In part one of Back to Basics we talked about what a service-connected compensation claim means to a veteran who served in the Armed Forces. In this post we will talk about what a veteran needs to do in order to start a claim for compensation.
Every claim for compensation requires certain documentation and evidence to complete the claim properly. In order to file for a claim for compensation you have to prove that you are a qualified veteran. A veteran is a person released from active duty from the Armed Forces of the United States under conditions other than dishonorable and includes a person who died on active duty.
VA must verify the veteran’s service dates and character of service before any original claim can be processed. This means that the veteran should provide proof of service dates and branch of service. At the time of separation from service, veterans are given a DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. The DD Form 214 has been issued by all military services since January 1, 1950. This is the most commonly used proof of service.
However, if the veteran does not have a DD Form 214 or equivalent, he or she should submit any proof of service that they may have. There are some older versions of separation document that may be submitted as proof of service. One of these forms is a DD Form 53, Enlisted Record and Report of Honorable Separation. Veterans with service before 1950 did not receive a DD Form 214. Army veterans received WDAGO 53-98. Navy personnel received the NAVPERS Form 553.
Regardless of the actual form the veteran uses, the important part about a separation document is that it contains:
- Veteran’s full name
- Branch of service
- Date of entry
- Date of separation
- Character of discharge
The DD Form 214, or equivalent, should be an original or a certified copy. Copies that are notarized by a notary public are NOT certified documents. Recently, VA changed its requirements to have certified copies of supporting documentation. Currently, the only documentation that must be an original or certified copy is the DD Form 214. Also, VA might require a certified copy on an individual basis if a copied document is suspected as being invalid.
If you only have an uncertified copy, it may be sent as an informational copy. This helps speed up the verification process; however, it cannot be used to verify service. This uncertified document will be used to request verification of service from the service department.
An original claim (for the purpose of this post) is the first claim a veteran files for disability compensation.
An original claim must be filed on VA Form 21-526EZ. There is no need to complete this form if the veteran decides to claim service connection for additional disabilities at a later date, or if the veteran files a claim for increased compensation.
Once VA has made a decision on a veteran’s original claim, and the decision has become final, the veteran may later file additional claims.
You are now more familiar with the first steps a veteran needs to take in order to apply for disability compensation: Complete VA Form 21-526, and submit necessary documentation, to include DD Form 214. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office.
In our next post we will discuss where to send application materials, service medical records, and discuss new and reopened claims.