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Veterans Law

How To File Your Disability Claim With The VA

December 21, 2016
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Disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities whose conditions originated during, or were a result of, active duty military service. These benefits may be available to veterans even if their condition arose after serving in the military. Disability benefits are intended to compensate veterans for their loss in earning capacity caused by a disability related to time served.

Before filing a claim for VA compensation, it is important to know what qualifies a veteran to receive these benefits. Only veterans discharged under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g. honorable, general, etc.) are able to receive VA disability compensation. Furthermore, veterans must establish service connection for their condition by demonstrating:

  1. A current diagnosis of a disabling condition;
  2. An event, injury, or illness during service;
  3. A medical “nexus” linking the event during service with the current diagnosed condition.

How to File a VA Disability Claim

VA allows veterans to file initial claims for disability benefits via multiple avenues:

  1. Online, using VA’s eBenefits platform.
  2. By completing VA Form 21-526EZ: Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits and mailing it to the Claims Intake Center or sending it by fax. Informational tips for completing this form can be found in our blog post.
  3. With a legal representative, such as a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) or accredited attorney or agent.
  4. At a VA Regional Office where a VA employee can assist you.

Evidence to Submit with Your Claim

Along with the appropriate VA disability claim form, veterans should also submit any relevant evidence they would like VA to consider when deciding the claim.  If the veteran does not have the specific evidence needed, such as service records or medical records, they can request that VA obtain that information.  Veterans have up to one year from the date VA receives the claim to submit substantive evidence. In this case, the veteran’s effective date will be preserved as the day VA received their disability claim. Common forms of evidence VA often looks for can include:

  • Discharge or separation papers (e.g. DD214)
  • Service treatment records
  • Medical evidence such as reports from treating physicians

VA has a duty to assist veterans in the evidence-gathering process and does so by issuing a notice pursuant to the Veterans Claims and Assistance Act, or VCAA notice.  This notice is meant to advise veterans of what VA may need in order to develop their claim, such as service medical and personnel records, current medical records, and/or a medical evaluation and opinion. Under the VCAA, VA is required to obtain relevant records from federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration or VA medical centers. VA will also gather records not held by a federal agency if the veteran properly identifies their existence and authorizes VA to obtain them.

Pre-Discharge Disability Claims

Service members are able to file VA disability claims from 180 to 90 days prior to separation from active duty, full-time National Guard duty, or retirement. Using this program, soon-to-be veterans are able to establish service connection for a condition incurred in or due to military service prior to separation or discharge. According to VA’s website, claims submitted prior to discharge tend to be processed at a much faster pace than those filed traditionally.