So, you are starting in the military disability process....you probably feel like the characters above.
Let me point out several pointers and common errors that impact folks in getting to a favorable outcome.
1) Make an honest and fair evaluation of your situation and your goals as early as possible- then fight for your desired outcome.
I have stated this countless times. One of the best things you can do to get the outcome you desire is to decide as early as possible what your desired outcome is. I have come across many cases where the member gets a bad outcome because they have "waffled" on what they want. For example, I have seen many cases where a member really wants to be found fit and continue their career. So, at the MEB level and the IPEB level, they minimize their conditions. They don't seek medical care, treatment, or documentation of their conditions. They submit letters arguing that they are doing fine, or mention to their doctor (who records the statement in the treatment notes) that they have no problems. Then, when it is apparent that the member is going to be found unfit, they change their argument and try to argue the opposite- that they are unfit and should be retired. Some members, depending on their condition or the rating criteria applicable to them can still get a retirement finding depending on their situation and the facts of their case. However, many members do poorly when they switch their arguments later in the process. Often, a problem is lack of evidence.
2) Make sure you exercise your rights.
I can't count the number of cases that I have come across where folks felt they were wronged, knew the outcome was bad, but accepted findings that hurt them. Later, they want to fight their case out. Sometimes this is possible and a bad situation can be corrected. However, it is rarely the case that agreeing to something you know is wrong helps the case. If you don't understand something, get educated on it or ask for help. That is what we are here for, too. Rarely (really, almost never) does it help to give up rights. Fight for what you want if you have a reasonable basis for your belief in something.
3) Get educated on the issues and understand what your issues are
Understand the issues in your case. Normally, they are your fitness to continue to serve, your potential disability ratings and compensation, the combat related nature of your conditions, your entitlement to other benefits (Social Security, taxation, healthcare, education, and employment benefits).
4) The process will likely take a lot of time
There are guidelines for the time it should take to process a case, start to finish. These are only guidelines. Cases can move faster or slower. Don't be surprised about either situation. Bottom line, definitely look to what others are facing and check up on processing timelines results from recent cases. However, understand that "average" case timelines may not apply to you. To the best of your ability, prepare for a longer or shorter timeline.
5) Don't give up before the "game is over"
As Chris Webber said, "Run through the tape!!"
At almost every level of the process, there are appeals. If you have a case that can be "won," but have not so far, continue to gather evidence, continue to press your appeals, and continue to fight. The only caveat is that if fighting further is not likely to work in your favor or if the costs are greater than what the fight will gain gain you, then know that you have done your best and move on (at the point, the "game" is over).
6) Don't assume that because you have been wronged you will win
Be clear on the legal issues and what matters vice the issues where you have been wronged but it does not matter (unfortunately, this is a truth- you can be wronged but, depending on the issue, it does not mean you will "win"). Often folks focus on the wrong issues (like, someone doing them wrong, but causing no prejudice or legal error). Keep your shot group tight and focus on the issues that matter.
7) Get the care you need
You health is a primary issue. Don't suffer in silence.
A pervasive error (especially for combat arms folks, pilots, those with certain security clearances, etc.) is not getting conditions addressed or evaluated. The military culture often says, "suck it up and drive on." That can be a valuable survival tool in the right situation. But, the flip side is that you have to take care of yourself. If you need help, get it! You do yourself and your unit a disservice if you are unable to function as needed. If you are broken, you can't help accomplish the mission and you need help, GET HELP! You will improve your health and document your issues in most cases if you do so.
8) Have a plan
Whether you get the correct outcome or not, you are going to move through this process. Have a plan for what comes next. This applies equally to those who get a good or a bad outcome. The future is coming one way or another. Have a plan for any outcome and thrive based on the plan. Just sitting back and seeing what happens does not count as a plan.
9) Don't have tunnel vision
This is related to both point 8), and point 10). Understand that what you think are the issues and the likely outcomes may not be the case. You have to take a wider view and take control of your future. Be flexible and persevere.
10) Bask in your success, determine to fight for your right, or let it all go. Either way, prepare to move on.
At some point, you will receive a decision in your case. If it is a good one, then, congratulations! You have earned it. If you have not received a good outcome, then make a decision (see point 1, above) as to whether you will continue the fight or whether you will let it go. If you ultimately do decide to let it go, then have a plan for what is next for you- school, work, or something else. If you have no plan, then the world will enforce some decisions on you- decisions that you may not like or are not best for you.
These are just some thoughts and words of wisdom. Use what is helpful. Reject what is not. Either way, best of luck to you as you start on this journey and come out on the other side! Read up on the issues in your case, post questions, share your experiences, and take pride in what you have accomplished. You are already a better person for having served. Give yourself credit for making the best of your situation, and if you can, help others along the way.
Thanks for your service, and count yourself as being part of an elite group- those who have served and volunteered their service. I hope all goes well for everyone who read this.
Any questions or issues, please post them, or start your own thread if you have specific issues!