Most VA disability claims require you to take a compensation and pension (C&P) exam at some point. The C&P exam, also sometimes called a VA claim exam, is what the VA uses to determine how severe a veteran’s condition is. C&P exams are critical because the VA uses severity to determine the final disability rating and, therefore, the amount of your disability payment. Because this step is critical to your VA rating, this article offers advice to help you prepare for a C&P exam.
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“Should I have said that?” Many people think this when they’re in a doctor’s office. Most people wonder if they’re oversharing and want to ensure the information they provide will lead to an accurate diagnosis. But the stakes will likely seem even higher if you’re at a VA claim exam. After all, the C&P exam is one of the ways the VA decides the amount of your disability payment. This post helps you understand what to say (and what not to say) during your C&P exam.
What is a C&P exam?
The VA office in your region will schedule your compensation and pension examination for the Veterans Benefits Administration. It’s a medical exam to assess your level of disability or whether a disability that you suffer from is related to your time in service. The VA uses the information from the exam to determine how severe your condition or conditions are and determine your disability rating. Your diagnosis and combined disability rating determine the payment you receive.
A medical professional typically performs the C&P exam at their office. Depending on your specific concern, this professional may be a doctor, psychiatric nurse, clinical psychologist, nursing practitioner, etc. Private doctors also sometimes do C&P exams for patients.
You can expect a lot of questions during a C&P exam. Depending on your health concern, it may involve a physical examination and other testing. If you’re undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, they’ll ask you about your personal history and current symptoms. They want to know how your mental health concerns impact your daily life.
Not every veteran seeking benefits is asked to attend a C&P exam. However, because of the importance of the C&P exam to your claim, you must attend if an exam is requested. If you can’t attend the exam when it’s scheduled, it’s essential to reschedule it as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, some medical professionals may not realize the importance of these exams and don’t take the time they should, said VA-certified disability benefits lawyer Zack Evans.
“Some of these exams only last five to 10 minutes. Issues that arise with the thoroughness of exams tend to come up more often in mental health exams because it’s really difficult to cover the full breadth of someone’s mental health disability during a short exam,” he said. “In my opinion, the mental health examinations should be longer. They should dedicate much more time to understanding what has occurred to a veteran, how some of these behaviors or coping skills took root in service and then progressed throughout a person’s life.”
If you don’t think your claim exam was accurate or well done, you can call the VA to tell them your concerns. Make sure they note them in your file. You also can write a memorandum of record based on your experience and upload it into your digital file. Overall, you may need to wait for the VA’s decision, then challenge it, depending on what they find. Either way, if you think you had a bad exam, you want it argued in your claims and appeals to the VA.
How to prepare for a C&P exam
So, understanding the importance of the C&P exam, how do you prepare? Evans said the best thing to do is prepare to talk about the symptoms you’re dealing with and how they affect your life, especially with mental health exams.
“It is easy for survivors of military trauma to want to shut down in the middle of a psych exam, not to want to discuss the full range of things they’ve been dealing with,” he said. “It’s understandable. Sometimes that’s a coping mechanism. You need to think about exactly how your condition impacts you and the things you want to get out there.”
What should you say at your C&P exam?
You should be honest at your C&P exam. Tell the medical professional specific details about your symptoms and how they affect your daily life. Tell them about anything you used to be able to do that you can’t do anymore and why. Don’t exaggerate your concerns, but make sure they’re known and how specifically your current medical issues are connected to your military service.
Because C&P exams can cause you to be anxious and you need to cover a lot of ground in a short time, it may be best to keep a journal or notes about your health condition. A short journal entry in the morning and evening can help you think about your day and what impairments challenged you. Before your appointment, write down what you want to make sure to tell the medical professional with specific examples. Writing it down will help you feel like you’re being heard and ensure you remember everything you want them to know.
“This is your chance to tell your story. If you feel like an examiner is rushing you, do everything you can to respectfully slow them down. Ask them for an opportunity to be heard, and make sure they know that you feel the examination is not complete and the discussion is not over because you have more that you want to talk about,” Evans said. “Remember, while it’s being administered by a medical professional, this is your examination. If you feel like something isn’t being explored enough, you need to say something.”
If a mental health concern has resulted in you not interacting with your loved ones the way you used to, be sure that’s clear in your exam.
“It’s pretty common, but if it’s not brought up, then the VA will assume that you’re functioning at a normal level in terms of your social and familial interactions, and often, that simply isn’t the case,” Evans said.
What not to say at a C&P exam
The most vital thing not to do at your claim exam is to pretend your symptoms aren’t as bad as they are. It’s not the time to play tough. You don’t want to exaggerate your symptoms, but you should be honest about how bad they are and exactly how they impact your life. If you are given a physical exam, be sure the doctor knows when you’re in pain and how much.
Evans said it’s vital to remember that you’re attending a medical exam, not a social event.
“View your entire conversation as something that will affect your claim,” he said.
That means, even if you know the medical professional, don’t make small talk or say you’re “fine” or “having a good day.”
“From the moment you walk in, you’re being assessed. So, keep these kinds of things in mind,” Evans said.
“They did good by me. I am sick, and the VA was stalling. They got me 100% permanent and total.“
Mental health C&P exam questions
A mental health C&P exam can be emotionally challenging, especially since many veterans want to soldier through mental health symptoms. Many do not want to admit how much these symptoms impact their daily lives.
Evans said it’s vital to be honest and open about your symptoms and how they affect you. He said to take your time and make sure to say what you need to say. If you feel like the examiner is rushing you, ask them to please slow down and listen to your concerns.
Many times in a mental health C&P exam, the examiner will ask many questions about your service but few questions about how you’re functioning today. Evans said it’s essential for them to understand how you’re impacted now by your service and how your mental health concerns impact you as a person.
“Don’t let them leave this part of the conversation out,” he said. “If there’s something that you feel needs to be communicated to your examiner, that the VA needs to find out about something you’re struggling with, this is your opportunity to make that concern heard. And it may be your only opportunity to get it on the record with the VA.”
Because mental health C&P exams are emotionally taxing, Evans encourages veterans to plan something fun or light-hearted to do after their exam. This could be spending time with friends or family or on a hobby.
“Take the time to do something enjoyable to get your mind out of this cyclical type of thinking that can result from digging up these old bones, so to speak,” he said. “We want to ensure that the C&P examination is as accurate and thorough as possible, but we don’t want you to be impacted long term. These examinations are difficult enough. We want to make sure that you’re trying to make plans to do something that can relieve the stress and allow you to get back to as much functionality as possible because life is about enjoying.”
Downloadable C&P Exam Preparation Checklist
Click the image to download or print your own copy of our exam checklist or read more about preparing for your C&P exam here!
Where can I view my C&P exam results?
If you want to see your C&P exam results, you must request a copy of the report. To do that, you can fill out a Privacy Act Request using VA Form 20-10206. You can submit the form by mail to the Department of Veterans Affairs Evidence Intake Center or take the completed form to your regional VA office.
Woods and Woods can help
If you receive your VA rating decision and think it’s incorrect, whether as a result of your C&P exam or for other reasons, you can appeal. Contact Woods and Woods to file an initial claim or appeal a rating decision. You only pay us if we win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You may have a feeling about whether your C&P exam was good, depending on how well you think the administrator listens and responds to you. But the only way to know your C&P exam results is to request a copy of the report from the VA.
No, not every veteran is asked to attend a C&P exam. It depends on your situation. But if the VA requests a C&P exam, you need to attend. Otherwise, you could lose your disability benefits altogether.