When you apply for VA disability benefits, you won’t be awarded your benefits on the same day you apply. It takes time to process, evaluate, and make a determination on a claim. The VA official site reminds that it can take up to 130 days or more to make a decision on an individual claim.
That’s one reason why the application process includes a concept called “intent to file,” which helps establish the earliest date your benefits may start.
That is important because if there is a delay in getting a veteran their compensation, the date of your intent to file can act as the date by which your overdue benefits should be paid retroactively.
Just telling the VA you want to initiate a claim is not the same as giving the VA notice of your intent to file, as we’ll explore below.
But first, it’s very important to know that this process may be used for VA compensation, VA pensions, and also VA Survivors Pension and Dependency and indemnity Compensation. Our focus for this article is the VA medical claims process, but keep in mind the other uses for this form, too.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Process
When you initiate a claim with the VA, the date your claim is filed is the date your benefits should begin, and you may have benefits paid retroactively to that date. In typical cases the process requires the following steps:
- Determine if you are eligible to make a VA claim
- Collect your supporting documentation (medical records, related paperwork)
- Check with the VA to ensure you know all the forms needed for your VA claim
- Submit your claim and provide any additional documentation the VA may ask for
- Wait for the VA determination
The date you submit to the VA can be used as your date of “intent to file”. In cases like these, that intent is established by the filing of the paperwork.
But what about situations where all your records, documentation, and supporting evidence aren’t readily available? What if it takes you weeks or even months to get what you need to properly submit your claim?
It hardly seems fair to penalize someone for having to wait on these things. If you know you’re going to file a claim with the VA, will you really be forced to accept a smaller initial benefit payment just because you can’t properly submit your claim as soon as possible?
That’s where the VA Intent To File form comes in.
The VA Intent To File Process
As the VA official site points out, simply starting a claim process is not what it takes to notify the VA of your intent to file. If you submit a formal application, you’ve made a formal claim, but in cases where you can’t do that right away, the VA requires an informal claim instead. That lets the VA give you the date of your intent to file as the date your benefits should begin, retroactively if your claim is approved.
Filing your VA claim online does not require a separate Intent To File form. There is one automatically provided. But if you submit your claim in other ways, you should submit the form as early as you can.
What You Need To File
When you submit a notice to the Department of Veterans Affairs that you intend to file a claim, VA regulations require that these basics be met:
- Your intent to file must contain personal data that allows the VA to formality recognize you as an eligible veteran
- The intent to file must contain information about the benefits you are claiming
- The Intent to File must generally contain a signature when not submitted by phone.
This information is generally conveyed by a specific VA form.
The VA Intent To File Form
In order to submit your VA Intent to File, you will need to use VA Form 21-0966. This form requires your name, Social Security Number, VA Claim Number, and other identifying information. You can mail this form to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
You can also turn the form over to the VA in person at any VA Regional Office. But there is also an option to notify by phone. Call the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
You Can File In Person
The VA official site reminds applicants they don’t have to use the phone or U.S. mail to submit an Intent to File; you can also go in person to any VA Regional Benefit office.
When notifying in person you may be required to show documentation proving your military service, so it’s best to bring your ID, DD Form 214 and other documents that establish that you have qualifying military service.
Benefits Of Using A VA Intent To File
As mentioned above, the most obvious benefit to using a VA Intent to File form is that you could potentially get more money based on an earlier claim date. But there are other benefits to using an Intent to File.
For example, what happens if there is a technical glitch in your claims process and you must show proof of when your claim date was established?
That is where your copy of a VA Form 21-0966 would prove to be invaluable. Such a form is not something you might be able to get copies of from the National Archives–if you are in an active claim situation the National Archives won’t have that paperwork on file.
That is why it is so important to safeguard all your military discharge and claims paperwork—expect the unexpected all the way through the VA claim process.
How Long Do I Have To File My VA Claim?
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site advises applicants they have up to one year from the date of your Intent to File to submit a formal VA benefits claim. According to the official site, the submission process “also allows VA to award backdated benefits from the date of your diagnosis or treatment”.
That means your Intent to File (not your full claim) must be submitted within a year of the treatment or diagnosis. Following that, “your required claim form needs to be filed within one year”.
Filing Your Claim With Assistance
If you need help with a VA claim or a VA Intent to Claim, remember that veteran service organizations, veteran legal firms, and other resources may be able to help you. You can also call the Department of Veterans Affairs directly at 1-800-821-1000 to get more information.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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