Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) Potentially Suitable for Telehealth
What Are DBQs?
Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) are downloadable forms created for veterans’ use in the evaluation process for VA disability benefits. Specifically, DBQs are supposed to help speed the processing of claims for service-connected compensation and give veterans more control over the disability claims process. While veterans were previously able to access these forms (see below), they were not permitted to fill them out themselves. Instead, veterans had the option of visiting a private healthcare provider or a VA healthcare provider to get this evaluation completed. When having a private healthcare provider complete a DBQ, it is important for veterans to do the following:
- Access the form online through VA’s website and download it;
- Have your private doctor or healthcare provider complete the form;
- Review their findings and save a copy for your records; and
- Submit the form to VA.
The streamlined forms use checkboxes and standardized language so that the disability evaluation can be made quickly and correctly. Specifically, healthcare providers will “check a box” next to descriptions that most accurately depict the disability in question. The use of DBQs also provides veterans with an improved means to submit medical evidence to support their claims. It is important for veterans to be honest about their symptoms in order to ensure documentation and a true reflection of the level of impairment caused by the claimed conditions. DBQs can also sometimes replace a Compensation & Pension (C&P) examination entirely. This is helpful because C&P examinations often add to the long wait times experienced throughout the disability claims process.
Medical Conditions Covered by DBQs
There are currently more than 70 DBQs covering a full range of medical conditions. Some of the DBQs are specific to a single condition (e.g., hypertension, arthritis, prostate cancer), but most forms can be used for several related conditions (e.g., heart conditions, kidney conditions). If there is no DBQ for your specific condition, VA will use the DBQ that is the most general and all-encompassing for that category. For example, VA is looking for a DBQ that corresponds with your Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There will be three different DBQs under the Psychological category: Eating Disorders, PTSD, and Mental Disorders (other). Here, since Generalized Anxiety Disorder does not have its own DBQ, you would use the DBQ for Mental Disorders as it broadly covers the claimed condition. While DBQs are available for a majority of conditions, there are no DBQs for the following:
- Initial examination for PTSD
- Hearing loss and tinnitus
- Residuals of TBI
- Cold injury residuals
- Prisoner of war examination protocol
- Gulf War medical examination
- General medical examination for compensation purposes
- General medical examination for pension purposes
Discontinuance of Publicly Available DBQs
VA continues to use DBQs during C&P examinations conducted by the Veterans Health Administration and VA’s contracted vendor clinicians. However, VA abruptly removed all of the public-facing versions of the DBQ form from its website. This means that veterans can no longer visit VA’s website and download DBQs directly. As discussed above, DBQs allowed veterans to complete examinations with their own private healthcare providers. Furthermore, making DBQs publicly available demystified some of the disability benefits process. It gave veterans more insight into the examination portion of the claims process and allowed private healthcare providers to gain access to the information that they needed in order to evaluate a veteran’s claims and conditions. Furthermore, the publicly available DBQs increased efficiency while further engaging veterans and their families.
The removal of publicly available DBQs is a move that only benefits VA itself. This change is designed for the convenience of VA, not for the convenience of veterans.
VA’s Transition to Telehealth
As of April 2nd, 2020, in-person C&P examinations have been suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. VA is moving forward with the implementation of telehealth (i.e., tele-C&P exams). Currently, VA has determined some conditions that are more suitable for these tele-C&P exams. So far, they are most commonly used for mental health conditions. Essentially, tele-C&P exams allow veterans to stay home and speak with examiners via computer and have a teleconference with that provider. Examiners will ask veterans the same questions that are typically asked throughout the course of in-person C&P exams. Importantly, VA healthcare providers may still complete DBQs with veterans via telehealth. Again, VA C&P examiners will still be utilizing DBQs and have access to them. However, veterans and their own private practitioners no longer will.
The table below identifies DBQs which, along with mental health exams, are potentially suitable to being completed using clinic-based telehealth technology for disability examination purposes:
|DBQ Nutritional Deficiencies|
|DBQ Ear Conditions (Including Vestibular and Infectious)|
|DBQ Loss of Sense of Smell and/or Taste|
|DBQ Sinusitis/Rhinitis, and other Conditions of the Nose, Throat, Larynx, and Pharynx|
|DBQ Endocrine Diseases (Other than Thyroid, Parathyroid, or Diabetes Mellitus)|
|DBQ Esophageal Conditions (Including GERD, hiatal hernia and other esophageal disorders)|
|DBQ Kidney Conditions|
|DBQ Prostate Cancer|
|DBQ Urinary Tract (Including Bladder and Urethra) Conditions|
|DBQ Sleep Apnea|
|DBQ Hematological and Lymphatic Conditions, Including Leukemia|
|DBQ Respiratory Conditions (Other than TB and Sleep Apnea)|
|DBQ Skin Diseases|
|DBQ Diabetes Mellitus|
|DBQ Gall Bladder and Pancreases Conditions|
|DBQ Hepatitis, Cirrhosis and other Liver Conditions|
|DBQ Intestinal Conditions (other than Surgical or Infections including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Diverticulitis)|
|DBQ Peritoneal Adhesions|
|DBQ HIV-Related Illnesses|
|DBQ Infectious Diseases (Other than HIV-Related Illness, CFS, or TB)|
|DBQ Persian Gulf and/or Afghanistan Infectious Diseases|
|DBQ Headaches (Including Migraine Headaches)|
|DBQ Seizure Disorder (Epilepsy)|
|DBQ Review Evaluation of Residuals of Traumatic Brain Injury (R-TBI)|
|DBQ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome|
|DBQ Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and other Autoimmune Diseases|
Note: Taken from VA’s “Fact Sheet Telehealth for Compensation & Pension Examinations” – March 25, 2020
In other words, VA healthcare providers may be able to conduct DBQs virtually (i.e., via telehealth) for the above-mentioned conditions.
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