How to File VA Disability Claims
VA Disability Claims: How to File
Going through the process of filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is notoriously difficult, especially when you go at it alone. I was fortunate enough to have some great guidance when I filed my VA paperwork during the retirement process.
Here are some basic steps to help you understand how to file your VA disability claim a little easier.
Service-connected VA Disability Claim
The injury or illness you claim must be service-connected, meaning that it was caused by your active service, or it was made worse during your time in the service.
In order to verify your claim, you must have some sort of medical documentation showing that you were treated for the issue while on active duty. This most commonly comes from your medical records, but it can also be sick call slips (signed by the physician), quarters slips (also signed), and in some rare cases it can be documents that accompany prescription medication. The idea being, why would you have a prescription if you didn’t need treatment. The reason this is rare is because some medications are used for multiple conditions; so, it is uncommon for a prescription to be used as a reason for your claim. But it can happen.
It must be medically documented that you have an existing disability. This will likely also come from your medical records, but more specifically from a physical evaluation.
During a physical, service members are evaluated for their fitness to serve, and if something arises from the evaluation then it will be documented.
Physicals are also the best time to bring up issues, pain, or ailments you’ve recently endured. This includes medical treatments and examinations that occur within one year of discharge.
Making the Connection
In order to connect the disability with your military service, there MUST be some documented connection. This, again, refers primarily to your medical records. But it can also include other supporting documentation like your DD-214 or a letter of diagnosis from your physician stating that they are connected.
VA Disability Claim Submission
Once you’ve collected all of the medical documents showing that you have a disability, and that it is service-connected, you will submit your claim to the VA.
VA Review Process
Once they receive it, the VA will conduct an initial review of your claim. Three things happen in this step.
- The VA may ask for further evidence from you, your healthcare provider, government agencies, or other sources as needed.
- The VA reviews the evidence.
- They make a decision.
The VA’s Decision on Your Claim
Once the VA makes a decision regarding your claim, they will send it to you in the U.S. mail. It can take 7 to 10 days for your packet to arrive. The VA will not call you and tell you their decision (just like the IRS won’t call you and ask for money in the form of iTunes gift cards!)
Be advised, as of January 2021, the average number of days it takes to complete disability-related claims is 154 days.
The (Possible) VA Disability Claims Appeal
If your claim is received and you are awarded compensation, congratulations! If your claim is denied, there are three options available for a decision review:
Supplemental Claim – this is an option of you have new and relevant evidence that was not included in your original claim.
- Higher-Level Review – You may ask for a more senior reviewer to look at your case; however, you may not add new evidence with this option.
- Board Appeal – If the other two options don’t pan out, your only other course of action is to appeal the decision to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Veterans Service Officer
There are many organizations that can help veterans file their claims. Some are attorneys, some are claim agents. However, the best guidance you can get is from a Veterans Service Officer (VSO).
VSOs are trained and certified to assist in the VA claims and appeals process, and they are available to help with your VA-related needs. In order to become a VSO, someone must:
- Pass an exam
- Pass a background check
- Take continuing education courses
Be advised that no individual or organization may charge you a fee to help you file your initial application for benefits. It is only after the VA makes a decision that service agents or attorneys may charge you for their services.
Finding a VSO
There are two ways to find an accredited representative or VSO:
- Log onto eBenefits and search by state/territory, ZIP code, or the organization’s name.
- Search the VA Office of the General Counsel’s list of VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals by name, city, state, or ZIP.
If you are considering filing a claim with the VA, I encourage you to check out the VA Disability Compensation page. This page contains all the information you will need to determine your eligibility and to file a claim.
I also recommend that you seek assistance when filing your initial claim because it is already a long process. Mistakes or missing paperwork will make it even longer. Find a VSO to assist you.
Be patient. Thousands of service members transition every year. Most of them are filing disability claims, which is why the VA gets backlogged. Just expect that it can take up to 6 months to hear anything after you’ve filed your claim. It could also take longer. If you use a VSO, they will contact the VA regarding your claim if need be.
(Image courtesy of MedstockPhotos via Shutterstock)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.