The process of securing disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs can often be long, complicated, and frustrating for veterans. Although veterans cannot control the way VA adjudicates claims or how long it takes, there are some steps that can be taken to alleviate some of the stress that can arise during the process.
Eight Tips for Your VA Claim or Appeal
1. Understand the basics of the claims and appeals process
The more you understand about how the VA’s claims and appeals process works, the more power you have over your claim. Knowing when to take certain actions or what your next step will be can help to ease the frustration often experienced by veterans seeking benefits. Additionally, learning VA rules on topics such as effective dates, which apply to any veteran seeking disability compensation, can help to identify errors that may have occurred during adjudication. The Veterans Law page on our website can serve as a valuable educational resource for this information.
2. Keep VA Updated
Be sure that VA has up-to-date contact information for you, such as your address. VA will send correspondence related to your VA claim to the address on file. If this address is incorrect, you risk your claim being delayed or even potentially closed due to missed deadlines. Further, each piece of mail from VA contains personal information (e.g. social security number) which should not be shared with anyone.
You should update VA with any change in dependency status as well, such as a recent marriage or divorce, or birth of a baby. Failure to update VA about a divorce, for example, could result in an overpayment of dependency benefits which you will likely have to pay back. If you have recently gotten married, updating this information could result in more monthly compensation. Keeping your information up-to-date with VA can help prevent unnecessary delays, denials, and compensation troubles.
3. Be aware of deadlines
Veterans are responsible for adhering to many deadlines throughout the claims and appeals process. When these deadlines are not met, veterans may be unable to continue on with their claim or appeal, resulting in closed cases and lost effective dates. Some important deadlines to keep in mind are as follows:
- Notice of Disagreement: must be filed within 1 year from the date of VA’s Notice of Action Letter;
- VA Form 9: you have 60 days from VA’s issuance of the Statement of the Case;
- Appeal a Board decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC): 120 days from the date of the Board’s decision.
4. Be honest with your healthcare provider
When attending visits with a treating physician, it is essential that you are honest and accurately reporting your symptoms and limitations. Do not exaggerate or downplay symptoms. Providing an accurate picture of your symptoms can help to ensure that your condition(s) is documented correctly in medical records, which VA will likely consider when deciding your claim.
5. Attend your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam
Compensation and Pension examinations are medical exams ordered by VA to assess the etiology and/or severity of a veteran’s disabilities when they are pursuing a disability compensation claim. VA weighs the results of C&P exams quite heavily. It is crucial that you attend your C&P exam if VA schedules one for you. Here’s why:
- If you do not attend your initial exam for service connection, your claim will likely be denied.
- If you fail to attend your C&P exam for an increased rating claim, VA may have to rely on outdated medical evidence of record, which may not adequately show the progression of your symptoms.
Veterans who are unable to attend their upcoming C&P exam should reach out to VA as soon as possible to reschedule.
6. Submit evidence relevant to your claim
Veterans and survivors may need to submit evidence in support of the type of benefit they are seeking. All VA disability claims require some form of medical evidence, service records, and so on; however, some types of claims require more specific documents to prove entitlement to a benefit. Here are some examples:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims: Veterans seeking disability benefits for PTSD are required to indicate their stressor. A stressor is an event or incident in-service that caused PTSD. Lay statements from fellow servicemembers who may have witnessed this event can be particularly effective in establishing service connection for PTSD.
- Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU): TDIU is a VA benefit reserved for veterans whose disabilities do not combine to a schedular 100% rating, but are unable to work due to their service-connected condition(s). VA requires veterans to submit VA Form 21-8940 which asks for information regarding employment history and educational background. This form of evidence is specific to TDIU claims.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): Survivors applying for DIC benefits must submit records such as: their marriage certificate to prove they were married to the veteran, and the veteran’s death certificate to prove that a service-connected disability contributed to the veteran’s death.
7. Obtain your Claims File
Your claims file, or c-file as it is often called, is a collection of records kept by VA related to your disability claim. C-files contain service records, medical records, VA treatment records, and more. It is recommended that veterans seeking disability benefits obtain their c-file to ensure that it contains all of the evidence necessary to prove their claim. While VA has a duty to assist veterans in gathering evidence for their claim, the responsibility for ensuring VA receives those records is ultimately that of the veteran.
8. Ask for help if you need it and don’t give up.
If you feel as though you need assistance at any point, do not hesitate to reach out for help. VSOs, accredited representatives, and accredited attorneys can assist you. This process can become complex—do not be afraid to reach out for help. Do not give up on your VA claim if you have been denied or if the process seems endless. You have earned these benefits.