Veterans Disability Benefits – How do I apply?
This overview of the Veterans Disability Benefits process will show you the steps to filing a disability claim, what evidence is required, and how to find free assistance to avoid delays.
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. From the DVA site eBenefits.va.gov, you can access the online application at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/about/feature?feature=disability-compensation
You can also file a paper application, which you can find online or from your local regional office.
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.
You may want to consider applying via the Fully Developed Claim process. It’s a fast track way to get a VA disability claim reviewed and, in 2015, Fully Developed Claims were decided on average 49% faster. It requires that the veteran does the upfront work of gathering all needed documents. See our article [link to FDC article] for more information.
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.
If you think there will be any question about your condition’s relation to your service, consider any kind of evidence that can help prove the connection. This can include your personnel records, any medical records, and statements from people such as your spouse, military friends, or others who can verify your claim.
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 $134 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?
The DVA advises that you work with an accredited Veterans Service Officer, and most private organizations agree. 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.
To find the closest regional benefits office, you can enter your zip code in the VA Facility Locator, at https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp