Veterans Disability Benefits – How do I apply?

By / November 13, 2017 / Veterans Disability / 16 Comments

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, you can access the online application at

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.

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.

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


Veterans Disability Benefits – How do I apply?
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  • Dear Robert,

    Whenever a veteran files a VA compensation claim, VA law requires that four elements be proven. One of the elements is to prove that you had an in-service injury. The second is to prove that there’s a direct connection between the in-service condition and the disability you now suffer from. The statements you make in an VA claim application is considered a contention. A contention is not considered to be proof. The contention or allegation must be proven by way of third-party documentation such as an in-service medical record, administrative record, or personnel record. Without some third-party proof of injury while in the service it is unlikely a claim for compensation will be approved.

    Craig L. Ames
    Accredited VA Attorney

  • Dear J.R.,

    This response is to both your posts.

    Aggravation is covered under 38 CFR 3.306 and 38 CFR 3.307. One of the elements needed to be proven is evidence of an illness, injury or aggravation that occurred in service. With respect to aggravation, service treatment records must indicate an aggravation during the period of service. Temporary or intermittent flare ups of pre-existing injury or disease are not sufficient to be considered aggravation in service unless the underlying condition has worsened. Rehabilitation from surgery shall not be considered as an aggravation.

    For a veteran entering the service with a hereditary disease, aggravation and thus service connection can be established if the disease manifests itself after entry on duty. On the other hand, a genetic disorder will always be denied because an individuals genetics are pre-existing and cannot ever be service-connected by definition.

    Craig L. Ames
    Accredited VA Attorney

  • Eugene Crosby

    I fell from an obstacle in boot camp while it was raining and landed on my head. I just got a copy of my medical records which documents the incident. It also documents my continued complaint about neck and head stiffness as well as headaches. I have very little memory previous to the event and have had difficulty with memory, pain, stiffness, headaches and a visible deformity in every picture since. I have anxiety, depression, and have now been diagnosed with thyroid and testosterone deficiency. All of these can be directly related to head trauma. I have seen several doctors and chiropractors that all claim to be able to straighten my crooked head but have failed. My memory issue has gotten so bad, I sometimes forget things minutes after thinking of them and have to daily write down everything or it’s forgotten the next day. I received an other than honorable discharge approx 20yrs ago. I have been trying to remember every day to submit for a discharge status change and to seek professional assistance in filing for disability. Can anyone point me to a person that can really help?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Eugene,

      If you want to pursue a new claim submission, I suggest you contact a community-based nonprofit veterans organization. For example, you can obtain free claims filing assistance from the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the Disabled American Veterans. That is the starting point.

      Craig L. Ames
      VA Accredited Attorney

  • Rick

    I started having back problems in 1979 in basic training. My right knee would just give out and I would fall during strenuous exercise or work. I finished basic and during AIT my back really started hurting and I was sent to hospital and they discovered I was born with an extra vertebrae but they couldn’t tell if that was the cause of my problems. They asked if I wanted out of Army and I said no. I had several times of sore back but finished my 9 months of AIT and was sent to Germany. During time there it flared up again several times and I was sent to Landstuhl hospital for testing and returned to light duty with no real finding. Then to US where it flared more often and then I was put on bed rest due to bulging discs. I finished my time and was honorably discharged. I have had back problems since the Army. I recently applied for VA health benefits and was put on VA care. I also applied for disability for my back and loss of hearing. After that long story my question is is my back considered service related and should I get a disability for it. I can no longer work due to weakness and numbness in legs and severe pain.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Rick,

      If one is born with a congenital defect and that defect later causes medical issues, by definition then that congenital defect was not incurred in-service. Many persons have pre-existing conditions for which benefits are denied.

      The key is to find an independent medical condition that was definitely incurred in-service and that, today, is a diagnosed medical illness, injury or medical issue. Based on what you state in your inquiry, it does not appear you would have an actionable claim. However, it would take a complete file review of your case to render a reliable independent legal opinion.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

      • J R Joseph Ferguson

        Then why does the quoted reference say “injuries or diseases ….aggravated during training?” Congenital conditions not found during induction physicals lead to the military “wearing out” or consuming the servicemembers future physical health for the current benefit of the nation. The worn out soldier is left holding the bag years later on his own!

        • Dear J. R.,

          Please see my reply to your last previous post.

          Craig L. Ames
          Accredited VA Attorney

  • Roel Mora

    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

      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

  • Carolyn Brockmeier

    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

      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.


  • Liz Martinez

    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

      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

  • charles e. colona

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

    • Kay Derochie

      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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