What do you need to know about filing VA Disability Claims? The first and best initial advice you can take is to start early preparing for your claim. For all Department of Veterans Affairs claims you will need to use resources at VA.gov in order to submit a claim, documentation, medical records, etc.
The need to start preparing for this process as early as possible doesn’t mean much to those who don’t understand the rules for filing a VA disability claim.
But once you understand you have a limited amount of time to file certain kinds of claims and that the claims process can take more time than you think, you may feel a sense of urgency about being prepared.
Where To File A VA Disability Claim
You can apply online, in person at a VA Regional Office, or by mail using VA Form 21-526EZ at:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
You can also apply with the assistance of a Veterans Service Officer or accredited representative. These are often found at agencies like the VFW, USO, DAV, etc. You can do a search for VSO or Veteran Service Organizations, or look for an accredited representative working for your state government via the state’s official site.
What You Need To Submit A VA Disability Claim
The shortest answer to the question, “What do I need to do to submit a VA disability claim?” is this: gather your medical records from both military and civilian care providers, make a list of the medical issues you want to claim, and submit to the VA.
The specifics of that answer include the following:
VA.gov advises those who want to file a VA disability claim that you will need medical evidence and supporting evidence (which can include letters from co-workers, friends, and family who can attest to how the medical issue has affected your life) that shows you suffer from:
- A “current physical or mental disability” and
- An “event, injury, or illness that happened while you were serving in the military” that caused the medical issue.
VA regulations state that documentation is required to support such claims:
- DD214 or the applicable report of military discharge
- Your medical records (military and civilian where applicable)
- Any medical evidence related to your illness or injury to include doctor’s reports, X-rays, and medical test results
There is a list of official evidence requirements as part of VA Form 21-526EZ, which is an electronic document in the PDF format.
All documentation must be submitted to the VA or the VA must be given permission to access the records where applicable. It’s best NOT to assume the VA will do your document review process for you–it is strongly recommended that you include all such documentation yourself rather than leaving it to the Department of Veterans Affairs to find certain documents for you.
Yes, the Department of Veterans Affairs does offer to help some applicants gather evidence, but with a past history of VA backlogs and slow processing times, it’s best to bring as much of your own paperwork as possible for faster processing.
VA Disability Claims: Pre-Discharge, Standard, And Fully Developed Claims
Your initial claim for VA disability benefits can be filed as early as 180 days before leaving military service. This is known as a pre-discharge claim. There is a VA program called Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) which can help speed the claim decision process.
The VA official site says the following service members may be eligible to apply if they meet ALL the following requirements:
- The applicant is a service member on full-time active duty, to include National Guard, Reserves, or Coast Guard, and
- The applicant has a “known separation date” and that date is within “the next 180 to 90 days,” and
- The applicant is available to go to VA exams for 45 days from the date of the claim, and
- The applicant can provide service treatment records for the current period of service when the claim is filed.
The BDD caveat? You can’t use this program if you have fewer than 90 days remaining on active duty. You can, however, still file a claim prior to discharge.
For those who do not qualify for BDD, there are standard VA medical claims and fully developed claims.
Filing A Fully Developed Claim
The Department of Veterans Affairs allows fully developed claims submissions under the following circumstances:
- The applicant has an illness or injury caused by or made worse by active duty service or
- The applicant has a condition caused or made worse by a disability already determined to be service-connected
The applicant must submit an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ), plus all supporting documentation and evidence. The applicant is required to attend any VA medical exams needed to make a decision on the claim.
Filing A Standard Claim For VA Compensation
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site describes a standard VA compensation claim as one where the applicant wants the VA to “take more responsibility for gathering the evidence (supporting documents) we need to make a decision on your claim.”
The applicant in these claims still has to provide certain paperwork and follow certain procedures including the following:
- A completed Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ), and
- Notification of any “related records not held by a federal agency” and information the VA will need to obtain those records
- Go to any medical exams scheduled by the VA that may be needed to verify the claim
The VA official site advises that in cases where a person or agency “refuses to turn over the evidence we need, asks for money for the evidence, or can’t get the evidence, we’ll ask you to try to get it for us.” The VA adds that it is the applicant’s responsibility, “to make sure we receive all requested records that aren’t at a federal agency or office.” The VA needs a variety of records from:
- State or local governments
- Any non-VA doctors who have treated you
- Any private or non-VA hospitals or other health facilities where you’ve been treated
- Current employers
- Former employers
The VA promises to help obtain records on behalf of the applicant (with written permission) from the following:
- The military
- Any federal agency
- VA medical centers
- Private facilities where the VA has authorized treatment
- The Social Security Administration
Filing Post-Service Claims
The VA allows veterans to file claims for VA compensation after you have left military service, but the longer you wait to do so, the more complex the process becomes.
In general, you should watch for medical issues that appear within one year of leaving the military, or issues that have gotten worse within that year. You may have longer to file a claim in such cases, but restrictions may apply depending on circumstances, when you file, etc.
There are several areas where a post-service claim has additional consideration, including:
- Disabilities that appear within 1 year after discharge
- Disabilities believed to be caused by hazardous materials
- Disabilities related to service in the Gulf War
- Disabilities related to time spent as a prisoner of war (POW)
Post-service claims can include increased claims where the veteran has experienced a worsening of a condition. There are also VA medical claims for conditions that have developed as a result of having a VA-rated disability, and claims for new service-connected disabilities which have since manifested after leaving military service.
VA Supplemental Claims
Were you denied a VA disability claim? You may be able to request another look with something called the VA Supplemental Claim. You can apply for this if all the following are true:
- The VA denied your disability claim, and
- You didn’t file an appeal at that time, and
- You have new and relevant evidence the VA has not seen before which is “directly related” to your claim.
For all VA medical disability claims you will need to visit VA.gov to apply online, a Regional VA office to apply in person, or apply by mail (see above).
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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