How Do I Start My VA Disability Claim?

#1 Consider what you want to claim. When I was still in the service, people were giving me not-so-good advice such as: “Comb back through your medical records and claim everything”, ” You have a purple heart and that’s an automatic 30%”, and “If you hire a lawyer to help you with your claim, you’ll get more money that way”. First, you do not want to go back through your records and claim things like those two times you had the flu. Why? Taking that route will increase your Compensation and Pension (C&P) appointments and frustration, not to mention slowing down the process. However, if you broke your arm and it healed, claim it. You may get a 0 percentage, but if it should develop into arthritis later on, you can say it is service connected.

People were giving me specific examples on how much I would receive for certain service connected disabilities. This is not always true. I was told, “If you claim tinnitus, that’s an automatic 10%”, “I got 20% for back pain, so make sure you claim it, even if you were only seen once”, and “A traumatic brain injury is at least 50%”. Your percentage will be dependent upon many factors. The doctor conducting your examination will determine the severity of the injury or illness. Were you seen for this problem while in the service? If so, how many times? Does it still bother you? These are some of the questions you will be asked during your C&P exam(s). If you were seen by a private provider, records relevant to your condition will need to be submitted as well. Hiring a lawyer will not get your claim completed any faster. Some of them may even charge you. There are organizations to help you complete your claim free of charge.

#2- Appoint a representative. National Service Organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, and Vietnam Veterans of America are some of the groups that are willing to help you with your claim and other services free of charge. You can go through the process by yourself, however, your representative will be able to give you information on certain details of your claim that you do not have access to. If you do not have your medical records for whatever reason, don’t panic! All records for every veteran are sent to St. Louis, Missouri and are held at Department of Veterans Affairs Records Management Center. The VA will send for these, even if you give them the records pertaining to your claim. Contact your regional office and/or VA representative in your area with assistance with starting your claim.

#3- Show up for your C&P exams! Your provider will ask you a series of questions about the list of service-connected disabilities that you provided to them. The number of appointments given to you will be dependent upon what you told your representative. Be patient. Sometimes, you will have to wait hours which can be stressful enough. Bring a magazine or an electronic device with headphones; A small snack will be good to bring too. At the end of this process they will send you a letter informing you of the next steps of the process. The letter will also ask if you have anymore information you need to provide to them before they start reviewing your claim. If you do not, let your representative know so they can forward that information to them.

#4- Create an “eBenefits” account.Your representative may have already instructed you to do so, but that is where you will be able to track your claim. That is all you have to do! The rest is a waiting game.
You will see eight steps to the claims process:

Step one: Claim Received. When you have supplied them with all of the information they need from you, the process starts here.

Step two: Under Review. Your claim has been assigned to Veterans Service Representative (VSR) and is being reviewed to determine if any additional evidence is needed.

Step three: Gathering of Evidence. They may request evidence from you, a medical professional, or another authority. It is common for claims to return to this phase if additional evidence is required.

Step four: Review of Evidence. They have gathered everything they need and will now review your information.

Step five: Preparation for Decision. The VSR has recommended a decision and is preparing required documents detailing that decision.

Step six: Pending Decision Approval. The recommendation is reviewed and a final award approval is made.

Step seven: Preparation for Notification. Your entire claim decision packet is prepared for mailing. Make sure your address is valid. For those who started the process while they were still in the service, your address may be different and you should contact your representative to update your information . Also, the decision at this point is not made available to you on the website. Your NSO will be able to give you this information over the phone instead of you having to wait weeks to receive your decision by mail.

Step eight: Complete!

I know it seems long, but they do most of the work. Make the process easier on yourself and research. Do not believe everything people tell you, even if they have gone through the process.


Another element to consider is that if you were discharged with severance pay, according to 38 CFR 3.700 , you may be eligible to apply for monthly disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but that amount will be recouped. As of September 30, 1996, the VA will recoup from your disability compensation an amount equal to the total amount of separation pay before taxes. Your monthly compensation will be tax free, your separation or severance pay is not.

For information on Compensation Benefit rates, visit:

http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp

For information on Vetarns Benefits Administration Reference Web Automated Reference Material System (WARMS) visit:

http://www.benefits.va.gov/warms/bookc.asp

Sources:
“Veterans and Military Service Organizations State Directors of Veterans Affairs” –Secretary of Veterans Affairs

“Severance Pay” — Department of Veterans Affairs

“Compensation Claims Process” — Department of Veterans Affairs

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