If you are a veteran who has been injured or become ill while serving our country, you may be entitled to disability benefits from The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The process of applying for and receiving these benefits can be confusing, however, so we have created this step-by-step guide to help make things a little bit easier.
In this guide, we will discuss the VA disability claims timeline and the process that it takes to get your VA disability rating.
There are eight different steps of the VA disability claims process and we’ll talk about how long each one typically takes. We will also provide some tips on how to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
So, if you are interested in learning more about the VA disability claim timeline, keep reading!
How long does it take the VA to make a decision?
On average, it takes about 134.4 business days to complete disability-related claims.
Why is it important to file a claim?
You have a disability that was caused by your service to our country. You have gone to your local VA hospital and received treatment for this disability.
Your doctors know and have spoken with you about your disability, yet despite this, you still do not have benefits related to that disability. Why is this?
- The Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) takes care of your healthcare, while the Veteran’s Benefits Administration (VBA) is in charge of all benefits you receive for your disabilities.
- The VA requires you officially file a claim with your local Regional Office before you can start receiving benefits.
What are the Steps of the VA Disability Claims Process?
Step 1: The Claim is Received
- The VA will inform you when they have received your disability claim.
- If you filed online you will get a message after you submit.
- If you mailed your application, the VA will send you a letter within 7-14 days
Total Waiting Time: Immediately after online filing, or within 14 business days if mailed in.
Step 2: Initial Review
- A Veterans Service Representative (VSR) will review your claim and most likely the VA will need more evidence to support it. This is where it will continue to move on to step 3.
Total Waiting Time: Typically between 7-21 business days.
Step 3: Gathering of Evidence
During this step, the VA may do the following three things:
- Ask for evidence from you, health care providers, governmental agencies, or others.
- Schedule a Compensation and Pension exam (C&P).
- Move your claim to a Ratings Veteran Service Representative (RVSR).
If they need more information during the review, your claim may return to this step, sometimes even more than once.
Total Waiting Time: Typically between 30-60 business days.
Step 4: Review of Evidence
- At this point, all the required information has been received and will be reviewed by the VSR assigned to your claim.
- If the VSR believes that there is evidence missing or more information is needed, you may return back to Step 3.
Total Waiting Time: Typical between 7-14 business days.
Step 5: Preparation for Decision
- The entire VA disability claim file will be sent to the RVSR.
- The RVSR will review the application and all supporting evidence and then begin the process of preparing the necessary documents to detail the decision that they made.
Total Waiting Time: Typically between 7-14 business days.
Step 6: Pending Decision Approval
This step is when the RVSR’s recommendations are further reviewed and a final award decision for your claim is determined.
Total Waiting Time: Typically between 7-21 business days.
Step 7: Preparation for Notification
- After a decision has been made about your claim, a Senior Veterans Service Representative (SVSR) will review the completed documentation and then authorize the release of your award letter and payment, if applicable.
- The entire VA disability ratings decision packet will be mailed to you at this point.
Total Waiting Time: Typically between 7-21 business days.
Step 8: Claim Completed
This is the final step of the entire claim process, and where the claim will be officially closed and the VA will mail your disability claim decision packet.
Total Waiting Time: You should receive the packet in the mail within 14 business days.
What types of evidence will help my claim be successful?
When you’re applying for VA disability benefits, the success of your claim can often rest on the evidence you submit. This evidence must show that you meet the requirements for a specific disability rating according to the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities.
In order to gather this evidence, you’ll need to know what’s required and how to get it.
There are three essential types of evidence:
- Medical evidence
- Lay evidence
- Expert opinion evidence
Medical evidence includes medical records from your time in service, as well as any subsequent treatment for a disability. You can request these records from the VA.
It’s important to include all relevant information, even if it doesn’t directly support your claim.
This refers to statements from people who have personal knowledge of your disability, such as friends, family members and coworkers.
These statements should include how the disability affects your daily life and ability to work.
Expert Opinion Evidence
This includes opinions from medical experts, vocational experts, or even specialists in a particular field related to your disability.
These opinions can provide valuable insight to the impact of your disability on your life and career.
Gathering evidence for a VA disability claim can be a difficult and time-consuming process, but it’s crucial to ensuring the success of your claim.
Make sure to include all relevant medical records, lay statements, and expert opinions in order to build a strong case for your benefits.
What documents will I need to support my claim?
The VA requires certain documents to support all claims for disability benefits. You will need to submit or give the VA permission to gather the following:
- Your DD214 or other separation documents.
- Your service treatment records.
- Any medical evidence related to your illness or injury (doctors reports, X-rays, medical test results, etc.)
What should the evidence show to support my disability claim?
The answer to this question is highly dependent on the type of claim you are filing. A summary of evidence requirements for each type of claim is listed below.
In certain instances, the VA may conclude that there is a link between your military service and your disability, even if there isn’t any evidence to support it. This will apply to:
- A chronic (long lasting) illness that manifests to a compensable rating level within one year after discharge, or
- An illness caused by contact with contaminants (toxic chemicals) or other hazardous materials, or
- An illness caused by your time spent as a POW.
A claim for more compensation for a disability than the VA had already awarded, usually because a service-connected issue has gotten worse.
You will need to submit current evidence from a professional or layperson (someone who is not a trained professional), or from yourself, that shows your disability has gotten worse.
This is a claim to reopen a previously denied claim that is related to an existing service-connected disability
It is recommended to submit new and relevant evidence related to a previously denied condition that can show it is related to your active duty service time.
Secondary Service-Connected Claim
A claim for a new disability that’s linked to a condition that is already service connected.
It is recommended to submit evidence for the condition you are applying for and the information of the providers treating you for those conditions.
Supplemental Claim/Appeal Form
It is the same as a new claim, if done after 1 year from the rating decision, and is an appeal if done within 1 year of the rating decision.
What is the difference between a fully developed disability claim and a standard disability claim?
The VA offers an optional fully developed claim program to assist veterans in receiving a decision regarding their VA disability compensation, faster.
The term fully developed claim means you have provided all of the information the VA requires when making an approval or denial decision on a disability claim.
Here is the information you will need to submit to the VA for your claim to be considered a fully developed claim:
- VA Form 21-526EZ, The Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.
- Medical records and other supporting documentation that provides a diagnosis of your condition and evidence of a link between your condition and your military service.
- Check with the VA to ensure that you don’t need to provide additional information to support your disability claim.
- Attend your C&P exam and other medical appointments as required by the VA.
The VA considers the following appropriate evidence for a fully developed claim:
- Medical records related to the condition in which you are filing
- Any military records that relate to your disability claim
- Medical records that you don’t currently have in your possession, but that the VA can request from a federal facility (such as a VA hospital).
If you feel that the VA needs more information to make a determination, you can include letters from fellow military service members, family, friends, law enforcement personnel, or clergy.
Is “Preparation for Notification” a good sign?
Preparation for Notification is the 5th step in the disability claims process. This is when you’re near the final stages of a VA rating decision: approval, denial or deferral.
At this point, you can expect to have a decision, possibly within as little as 30 business days.
The entire VA disability claim file (VA C File) gets sent to the VA Ratings Veteran Service Representative (RVSR), who will review the application and evidence. They will then recommend a decision.
How do I check my VA Claim Status?
It may take a substantial amount of time for the VA to make a decision about your claim.
Here are some ways to check your claims status:
- Call VA at 800-827-1000
- Visit your local VA regional office
- Log in to VA appeals tracker
When will I get my first payment upon an approval decision?
If your decision notice shows at least a 10% disability rating, you’ll get your first payment within 15 days.
The VA will make the payment either by direct deposit or check. If you do not get a payment after 15 days, you should contact the Veterans Helpline at 1-800-827-1000.
What if I disagree with my disability rating or the VA disability claims decision?
The Department of Veterans Affairs changed its appeal process on February 19, 2019.
Anyone who received a denial or who disagrees with their disability rating, can formally appeal and seek a decision review.
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 an error that was the result of a difference of opinion between reviewers.
- Board Appeal: At this higher 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.
Understand More About Potential Representation for your Appeal
At Hill & Ponton, we understand that fighting a denied claim with the VA can be stressful. You may 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 review our ebook The Road to VA Compensation Benefits below.
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