It is important that all of your records be available to the Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA or VA], or the Social Security Administration [SSA] when you are filing a claim with either body. Even if you are working with a Veterans Service Officer, you should have copies of all the documents that are being submitted. Such documents include, but are not limited to:
- Your complete medical records
- Your complete service record
- Your ship’s deck logs
First, however, here are some steps to take in the process of obtaining official documents or copies of official documents. Please note that these steps are common sense steps to help you stay organized throughout the process of your claim, and to make things easier for whoever is processing your claim. You never know when someone is grateful for you making it easy for them may be the difference in how he approaches the decision making process. If your case is close, it might make the difference. Also note that some of these steps may cost you a few dollars at a time, some more so, but in the long run may be worth much more in return.
Whatever official documents or certified copies of such you obtain, the first thing you should do is arrange a safe, fireproof location to store them.
Stop in at your local Staples, or office supply store, and get a couple of self-inking stamps made up. One should have your name, and address. A second should have your Name and VA Claim number. A third one is for Social Security and it should have your Name and Social Security number. Maximum cost for this should be under $30.
Next, either make or have 2 sets of copies made of all the official documents and certified copies. If you own a multipurpose printer [printer, copier, scanner, fax], you are in very good shape. The price of these has come down and their quality has gone up. Even if you have only a regular printer you can save a lot of time and aggravation. Count the number of copies you need to have made. Count out an equal number of blank pages and run them through the printer, placing your Name, Address, and VA Claim Number in the center of the page. [For copies for Social Security, use your Social Security number rather than your VA Claim Number.] Also, place the following words near your personal information: “Page ____ of _____ pages.” When the copying is done, you should serially number all those pages to help you, and anyone else working with the set of documents keep them in order. It also helps if one gets mislaid. You would then know which one must be replaced and can send it to whoever lost it. That is why you need to keep a second, working copy of your documents. Create separate file folders for them.
On the front of those pages, after they are printed, use your self-inking stamps to mark your name and VA Claim Number [or name and Social Security Number for SSA Applications], somewhere on the page where it does not interfere with what is on the page. Usually there is room at the bottom for this info. Stamp it on each and every page.
To the documents:
1. Medical Records:
Make sure that all your physicians, specialists and other health care workers [including hospitals…tell them to send a copy of all your records from your hospitalization to your family physician] send copies of any and all lab reports, and records of your visits and treatment plans, plus any prescribing information to your family physician. If you do this studiously, and you should insist upon it, then all of your pertinent medical records will be in one place: in the office of your family physician. When it comes time to gather all your current medical records, you only need to go to one place to obtain copies. Most physicians, when told it is for the VA or the SSA will cut you a break and either not charge you, or reduce the charge for copying. Most specialist do send a letter to your family physician and include copies of all test results and x-rays.
Make sure if you change physicians, you get a copy of all your medical records from the physician you are leaving and take them to the new physician and allow them to copy for their records. That gives them the records, and you then have a copy for all your records up to that date.
2. Your complete Personnel Record:
Most of the time, the VA and the SSA deal only with your DD-214 [Page 4 of the Navy Personnel File]. This usually has all the pertinent information, unless you served in more than one duty station or aboard more than one ship. It generally will only have your last duty station or ship and whatever personnel information to be recorded that was generated during that stay. This is important to understand especially if you were a Reservist, as well. Some reservists had several ActDuTra [active duty for training] periods before going on active duty, and may have had more after they came home from their two, three, or four year hitch on Active Duty. In such cases, this information may not show up on your DD-214.
Additionally, if you were TAD anywhere, having the rest of your personnel file should prove that, and that might be exactly the proof you need to prove “feet on the ground”, or a specific exposure.
To request your records, you should go to the following website:
This site will allow you to go to the National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] application for Military Personnel Records. Follow the directions carefully. This process in the past has taken over a year before the records arrived, so start now and be patient.
3. Your ship’s Deck Log:
If your personnel record does not show proof of you being “foot on the ground” or in a place where you were exposed to Agent Orange, your ship’s Deck Log might very well be able to do so. Also, it would be additional documentary evidence in support of your claim as your Personnel Record will show you stationed aboard during a period the Deck Log makes reference to a working party ashore, or some such.
For most Blue Water Vietnam Veterans, ships Deck Logs are to be found at the Modern Military Branch of the National Archives, located just off the Washington Beltway in College Park, Maryland. It is a fascinating facility to visit, and you are encouraged to do so. If you do, go early and get your request in as soon as you get there, as it takes a while to pull the physical records from the archives. Logs from 1941 through those that are 30 years old or older are in the Modern Military Branch, National Archives, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001 [telephone (301) 837-3510]. Be prepared for heavy security, and when you sign in you must answer some questions on a computer, sign some pledges dealing with the handling of documents, and get a photo ID good for one year. Repeat visits are somewhat easier to accomplish.
These are the smooth copied Deck Logs hand written by a revolving set of Officers on board the ship, copied weekly from the rough daily log. They are official documents and are signed by the ship’s Captain and countersigned by the XO.
You may not need an entire period, but just certain dates. If you have a Cruise Book, that can sometimes help you pin point the dates.
The cheapest route to take is to just get copies made of specific dates. These are on oversized [10x15 inch] paper [the Navy went to 8 ½ x 11 log books after we all got out!], so special copiers are set up to deal with the size. But the copiers are sometimes balky.
We copied one month’s worth of log entries, about 50 over-sized pages as most entries ran over onto the back of the page. Because we had waited so long for the box to come up with the log entries, and then the copier we were using was constantly changing the settings, we decided to contract the NARA staff to copy and ship me the rest. It came to about $230 for an additional eight months.
Here is what is contained in the deck logs according to Navy Regulations:
- Accidents [material]
- Accidents/Injuries [personnel]
- Actions [combat]
- Appearances of Sea/Atmosphere/Unusual Objects
- Arrival/Departure of Commanding Officer
- Bearings [navigational]
- Cable/Anchor Chain Strain
- Courts-Martial/Captain's Masts
- Incidents at Sea
- Meteorological Phenomena
- Movement Orders
- Movements [getting underway; course, speed changes; mooring, anchoring]
- Prisoners [crew members captured by hostile forces]
- Propulsion Plant Status changes
- Receipts and Transfers [of Crew Members]
- Ship's Behavior [under different weather/sea conditions]
- Sightings [other ships; landfall; dangers to navigation]
- Soundings [depth of water]
- Speed Changes
- Tactical Formation
- Time of Evolutions/Exercises/Other Services Performed
The facility is on its own campus, has good parking, and beautiful grounds. Inside in addition to the records and archives are a small book-gift shop, a small snack shop, and a large, well appointed cafeteria. Security is very tight, and you are not allowed to take anything onto the floors with you. There are rental lockers in the basement for handbags, coats, pens, pads, and other research tools. There is plenty of scratch paper and pencils around on the research floors. The check-in process takes about 40-60 minutes before you even get to the research floor.
Note: any Deck logs that are less than 30 years of age are in the custody of the Ships History Deck Logs Section, Naval Historical Center, Building 57, 805 Kidder Breese Street SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060. All inquiries concerning research access to logs that are less than 30 years old should be sent to the Ships History Deck Logs Section.
Logs that are less than 30 years old are held in either paper or microfiche form, stored in the Washington National Records Center, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland MD 20746. Logs from 1979 through February 1993 are on microfiche in the Ships History Deck Logs Section. Logs from 1990 through 1993 are partly on microfiche in the Deck Logs Section, partly on paper at the Records Center. All logs from March 1993 are on paper and stored at the Records Center. The logs that are classified must be sent to the proper authorities for declassification review before they can be researched or copied.
One other thing: If for some reason the above does not contain specific enough information to satisfy either the VA, or SSA, or both, and your claim involves combat action, you may need one other resource: The Navy Historical Society mentioned above also stores all ships’/units’ action reports, which were required after every engagement. That might be another source for validation of your claim, as it is usually more specific than the deck logs.
There you have it. IF you are doing your own claim [probably online] via VONAPP or on the Social Security website, you will be required to provide verification of your claim. The above documents are, in most cases, all you will need. We packed ours up into several small boxes [about a ream of paper in each] and shipped them to the VA with our claim number on the outside of the boxes. We also shipped them return receipt requested. That proved they got to where they were intended, and showed us the date when they arrived.
If you are ill and can no longer work, you should apply for Social Security Disability in addition to your VA claim. It too can be a long and ugly process, but in the end, if you go to a hearing, things will work out. You must have an attorney for the appeal to Social Security and the attorney is paid from your lump sum if you win, up to a maximum of $5,400. Our appeal took almost 18 months from initial rejection to the hearing. Nevertheless, when that lump sum comes in, it is a huge load off your mind, as is the monthly income.
VA claims, at least to date, are not permitted to use attorneys to argue the claim before the Board. So there should be no fee for any VA claim, though Congress may change that at any moment.
The SSA almost automatically denies about ¾ of all claims up front [ours was denied before we even finished submitting our paperwork!] forcing the engagement of an attorney and the paying of a fee out of your lump sum. If you lose your appeal with Social Security, there is nothing owed to the attorney. In other words, the SSA is using private attorneys that you must hire to cut down on fraudulent claims, and forcing the claimant to pay for it. Something is very wrong with that.
Good luck, endure, and keep the faith.
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- President Abraham Lincoln
"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington
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