examiner won’t really know. The examiners are supposed to review the VA records before every exam but really the best way for them to truly understand how serious the veteran’s condition is or what happened in service that caused the condition is to show and tell them.
Sixth, veterans should not blow off an exam. Veterans should show up for the exam or the VA might deny a claim for that reason. Examinations can be rescheduled if the day or time isn’t workable. Veterans should be on time but be ready to wait if the examiner is running behind schedule. Also, it’s helpful to think ahead about how best to present what happened in service and be ready to explain how the symptoms of a claimed condition affect daily life.
Seventh, and finally, veterans should remember that it’s normal be nervous about these exams. Many of my clients say they’re anxious before a C&P exam because they don’t know what to expect or if they can explain everything well enough. All veterans can do is be honest and do their best!