This is a classic example of VA’s habit of interviewing you at an initial intake exam and trying to pin the willful misconduct tail on the donkey. I have witnessed it numerous times, including having it almost happen to me.
When you first enter the VHA system, certain protocols occur. They want your old history as much as possible and will ask where any records regarding your ailment(s) are located. If you file a claim for SC, they will return to these initial records as they did to this Vet. What has occurred here is the Vet was undoubtedly questioned about the origin of his HCV and willingly provided evidence to the interrogator. The Vet was queried about any behavior that might have put him at risk. He repeatedly and vehemently denied any consumption of drugs during the course of his claim, yet it still sneaks in. It’s no mystery. When I came into the system in the fall of 2008, I had reams of info about this illness and not one scintilla of evidence about any drug hanky panky. Nevertheless, the first doctor I talked to started off the conversation with “Well. Let’s talk about your drug history. Tell me how you started out. Pot?” The assumption is always that it is a drug-related infection. VA doctors, for the most part, assume this from the get-go.
It is paramount that you make it known in no uncertain terms that this is not the disease vector. Just filling out the RFQ can be fraught with danger. We had one member that scratched out an answer regarding piercing because he wasn’t sure about the terminology. VA attempted to use this to prove he was being devious and was therefore not a credible historian. When he filed a second RFQ, they said he had changed his story. He won on appeal, but it illustrates what you will deal with.
When a doctor or an examiner from QTC asks you questions during a C&P exam, he/she will pose rhetorical questions. This means questions that are assumed or really don’t need an answer of yes or no. They will ask you if you’re a Veteran. Well, Duh! That’s why you’re there. So if a doctor segues into a discussion about drugs or the risk of drugs with respect to HCV infections in general, without referring to your case specifically, you can assume this is the groundwork for an assumption on his part that if you do not specifically deny it then you are guilty of it. It is a very subtle technique, but police detectives do it every day. Doctors write it in the records and you will spend the rest of your life trying to excise it. When the subject is broached, simply nod your head sagely and say something inane like “Well, that’s what I’ve heard, but I’m a pick one (Christian, Mormon, 7th Day Revisionist, etc.) and we don’t cotton to that stuff. Never done drugs or alcohol myself.”
If you so much as admit you puffed on a joint (and shared Slick Willy’s propensity for not inhaling), you’re headed for the Group W bench. No one will ever be able to prove this one way or another unless you have been busted and have a track record. Pot doesn’t cause HCV even if you shared the joint so why drag it into the discussion? The same applies for alcohol. VA uses anything in the file as a tool to leverage a denial. Therefore it behooves you to think very carefully before shifting your mouth into drive and taking your foot off the tongue.
This Vet was lucky because he kept his story the same. He didn’t get worried and start adding more suspected risks as he progressed. He refuted the “drug” testimony as soon as possible and did so frequently. One thing Vets should also consider is the conversation with the doctor is not testimony sworn to, but simply what the doctor wrote down. If you discussed this again and again every time you came in and bragged about how many times you’d been through rehab, it might be a little bit more damning. Here, the Vet discovered it and immediately set about correcting the record. Remember also, if you discover it and do nothing to correct the misconception, it is assumed to be true.
Meet our Veteran from Manchester, New Hampshire: