Compensation and Pension Exam

A compensation and pension exam for PTSD and other mental disorders is a forensic[df] psychological evaluation in which a psychologist ascertains if a veteran suffers from one or more mental disorders, and if so, determines if a nexus (causal connection) exists between the veteran's military service and the mental disorder(s).[fn]


Table of Contents

VA C&P Exam vs. Independent Psychological Evaluation

Value of an Independent Psychological Evaluation

Definitions

Footnotes


VA C&P Exam vs. Independent Psychological Evaluation

A psychologist's (or other health professional's) role determines the nature of the exam.

VA medical examiners perform VA compensation and pension exams.

Non-VA experts conduct independent medical examinations (IME) and independent psychological evaluations (IPE). 


VA Compensation and Pension Exam

United States veterans can receive disability compensation and other benefits if they suffer from PTSD and other mental disorders that were incurred in, or aggravated by, their military service.[fn],[fn]

When a veteran files a disability claim for PTSD or other mental disorders, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) almost always requires a compensation and pension examination (C&P exam).

The VA sends veterans to VA medical examiners for these C&P exams.


Sidebar: The Unique Meaning of "VA Medical Examiner"

Who or what is a "VA medical examiner"? One might understandably assume that the term means physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs who conduct C&P exams. But that is not what it means. 

First, VA refers to all of its examiners as "medical" examiners. Physicians, physician associates, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and audiologists are all medical examiners according VA.

Second, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a VA medical Examiner is:

  • a VA employee; or

  • an independent contractor who conducts exams on behalf of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA); or

  • a health professional in the private sector who performs C&P exams as an independent contractor on behalf of a third-party medical disability examination (MDE) company.

MDE companies contract with VA to develop a network of qualified examiners and manage almost all aspects of the compensation and exam process.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) oversees MDE company performance and sets policy for compensation and pension exams, sometimes in consultation with VHA.

Private practice clinicians working on behalf of MDE companies conduct the vast majority of  C&P exams. 


Independent Psychological Evaluation

An independent psychological evaluation (IPE) is essentially a compensation and pension exam performed by a non-VA psychologist.

When writing a C&P exam report, the psychologist places more emphasis on reviewing, analyzing, and rebutting erroneous VA medical examiner opinions. But otherwise the evaluation procedures (assessment methods) and reporting format are the same as a C&P exam. 

Psychologists in the private sector are independent if they are not VA medical examiners.

Thus, an independent examiner ...

  • is not a VA employee;

  • does not conduct C&P exams for VHA as an independent contractor; and 

  • does not evaluate veterans on behalf of an MDE company.

Private sector psychologists who conduct independent psychological evaluations (IPE) ...

  • do not have a boss telling them how to conduct a compensation and pension exam;

  • do not have to worry that VHA will stop hiring them to conduct C&P exams because they don't conduct exams in manner dictated by VHA administrators;

  • are not influenced by an MDE company's billing, coding, and reimbursement policies;

  • do not feel constrained by low fees (contract examiners) or time pressure (VA staff).

The big difference between a VA exam and an IPE is the independent examiner's freedom to conduct a comprehensive exam without interference from VA or an MDE company.


Value of an Independent Psychological Evaluation

If the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) denies a veteran's initial claim for disability benefits, the veteran can request a "decision review"—commonly referred to as appealing a decision.

In most instances, an independent compensation and pension exam conducted by an expert  psychologist will bolster a veteran's chances to win their claim during the decision review process.

Since non-VA psychologists who conduct an IPE receive payment commensurate with their expertise, they have the time and resources needed to conduct an evidence-based, reliable evaluation. You get what you pay for.

Adjudicators—decision review officers and veterans law judges—appreciate thorough, scientifically sound psychological evaluations that include well-articulated medical opinions and a cogent rationale for the opinion.


Definitions

forensic, adj. ... 2. b. spec. Designating branches of forensic medicine, the natural and physical sciences, and other fields of study that provide evidence in legal proceedings ....[fn]


Footnotes

Psychiatrists also conduct compensation and pension exams, but psychologists conduct the vast majority. In addition, wordy constructions like "forensic psychological evaluations and forensic psychiatric evaluations" make for tedious reading. 

Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2021), s.v. "forensic", https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/73107

Veterans Benefits Admin., Dep’t of Veterans Affs., Your VA Claim Exam: Know What's Next (January 2022), https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/docs/claimexam-factsheet.pdf

Principles relating to service connection, 38 C.F.R. § 3.303.

There is also "secondary service connection", for example, if a mental disorder is "proximately due to or the result of a service-connected disease or injury" (38 C.F.R § 3.310).


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