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Veterans Disability Benefits – How do I apply?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  8 Comments

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To receive veterans disability benefits, you need to be officially designated as “disabled” by the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the DVA, you need to be at least 10% disabled “because of injuries or diseases that were incurred in or aggravated during active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training” to be eligible for compensation. You also must have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable.

Veterans disability benefits are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). The VBA is a separation division from the VHA (Veterans Health Administration). Even if you’re currently being treated by a VHA doctor, you still need to fill out the forms and be approved.

How to apply

You can file an application online, or go to a VA regional office where staff can assist you. Go to the DVA online application here. You can also work with an agent – an attorney or representative, for more personalized assistance and attention.

The application process consists of first establishing a disability, and confirming that the disability did indeed stem from your eligible military service. Then, there will be a physical exam to determine your percentage of disability.

Evidence required

The DVA specifies that you need medical evidence to document your disability. You also need appropriate records to “clarify how the disability is related to your military service.” You can use medical records or medical opinions from your doctor(s) to show how the condition is connected to your service. The basic pieces of evidence needed are:

  • Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
  • Service Treatment Records if they are in your possession
  • Medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports)

You can use your own doctor to provide the medical statements, at your expense, or you can be evaluated at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility. Conditions are to be documented on a form called a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ).

The medical evidence required may be specific to your condition, so learn as much as you can about your specific symptoms and the evidence needed. For example, certain conditions are presumed to be related to your military service and will require lesser documentation. According to the DVA, the categories with a presumed service connection are:

  • Former prisoners of war;
  • Veterans who have certain chronic or tropical diseases that become evident within a specific period of time after discharge from service;
  • Veterans who were exposed to ionizing radiation, mustard gas, or Lewisite while in service;
  • Veterans who were exposed to certain herbicides, such as Agent Orange, by serving in Vietnam;
  • Veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War.

How Long Do I Have to Apply?

There is no time limit for most disability claims. Even World War II vets can still apply for disability benefits. Many conditions – both physical and emotional – may not be fully revealed when you’re younger, and may worsen or complicate over time.

There are several reasons to consider applying as soon as you are aware of your symptoms: (1) Finding the right document to prove the condition is connected to your service may get more difficult over time; (2) you are entitled to this compensation, and even the current minimum $127 for a 10% disability adds up; and, (3) even though you may be able to get around and do most things now – you may experience more problems later. If you have already established the disability – even if it’s a 0% rating now, you will have set the groundwork if you need later medical attention.

Should I Apply for Veterans Disability Benefits on my Own?

Most experts advise that you seek assistance in filling your application. Your application may be delayed unnecessarily if you don’t provide all of the necessary information up front. In addition, if your application is denied, the appeals process is very lengthy. It is crucial to try to get it right the first time.

There are many avenues available for assistance. The DVA has staff at its regional centers that can help you. The DVA also provides a list of accredited attorneys, claims agents and Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) Representatives in your area. The Disabled American Veterans group is just one example of a private organization that offers free help to file your claim.

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  1. Roel Mora says:

    How long does it take to get a disability rating? My last physical evaluation appointment with the VA hospital in Washington DC was back in 20 December 2016. How do I inquire about the status? Is there anyone that I can call or email?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Roel,

      The processing of a VA compensation claim can take years, depending on how much effort a veteran is willing to do to prove a rating. The filing of a claim application is the easy part. The contentions made in the application must be proved. Often it takes a professional VA claims attorney or claims agency to know how to develop the medical evidence needed. If you rely on the VA/federal government to prove the claim for you, it will take a long time due to the claim backlog. There were more than four million claims filed last year and the number of new claims has grown since. Organizations such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans or a VA attorney can help you develop the claim and possibly shorten the time for a decision.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  2. Carolyn Brockmeier says:

    I’m a retired atty working on behalf of someone who was injured in basic training 34 years ago (blew out his knees from marching and picking up cigarette butts on the ground at night). At three weeks into
    Basic, the base doctor decided that the constant marching was an aggravating factor to a minor condition my client had previously. He was put on standby duty for 5 weeks to see if the swelling would go down (it didn’t), then he was discharged with an honorable, general medical discharge.

    He’s had knee problems since then and when I told him he was entitled to disability benefits from the day he applies, he was astounded. As I read the statute, there is no time limit in which to apply, if the damage was done during active service and the veteran was discharged with a general medical discharge due to the condition.

    Am I correct?

    Carolyn Brockmeier

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Ms. Brockmeier,

      As an attorney, you are treading into dangerous waters providing advice to a veteran about VA benefit claims. An attorney needs to be formally accredited through the General Counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs to represent a veteran in the claim process. An accredited VA attorney may charge a fee to represent a veteran with an appeal of a VA claim determination. But anyone can help a veteran with a claim application for free, on a one-time basis only.

      The laws are complex and the VA claim process is vexing. Often a claim will take years to reach a written determination so one must have a thorough knowledge of the multiple processes within the VA system. Also, pursuant to a federally enacted Congressional Act, an attorney may not charge any fee to assist a veteran in the preparation or prosecution of a VA benefit claim application.

      It is correct that there is no statute of limitation nor statute of repose for a VA claim. A claim is actionable from the date of receipt and recording of a filing, except if filed within one year of discharge.

      Most attorneys do not get involved with a claim until there is a determination letter which results in a claim denial. I would suggest you refer the veteran to a national not-for-profit veterans organization such as the American Legion or Disabled Veterans of America, which will have staff members available to assist a veteran with a claim application.


  3. Liz Martinez says:

    I’m a reservist soldier while I did my basic training I get injure(stress fracture in my sacrum), during the training I suffer from training abuse my DS keep my profile and force me to do ruck march run and also she put her hand on me by puch me after this situation I decide to stay and I get convalescence leave and finish all my training it was a hard time being a year in that stress full environment, since I got out of training I wouldn’t be able to reincorporate to normal life like going back to work, college and also I being suffer for nightmare sleepless anxiety hopeless I start a job and I quit because I feel uncomfortable before army I have two jobs and went to college and exercise ( I was normal) it sound like ptsd but I never seen a doctor for that I keep seeing my doctor for my back pains and joints paint all happens during my training all that conditions develop in bct are in my record and keep bother me to be functional person, my question is can I make a claim now or after I get discharge even if is medical or honorably? Do i have to get any advice from any VA representatives?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Liz,

      A VA Compensation Claim can only be filed by a “veteran,” meaning a person who has been discharged from the service.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited V.A, Attorney

  4. charles e. colona says:

    I am checking on my disability claim, has it been approved yet

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Charles,

      This is a general information site. To check the status of your claim, you need to contact the Veteran’s Administration.


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