You could be eligible for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs if you served in any branch of the military and sustained an injury or illness that impacts daily functioning. Disability pay typically provides basic monthly income and covers your healthcare expenses.
As a law firm serving the needs of military veterans and their families, Hill & Ponton understands the process can seem confusing and overwhelming. This guide walks you through each step of how to apply for VA disability.
Check Your Eligibility
Before you take the time to gather paperwork and complete the VA application, make sure that you meet eligibility criteria first. The VA requires that veterans can answer affirmatively to both of these statements before initiating a claim:
- You served the military on active duty, active duty training, or inactive duty training
- You previously received a disability rating for your illness or injury related to military service
Additionally, the VA requires at least one of these three statements to be true for each new applicant:
- You developed an illness or injury while in the service and can prove the connection. The military and VA refer to this as an in-service injury.
- You had a pre-existing health condition or injury aggravated by your military service. This is a pre-service disability claim.
- You have a disability related to your time in the military that did not appear until after you resumed civilian life. This is a post-service disability claim.
The VA considers the following a presumed disability and operates on the assumption the veteran is eligible for benefits:
- A chronic illness that you develop within one year of leaving the military
- An illness you developed due to your status as a prisoner of war (POW)
- An illness you developed due to contact with hazardous materials or toxic chemicals
You can only proceed to the next step if you meet the above criteria.
To receive VA benefits, veterans need to show a current diagnosis and an in-service event. You will also need a medical nexus that proves a connection between the two. You have up to one year after initiating an online application to upload proof that supports your claim. The VA website offers an upload tool for you to do this.
Examples of acceptable proof include:
- Medical records such as treatment reports, drugs and medical equipment prescribed, or results of imaging or laboratory tests
- Military records such as D 224 or service medical records
- Supporting written statements from medical providers, family members, friends, or your employer
File Your Claim
The first thing you need to do when requesting VA disability benefits is complete and submit VA Form 21-526. The name of the form is Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.
There are a few ways to file this form.
The easiest way for most veterans to file VA Form 21-526 is to navigate to the website https://www.ebnefits.va.gov.
Hill and Ponton now offers a paperless online solution through VA TurboClaim. To easily file online, visit VA TurboClaim to skip the paperwork and file your claim 100% online.
You can also mail your completed claim to the following address:
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
In Person at a VA Regional Office
Another option to submit your disability benefits application is to visit your nearest VA regional office in person. You can use this link to find the office nearest you. Due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions in some areas, be sure to check hours of availability and consider scheduling an appointment.
If you want to exercise the in-person option but need help filing your claim, you can receive assistance from a Veteran Service Officer (VSO). This person will explain each section of the application and let you know the information and documentation you need to provide. To find a VSO near you, click here.
Wait to Hear from the VA
If you filed your claim electronically or in person, you should receive immediate notification that the VA received your claim. If you mailed your application, expect to wait several business days to receive confirmation of receipt from the VA.
When the VA starts processing your claim, a representative may contact you to request additional or clarifying information. You may also need to undergo a compensation and pension (C & P) exam where a doctor evaluates your disability. This exam is a normal part of the process and typically takes place at a VA hospital or clinic.
Be sure to respond promptly and appropriately to all information requests from the VA to avoid processing delays with your disability application. According to the VA’s own records, it takes an average of 153 days to process a new claim and notify the veteran of its decision. You have the right to appeal the VA’s decision if denied or approved for a lesser benefit than you expected.
Our Law Firm is Here to Support Disabled Veterans
To summarize how to apply for VA disability benefits, you need to ensure you are eligible, submit supporting documentation, complete an application, and file your claim. While this only covers four steps, each one can be time-confusing and the expectations difficult to understand at times.
Our best advice is to request a VSO if you feel uncertain. Paying attention to details and providing enough supporting documentation is key to a successful outcome with initial VA disability claims.
To easily file online, visit VA TurboClaim to skip the paperwork and submit your claim 100% online.
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