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Veterans Law

Understanding Your VA Disability Compensation Award Letter

Zachary Stolz

November 21, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA award letter

What is a VA Award Letter?

A VA award letter is issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs when a decision has been made regarding a veteran’s claim for benefits.

Specifically, this letter indicates a veteran’s disability rating(s) along with the corresponding amount of monthly compensation.  The date of a VA award letter is especially important, because veterans will have one year from that date to file a timely Notice of Disagreement. 

DISCLAIMER: Please be aware that some decisions may look different, and the order of the following sections may not be the same on your specific letter.  Generally, though, the content of an award letter is similar to what is described below.

What Does a VA Award Letter Look Like?

An award letter will typically begin with VA stating, “We made a decision on your VA benefits.”  The letter will then guide the veteran through the details surrounding the decision and include information regarding the next steps a veteran may take now that a decision has been issued.

Next is the “What We Decided” section.  This will include:

  • A list of the claimed condition(s)

Example: If you were granted an increased rating for PTSD, this section might display the following:

  • Evaluation of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is currently evaluated at 30% disabling, is increased to 50% effective January 29, 2012
    • Here, VA indicates which disability rating is assigned and provides the effective date for the award.

Following the written description of the decision, your letter may also include a table that shows your disability ratings and their corresponding effective dates.

Using the example provided above, the combined rating evaluation table might look like this if you are service connected for PTSD alone:

Combined Rating EvaluationEffective Date
30%February 11, 2009
50%January 29, 2012

The VA award letter then may include another table showing:

  • The amount of monthly compensation you will receive as it corresponds to the combined evaluations and effective dates listed above AND
  • The reason for each monthly payment

Below is an example:

Monthly Entitlement AmountPayment Start DateReason
$417.15March 1, 2009Cost of Living Adjustment
$417.15March 1, 2010Cost of Living Adjustment
$417.15March 1, 2011Cost of Living Adjustment
$855.41February 1, 2012Compensation Rating Adjustment

Beneath this table, the VA award letter will also indicate the number of dependents for which you are receiving additional compensation.

If you are not receiving dependency benefits, the letter will typically state, “We are currently paying you as a single Veteran with no dependents.”

What Else is Included in a VA Award Letter?

Next your letter will explain your options for appeal.  If you are dissatisfied with the outcome(s) listed on your VA award letter, you have the right to file an appeal.

If you received a rating decision and VA award letter after February 19, 2019, your appeal will be processed in the new Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) system.  Under AMA, there are three appeal options to appeal an initial rating decision:

  1. Higher-level review lane
  2. Supplemental claim lane
  3. Notice of Disagreement lane (i.e., Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals)

Your award letter will list your appeal options and the corresponding forms that should be used for each option.

For help filing an appeal, you may want to consider seeking an accredited attorney or representative.  An accredited representative who understands the complex nature of VA’s appeal process can help you secure your rightful benefits.

Understanding VA Decision Letters

What Else is Included in a VA Award Letter?

After your options for appeal, you will find a section for additional benefits which outlines other benefit programs VA offers, such as:

  • Education, training, and student loans
  • Medical care and treatment
  • Home adaptation/loans
  • Automobile benefits
  • Life insurance
  • Payment for travel
  • State-specific benefits

Most importantly, the VA award letter encloses a copy of the Rating Decision, which further explains the reasons and bases for the decision.

A VA award letter often includes rating decision narrative (i.e., an in-depth explanation of VA’s decision) and code sheet (i.e., a sheet that displays the veteran’s conditions and their diagnostic codes).

How is the Rating Decision Structured?

As mentioned above, a Rating Decision is typically included with the VA award letter.  The Rating Decision will usually, but not always, be structured as follows:

  1. IntroductionThe first section will generally provide information regarding the veteran’s service, such as branch of service and dates of service. It can also include information about the veteran’s claim, such as the process leading up to the decision.
  2. DecisionThen comes the decision section, which lists exactly what conditions the veteran is service connected for, what ratings have been assigned, and what the effective dates are.
  3. EvidenceThe evidence section generally contains all the prior evidence that has been submitted to the record. This section can be lengthy, depending on how much evidence has been submitted to support the claim.
  4. Reasons for DecisionIn the “Reasons for Decision” section, there will be bolded sentences explaining what decisions were made and then under the bolded sentence will be the reasoning that decision was made.
    • For example, if a veteran receives a rating for PTSD, the bolded sentence may read “Evaluation of posttraumatic stress disorder currently evaluated as 70 percent disabling.” Then, under that sentence, it may explain that the veteran’s Compensation and Pension exam, and other submitted evidence, reveals that their symptoms qualify them for the 70 percent rating.  It may list out symptoms such as distressed mood, sleep impairment, and anxiety.

The Rating Decision is often easier to read than the award letter and can be extremely useful for veterans to understand which conditions they will receive benefits for and the corresponding ratings have been assigned.

How Can I Get a Copy of My Award Letter?

Typically, veterans should receive their letter in the mail.  However, there are several ways for veterans to request and obtain a copy of their VA award letter if they do not receive it through the mail.

These include:

  • Logging into their account and printing or digitally saving the letter
  • Asking their advocates or representatives to obtain a copy of the VA award letter
  • Reaching out to their local Regional Office and requesting a copy

VA’s website notes that veterans may download their VA letter by logging into their DS Logon, My HealtheVet, or account.  If you do not have an account, you may be able to create one.

Do You Need Help Moving Forward After a Negative Decision?

If you received an unfavorable decision from VA and are unsure how to proceed, the veterans’ advocates at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick may be able to help.  Our team can build a strong appeal on your behalf by gathering evidence and crafting persuasive arguments to help you win the benefits you deserve.  Call our office today for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Bio photo of Zachary Stolz

Zach is a Partner at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. He joined CCK in 2007 and since that time, his law practice has focused on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Zachary