Veterans who become sick or are permanently injured during their military service or who had a previously diagnosed condition that worsened due to their service are entitled to VA disability compensation. For disabled veterans, this is a monthly tax-free payment for both physical (amputations, disease) and mental conditions (post-traumatic stress disorder) that developed before, during, or after active service. In order to receive these benefits, veterans must first file a claim.
Of course, veterans’ benefits are well deserved. They help pay for medical bills, compensation and pension, as well as help dependents, including the spouse. However, the claims process for a monthly benefit can be really stressful for a lot of reasons. Not only is there likely some kind of physical or mental discomfort for military retirees, but financial needs might also becoming more and more pressing. While it can be frustrating dealing with a bureaucracy, there are some things you can do that can help you cope with the process of claiming for compensation benefits.
When to File a Disability Claim
It’s best to start the process for compensation as soon as possible. If you have between 90 and 180 days left on active duty, you can start the process with the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program. This gets the process started much sooner so you’ll have a decision soon after your discharge. If you have 90 days or less left before discharge, you can start a Quick Start claim. These are processed at dedicated facilities so the process moves along a little faster.
If you’re already out of the service, the best time to file a claim is as soon as possible. The earlier you get the process started, the fresher the evidence. If you have an injury and go years without filing a claim, it’s sometimes difficult to prove how severe the injury was at discharge versus how much it has exacerbated through the passing years.
A lot of veterans fall into the idea that taking money for a disability isn’t appropriate. It’s easy to see injuries and illnesses as just a part of the job but there’s always a chance that your condition can worsen and you’ll be unable to work. There’s no time limit to apply so even if you’ve been out of the service for years, it’s worth a shot.
How to Help the Process Go as Smoothly as Possible
One of the things you can do to take a little bit of the stress off your shoulders is to appoint a representative to help you make sure everything is working as it should. There are a lot of attorneys who can help you through this process but there are also plenty of non-profit groups who can help, too, like the American Legion as well as VA offices at the state and local levels.
Another important thing to consider is what you should claim. Some veterans claim every single thing they’ve ever been treated for but claiming too many things results in a lot more examinations and paperwork and makes the decision process take even longer. A better approach is to only claim those things which stayed with you after service. For example, an illness like the flu will most certainly be denied while a broken bone may lead to problems down the road so you should definitely file a claim.
Request a copy of your medical records from all of your private physicians. The VA can’t legally compel a private physician to send records. If physicians are willing to send them, they often charge a fee which the VA can’t pay for them. You’ll likely end up having to get them from your physician in the end so it can save a lot of time to just submit them on your own with the initial claim.
After you file, the VA sends a letter called a VCAA letter. This letter tells you what’s next for the VA, what you’re expected to do, and how the claim will be determined. If the VA requires any additional information, it will appear in this letter. Submit it as soon as you can to keep the process moving along.
Once they do make a decision, you’ll receive another letter explaining your assigned rating and the benefits you’re entitled to. If you feel the decision isn’t right, get in touch with your representative immediately. It’s better to attempt to fix the situation right away than go through the long appeals process which will take up even more time and resources.
What to Do if You’re Denied
If you’re denied benefits, there is an appeals process to follow. First, get a representative to help you through the process. The first thing you’ll have to do is file a Notice of Disagreement within one year of receiving the decision.
Once the VA receives your notice, they will forward a Statement of the Case. If the review officer doesn’t think an appeal is warranted, they’ll send you their findings. Then, you’ll have to decide whether or not to continue. You have 60 days to make this decision.
You can submit any new evidence that you think will help your appeal. From here, any intent to continue along with any new evidence goes to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals who will review it and make a decision.
Admittedly, the appeals process takes a long time. The cases are worked in the order they’re received so the oldest cases get priority. If you’re in poor health or financial distress, you can apply to get your case on the Advanced on Docket. This happens automatically for veterans over the age of 75.
From there, you can request a hearing to plead your case but this isn’t required. The Board will examine all the evidence and make a final decision. If you still disagree and want to continue, you can take it to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. Again, this can be a long process.
Build the Strongest Case Possible
The VA gives hiring preference to veterans so it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the people you’ll come in contact truly understand where you’re coming from. Keep the lines of communication open and collect as much evidence as you can in order to make the strongest case possible to claim your well-deserved compensation.