VA’s Duty to Assist
VA has an obligation under the law to make reasonable efforts to assist a veteran or a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to win his claim. VA must comply with this obligation before it can deny your claim. There are several types of records that VA is required to obtain. First, it must obtain records in the possession of the federal government, and second it must obtain non federal records such as private medical records and records held by a state government. VA must continue its efforts to obtain the records held by the federal government until it is reasonably certain that the records do not exist or that further efforts to find them would be futile. For non federal records, VA is required to make reasonable efforts to obtain the records the claimant identifies and authorizes VA to obtain. This usually means that VA will make an initial request and at least one follow up request.
We strongly recommend that you first obtain your private medical records on your own and review them before submitting them to VA. Similarly, with Social Security records, we recommend obtaining them first and reviewing them prior to submitting them to VA.
VA also has a duty to obtain a medical examination or opinion. As indicated, although it is our preference that veterans utilize private medical experts, we are also aware that not every veteran can afford the cost of a private doctor. As such, you should take steps to make sure that you maximize the chances that the VA doctor will write a favorable opinion. You should make sure that (1) your file contains lots of statements from friends and family that document your continuous symptoms since discharge; (2) request that the VA make a finding as to what evidence is considered true before any exam takes place. If you have medical articles and texts to support your claim, these should be given to the VA examiner.
Developing to Deny
This means that VA tries to obtain its own medical expert reports to support a denial of the claim. Sometimes, when the VA does not want to accept your favorable private doctor’s report, it will schedule an unwanted C&P exam in hopes of obtaining a negative medical opinion that it can later rely on to deny your claim. If this occurs, we recommend submitting another private medical opinion along with medical articles.