Military members have earned a lifetime of medical care and compensation for their service-related injuries, but accessing those benefits requires members to undergo an often complicated process. Below, learn more about how to file a VA disability claim.
The Importance of Accurate Filing
Military service is physically demanding, and the physical effects of that service often linger for the remainder of a veteran’s life. For this reason, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) not only offers free healthcare but also disability compensation for an injury.
Accessing those benefits requires careful, accurate completion of paperwork.
If you do not correctly file a VA disability claim:
- Benefits may be delayed
- Benefits can be denied
- You may be given the wrong benefits
Help is available to guide you through the benefits process and avoid these problems. Follow the tips in this guide to make the process of filing a VA disability claim smoother.
Completing a VA Disability Claim Form
It’s important to do some advance prep work before starting the process of filing a VA disability claim. A doctor’s evaluation is critical to establishing a link between your service-related injury and your current disability or illness.
Gather the right forms, and collect evidence to support your claim. With these in hand, it’s time to get started.
Step 1: Find Out if You Qualify
It’s important to find out your eligibility before putting in the work of filing a disability claim with the VA.
To earn compensation, you must have both:
- Served on active duty; active duty for training, or completed inactive duty training
- Have a disability rating for your service-connected condition
If these conditions are satisfied, at least one of these criteria must be met:
- You can link a sickness or injury to your military service (inservice disability claim).
- A pre-existing illness or injury was made worse by joining the military (preservice disability claim).
- Your sickness or injury appeared after your service ended (postservice disability claim).
You can read more about eligibility for your disability claim on the VA website.
Step 2: Make Sure You Have the Right Form
Veterans have two options for filing a claim: fully developed claim (FDC) and standard.
Fully developed means all the evidence is in hand, and no other changes are anticipated. This type of claim is generally considered to speed up the claims process, but it does require more upfront work by the veteran or the veteran’s representative.
A standard claim starts the claims process and prompts the VA to begin the evidence-gathering process. This is simpler for the veteran, but shifting the evidence collection phase over to the VA can prolong the process.
You are allowed to provide additional evidence if you have already submitted an FDC, but this changes your claim’s status from fully developed to standard.
Step 3: Gather Evidence of Your Disability
Strong evidence is critical to a successful VA disability claim.
Some of the evidence your VA representative will review includes:
- Medical records from private physicians related to your claimed condition. This includes test results, doctor reports, and X-rays.
- Records showing medical treatment you’ve received for the condition during your service period.
- Military personnel records that layout your claimed condition.
- Information about records that VA representatives can request from other federal facilities like medical centers and clinics.
Step 4: Fill Out Your Claim Form
With this information in hand, it is time to complete your claim form.
Some of the requested information on your form is straightforward, such as your name and address. If you have prepared ahead of time, you will already have basic documents like marriage certificates, birth certificates, and social security cards ready.
When you get to the section listing your specific disability, completeness and clarity are key. For example, if your ailment is shoulder pain, make sure you detail the extent of the issue and which shoulder is affected.
Step 5: Make Sure You Fulfilled All Requirements
Mistakes can delay or even lead to denials, so accuracy in filing a VA disability claim is essential. This ranges from double-checking a past address to making sure you have the records and evidence to back up the disability you’re claiming.
Also, double-check that your claim doesn’t need additional forms completed. Some of the claims that require extra forms include those for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and an auto allowance. You can find a complete list here.
Whether or not you are feeling unsure about your application, it’s worth taking the extra time to make one more review.
The VA website has numerous resources that can help you, including an FDC walkthrough and checklist. If you need one-on-one help filing a claim or an appeal, there are multiple sources you can turn to, both within the VA and outside. A mesothelioma lawyer who has been accredited by the VA can be a tremendous source of help during this process.
Step 6: File Your VA Disability Claim
With everything complete, it’s time to get the claims process going. If you qualify, you can complete and submit the process online, or you can take your application in-person to a VA benefits office.
Claims can also be completed by mailing an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA form 21-526EZ) to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
The VA will notify you that it has received your claim regardless of how you file:
- An on-screen message serves as notification after an Internet submission.
- A message will show up about an hour after submission if you file through eBenefits.
- If you mail your application, you’ll receive a letter about a week, plus mailing time, from when the VA receives your claim.
It takes about 84.5 days for the VA to complete disability-related claims as of November 2019.
Get Help Filing VA Benefits
Navigating the tangle of paperwork required to claim your disability compensation from the VA can feel daunting and overwhelming. That can especially be the case if a veteran or his or her loved one is living with a mesothelioma diagnosis.
The staff at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center are ready and waiting to help you with the claims process and ease some of the burden in this uncertain time.