“Right knee patellofemoral syndrome” is the medical term used to diagnose my knee pain. It is more commonly known as “runner’s knee.” I started having some mild runner’s knee in basic training, and it continued to give me issues throughout my career. However, my left knee also has issues, and that injury did not occur “on duty.” I had no idea my “off duty” injury was eligible for VA disability. You see, I too believed that nasty VA disability myth.
Unfortunately, the left knee started giving me issues after I fell down a flight of stairs in my home. I wish I had a more exciting story, but that is the entire story. My right knee gave out, and I fell down a flight of stairs at my home. As a result, I fell directly onto my left knee, and I started having issues with the left knee as well. Thankfully, I could not hide the injury, and I went to sick call.
More than likely, that knee was overcompensating for my other knee, but the pain was never bad enough to notice. The quick fall and sudden stop alerted me to the issue. I completed physical therapy, and the doctor prescribed painkillers for the pain. At the time, I did not realize that my left knee was now going to be a notable portion of my VA disability claim.
VA Disability Myths You Believe
I, like many of you, had two ideas about VA claims that were completely wrong.
1) On-Duty Versus Off-Duty Matters – It (Normally) Does Not!
2) The VA Would Only Rate My Most Severe Claims (Completely wrong!)
Thankfully, I had a high-speed VSO that ignored my stupidity. He knew to ignore the VA disability myth regarding being “off-duty.” He properly filed my claims for me. As a result, the VA awarded a 20% rating for left knee patellar subluxation in my left knee, and awarded a 10% rating for patellofemoral syndrome. In short, the VA rates just my left knee alone at a combined 30%.
One Duty VA Disability Myth (Active Duty)
Those of you in the Guard or Reserve absolutely need to be aware of being on or off duty for VA disability. The VA will not cover Guard/Reserve members unless you were on duty at the time of the injury/illness. Your Guard/Reserve unit will need to perform a “LOD” (Line of duty) investigation, and that will determine if your injury/illness is eligible for VA disability.
I think this rule is why so many active-duty troops believe the VA disability myth about being “on duty” at the time of the injury or illness. However, active-duty troops are never off duty. You may not be at work, but you are never off duty. You are on duty 24/7 365. That is why the VA did not dismiss my knee injury as being “off duty.”
Willful Misconduct (Not A VA Myth!)
You are never off duty, but the VA can deny claims that result from engaging in “willful misconduct.” Unfortunately, this is not a VA disability myth. This is a broad statement the VA will hide behind, but it is important to understand the idea through a few examples. In short, the VA looks for examples of drug use, alcohol abuse, willful misconduct, and those who are AWOL.
A service member drives while intoxicated. As a result, he crashes his vehicle, and the accident leaves him severely injured. However, his intentional abuse of alcohol would mean that all injuries sustained or aggravated by this crash are not eligible for VA disability.
A service member is outside of his local area without authorization. I know this varies from base to base, but our “local area” was 6 hours from our shop. He is in involved in a car accident where he is not at fault. However, he is guilty of unauthorized travel (AWOL), and any injuries sustained or aggravated by this crash are not eligible for VA disability.
A service member is partying at a local bar, and starts a fight with another person. During the encounter, the other person injures the service member, and the member attempts to file a VA claim for the injuries. The service member intentionally put himself in a hazardous situation, and all injuries sustained or aggravated by this fight are not eligible for VA disability.
However, the VA will approve drug and alcohol claims that are secondary to PTSD claims. As an example, a veteran abuses heroin to cope with his PTSD. He would never be directly eligible for a primary rating of substance abuse. However, he would be eligible for a substance abuse disability as a secondary claim to his PTSD.
Therefore, a Veteran may prove the drinking and driving in example #1 was secondary to his PTSD. As a result, the VA may elect to cover the injuries as service connected. However, it would be up to the veteran to prove the correlation. These exceptions compound the VA disability myths we believe. It can be difficult to know what the VA will cover. However, we would always encourage you force the VA to deny your claim. Don’t defeat yourself.
Only The Most Severe Claim Matters
My VSO was himself a disabled veteran in his 80’s with a significant amount of experience. His work on my claim was amazing. However, that is very unusual. You can normally expect a VSO to put in the bare minimum amount of work needed to get your claim submitted. Thankfully, he understood the importance of claiming everything that we could claim. This
I am not saying that you should claim everything you can think of. However, you should definitely claim everything that you can prove. My separation from the military stems from an accident that injured my back. I assumed my VA claim would only deal with my back. This is easily one of the worst VA disability myths. Thankfully, my VSO also submitted claims for my knees and allergies.
The VSO understood what I did not understand. Veterans do not build winning claims on one injury. Veterans build claims through using many injuries. If you think otherwise- your belief in this VA disability myth is costing you significantly in your overall rating.
My allergies rating on its own is (almost) worthless. It’s 10%. That is nowhere close to where I wanted my rating to end up. However, I also received a 20% rating and a 10% rating on my left knee. Along with several other claims, I eventually ended up at 90% combined. If the VA had only rated my back; they would have rated me at closer to 40%. In short, every single claim gets you closer to the end goal: 100%.
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