You can expect to wait a while when you file a disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). According to information published on the VA website, the average claims process time is approximately 125 days from the receipt of your application and supporting materials. Several factors play into how fast the VA processes your disability claim. The most important ones include the type of claim you filed, the number and complexity of the illnesses or injuries you claimed, and how long the VA takes to complete evidence gathering and to review the medical information you included with your disability claim. In today’s blog, we will cover the VA Disability Claim Timeline and process.
Hill & Ponton is a disability law firm with decades of experience. One of the most prominent services we offer is helping veterans through the VA disability claim timeline and appeals process. Below we provide a timeline and what you can expect to happen after you submit a claim for disability benefits to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Receipt of Claim by the VA
You will receive an acknowledgment from the VA that the agency received your claim depending on how you initially filed it. If you filed online, you would receive acknowledgment when you complete and submit the application. For disability claim applications sent by mail, you can expect a letter from the VA acknowledging receipt in approximately one to two weeks. If you use a system called eBenefits, you should see a notice from the VA in your list of claims within about one hour.
Should you have any questions while filing your disability claim, you may call the VA at 1-800-827-1000. You can also request help from your attorney at Hill & Ponton.
Initial Review of Disability Claim
At this stage of the claims process, a Veteran Service Representative (VSR) reviews your disability claim. It will quickly move onto the next stage if the VA employee does not require additional evidence for processing.
Evidence Gathering and Review of Evidence
The VSR assigned to your VA disability claim will complete the following actions at this point:
- Request medical evidence from you, all healthcare providers who have treated you for the specific medical condition causing disability, and other government agencies.
- Review the evidence you and other parties provided.
- Pass your application along for a claim decision.
There is no need to feel alarmed if your disability claim goes back to the evidence-gathering stage after it had moved further along in the decision process. This happens when the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to request and review additional medical records and other relevant information.
Preparation for Decision
Once the VSR finishes the above steps, your entire initial claim goes to Ratings Veteran Service Representative (RVSR). The RVSR reviews the following information associated with your benefits claim:
- C & P exam results
- Letters of support
- Medical records
- Personal statement
- Supporting documentation
After reviewing the above documentation, the RSVR recommends a decision and begins to prepare documentation to explain the decision. The RSVR makes a final award approval of your disability claim at this time.
Pending Decision Approval and Preparation for Notification
The RSVR reviews your VA disability claim again and then forwards it to a superior for another review. Another employee prepares a decision packet that explains the decision made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and mails it to your home address. The VA advises that current and former service members wait a week to 10 days after learning of the preparation for notification for it to arrive in the mail.
VA Sends Decision Notification
The final step with your initial claim is for the VA to send your decision packet. This information also details your award amount and the formula the VA used to calculate it. If the VA denied your disability claim or you disagree with the rating decision, you have three options to start the appeals process.
Fully Developed Claim vs. Standard Claim
The VA offers an optional fully developed claim program to allow veterans to receive a faster decision regarding VA disability compensation. The term fully developed claim means that you have provided all information the VA requires when making an approval or denial decision on a disability claim. Here is the information you need to submit for the VA to consider your disability benefits request a fully developed claim:
- VA Form 21-526EZ, the Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.
- Medical records and all other supporting documentation you think will help your case.
- Check with the VA to ensure that you don’t need to provide additional evidence to support your disability claim.
- Attend your C & P exam and other medical appointments required by the VA.
The VA considers the following appropriate evidence for a fully developed claim:
- All medical records related to the condition for which you are filing a disability claim, including as a civilian and while completing military service.
- Any military records that relate to your disability claim.
- Medical records that you don’t currently have in your possession that the VA can request from a federal facility such as a VA hospital.
Sometimes the required documentation in a veterans disability case does not tell the full story. If you feel the VA needs more information to make a disability benefits determination, you can include letters from former military service members with whom you served, family, friends, law enforcement personnel, or members of the clergy.
With a standard claim, the VA takes on more of the responsibility of document and evidence gathering. You still need to complete VA Form 21-526EZ and undergo a C & P exam as well as attend any other medical appointments requested by the VA. You will need to let the VA know where to obtain your records such as from a local or state government, private doctor or hospital, or your employer. While this method of preparing an application for a VA disability claim is less labor-intensive, it will likely take longer to process to give the VA time to secure your documentation.
What to Do if You Disagree with the VA Disability Claim Decision
The Department of Veterans Affairs changed its appeal process on February 19, 2019. Anyone who received a denial or disagrees with their disability rating can formally appeal. You have one year from the date indicated on your decision letter to file a notice of disagreement with the VA. The appeal process options include:
- Supplemental Claims: With this type of appeal, you can add new evidence you didn’t have available to you previously that is relevant to your initial claim.
- Higher-Level Review: Upon your request, a senior reviewer will go over your entire claim again to determine if the VA can make a new decision based on an error with the initial claim or a difference of opinion between reviewers.
- Board Appeal: At this highest level of appeal, you are requesting a Veterans Law Judge from the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C. to review your initial claim for VA disability benefits again. All judges are experts in veteran law.
As with your initial claim, the VA will mail you a decision packet regarding the decision it made on your appeal. You have the option to try a different level of appeal if you feel unsatisfied with the results of the first one.
Contact Hill & Ponton for Legal Advice and Representation
At Hill & Ponton, we understand that filing a new claim with the VA can be stressful. You feel certain of the service connection to your disability and need funds from the disability compensation claim just to meet your basic living expenses. If you have been denied and are filing an appeal, we can help. Feel free to complete this free case evaluation on our website or contact us at 1-888-373-9436 with additional questions on the VA Disability claim timeline and process.