How to File a Successful VA Disability Claim

Key Takeaways

Seek help from VA-accredited attorneys for successful claims.
Stay organized, attend VA examinations, and follow all deadlines.
Establish a clear link between military service and disability.
Insufficient medical evidence is a common cause of rejection.
Understanding the VA disability system is crucial to success.
Veterans receive monthly tax-free payments based on their disability rating.
Monthly compensation covers medical expenses and lost earning capacity.

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How to File a Successful VA Disability Claim

Key Takeaways

Seek help from VA-accredited attorneys for successful claims.
Stay organized, attend VA examinations, and follow all deadlines.
Establish a clear link between military service and disability.
Insufficient medical evidence is a common cause of rejection.
Understanding the VA disability system is crucial to success.
Veterans receive monthly tax-free payments based on their disability rating.
Monthly compensation covers medical expenses and lost earning capacity.

How Veterans Can Obtain the Disability Benefits Their Sacrifice Deserves.

Returning to civilian life can be a challenging, isolating experience. After years of military service, your hometown may suddenly feel more foreign than anywhere you were deployed. While the house you left behind remains the same, your family and friends welcome you home, and the streets bend in all the familiar places, you can’t ignore the subtle changes time has wrought - your favorite cafe is now a convenience store, the dollar theater is boarded up, and you don’t recognize the new neighbors. It’s natural to feel isolated, uncertain, and adrift during this transition, especially when dealing with a service-related disability.

Many U.S. veterans continue to face obstacles long after their service has ended. The complexities of the VA disability claim process can be overwhelming, leaving veterans feeling lost and discouraged. As a result, the denial of VA disability benefits is far too common. While the filing process can be daunting, success is indeed possible. With an understanding of the procedure laid out in this guide, veterans can challenge the odds. Our VA-accredited lawyers have extensive experience with filing VA claims and stand ready to provide you with the guidance necessary to ease the process and reestablish your stability. For your service to our country, you deserve nothing less.

Understanding VA Disability

What is VA Disability?

The VA (Veterans Affairs) Disability Compensation program provides financial support to veterans who have incurred disabilities or injuries during their military service. It was designed to compensate veterans for any physical, mental, and emotional impairments they have developed due to their service.

VA disability benefits play a crucial role in supporting veterans' quality of life and providing financial stability. These benefits are paid out every month and are meant to cover medical expenses, make up for lost earning capacity, and offer assistance for daily living activities.

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How Does VA Disability Compensation Work?

VA disability compensation is based on a rating system that evaluates the severity and impact of a veteran's service-connected disabilities. The VA assigns disability ratings ranging from 0% to 100%, representing the level of impairment. These ratings are given in 10% increments. Generally, the higher the rating, the higher the monthly compensation.

If a veteran has more than one disability, they may receive what is known as a combined disability rating. It's important to note that these ratings don't stack up directly – two disabilities rated at 50% each won't result in a 100% disability rating. The VA uses a complex calculation that factors in the combined loss of efficiency from having multiple disabilities. A veteran with a 100% disability rating may also qualify for additional Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) if they have specific disabilities, need assistance with daily living activities, or are housebound.

Once a rating has been assigned, the VA provides the veteran with monthly tax-free payments. The amount delivered is determined directly by the disability rating and is meant to offset the loss in earning capacity caused by the veteran’s service-related disabilities. In addition to the base payment, veterans may also be eligible for additional amounts in certain situations. For example, veterans with severe disabilities or who have dependents (including a spouse, children, or parents) may receive additional compensation.

What Types of Disabilities Are Recognized by the VA?

The VA recognizes a wide range of disabilities, including physical injuries, mental health conditions, chronic illnesses, and conditions related to exposure to environmental hazards during military service. When filing a claim, it's vital to accurately identify your specific disability and its impact on your daily life. Furthermore, in order for a disability to be recognized by the VA, you must demonstrate that it's linked to your military service.

The VA recognizes a wide array of disabilities, which can be broadly categorized as follows:

Physical Injuries:

Amputations

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

Spinal Cord Injuries

Orthopedic Injuries

Mental Health Conditions:

Depression

Anxiety Disorders

Other Psychiatric Conditions

Chronic Illnesses:

Respiratory Conditions

Environmental Hazard-Related Conditions:

It's important to note that this list is not exhaustive and there may be other service-related conditions that can qualify for VA disability benefits. Though this may seem daunting, remember that help is available. Wettermark Keith helps countless veterans successfully navigate the claims process each year and secure the benefits they're entitled to. Your service has earned you these benefits, and the VA disability system is in place to provide them. If you have questions about your specific disability, call our experienced team of VA disability attorneys at 877-715-9300.

Can Some VA Claims Be Expedited?

Yes, certain VA (Veterans Affairs) claims can indeed be expedited under specific circumstances. Veterans who are terminally ill, of advanced age (generally 75 or older), or experiencing serious financial hardship can request an expedited claim. Furthermore, Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war, or those who have sustained certain severe injuries in the line of duty may have their claims processed more quickly. The most common situations that merit an expedited claim are listed below:

Veterans with Serious Disabilities

The VA offers expedited processing for claims submitted by veterans with disabilities that significantly impact their daily lives. Veterans with severe disabilities (such as blindness or a TBI) are prioritized for expedited processing because their conditions often require immediate and extensive support. This initiative aims to ensure that veterans with the most urgent needs receive prompt attention and the care they need.

Homeless and Incarcerated Veterans

Homeless and incarcerated veterans face unique challenges when filing VA disability claims. To assist these individuals, the VA offers the Homeless Veterans Outreach program. This initiative both facilitates the claims process for homeless veterans and helps them access healthcare services and safe housing. Third-party veteran service organizations can also provide valuable assistance in navigating these circumstances.

Why Are VA Disability Claims Rejected?

One of the unfortunate realities of the VA disability claim process is that not all claims are approved on the first submission. Understanding the common causes of rejection can help veterans avoid these pitfalls and increase their chances of a successful claim. The most common causes of rejection include:

Insufficient Medical Evidence

Inadequate Service Connection

Errors or Incomplete Forms

Missed Deadlines

Lack of Clarity in Describing Disabilities

Failure to Attend Medical Examinations

Inadequate Link Between Disability and Service

How Can I Make Sure My VA Disability Claim Is Successful?

To ensure success when filing a VA disability claim, it's important to gather as much information as you can about the process. Because every case is unique, what worked for someone else might not work for you. However, these tips should provide a good starting point:

Understand the VA Disability System - before filing your claim, it's crucial to understand how the VA disability system works. Learn about the rating system, eligibility criteria, and the types of disabilities that can be claimed.

Seek Professional Advice - consider working with one of our VA-accredited lawyers. Our compassionate attorneys will use their expertise to guide you through this difficult process and help you avoid common pitfalls in your application or appeal.

Provide Complete Medical Records - your medical records play a crucial role in your claim. Before filing, make sure your records are recent, accurately reflecting your current health status and your disability’s impact on your everyday life. Include all relevant diagnoses, treatments, doctors' notes, and medical opinions.

Request a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ): Have your healthcare provider fill out a DBQ to help speed up the claim process. This can be especially helpful if your medical condition is severe.

Establish a Service Connection - the VA requires that you show a direct link between your disability and military service. This could be in the form of medical records, incident reports, or buddy statements.

File a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) - you can file an FDC by submitting all your evidence at once. This can make the process quicker and more efficient, possibly expediting your claim.

Be Specific About Your Condition - provide detailed descriptions of how your disability affects your life. Be specific about your symptoms, their frequency, and their impact on your ability to work and live.

Attend All VA Examinations - if the VA schedules you for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, don’t miss the appointment. The results of this exam can significantly influence the outcome of your claim.

Stay Organized - keep copies of all documents related to your claim. This includes claim forms, correspondence with the VA, your military discharge papers (DD Form 214), medical records, and any existing records of treatments related to your disability.

Follow All Deadlines - the VA has strict deadlines for filing claims and appeals. Missing any of these deadlines can delay your claim or cause it to be denied.

Be Patient and Persistent - the VA disability claim process can take time. Don't be discouraged if you don't get a response right away. If your claim is denied, consider appealing the decision.

Follow up Regularly: Keep track of your claim's progress and follow up regularly. Don't hesitate to contact the VA if you have any questions or need updates about your claim status.

How Does the VA Disability Claim Process Work? A Comprehensive Guide:

Navigating the VA disability claim process can be a daunting task. During the application process, consider seeking help from one of Wettermark Keith’s VA-accredited attorneys to help ensure your forms are correctly completed. This can significantly increase your chances of filing a successful claim. With its various stages and requirements, it's important to approach the VA claims process with a clear understanding of the following steps:

The first step in the process is to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for VA disability benefits. You must have a service-connected disability, meaning that it must have originated during your military service or is connected to a pre-existing condition worsened by service.

Before applying, we advise you to take a close look at your medical records and consult with your healthcare provider to establish a clear link between your military service and your disability. In some cases, conditions that manifest after your service may also be considered service-connected if they can be linked back to your time in the military.

Collect all relevant documentation and evidence to support your claim. This may include medical records, service records, incident reports, and statements from fellow service members.

To start the process, you will need to complete VA Form 21-526EZ, "Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits." This form is where you detail your service-connected disabilities, providing as much information as possible about your disability and its impact on your daily life.

In addition to the main form, there are other supplementary forms you may need to complete, depending on the specifics of your case. For example, VA Form 21-4142, "Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs", allows the VA to obtain medical records from your medical provider. If you have a PTSD claim, you may also need to fill out VA Form 21-0781, "Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Remember, accuracy and thoroughness are crucial to avoiding denial. All dates, locations, names, and any incidents related to your conditions should be included. Citing specific disability-inducing incidents or exposures during your service can strengthen your claim. Do not leave any sections blank -if a section doesn’t apply to you, mark it as "not applicable" or "N/A."

Once you've filled out all necessary forms and gathered supporting documents, you're ready to submit your VA disability claim. This process can be accomplished in several ways.

To submit your claim online, visit the VA eBenefits portal. From there, you can upload and submit your completed forms and all supporting documents. This method is often faster, and you can easily track the progress of your claim through the online system. When you upload your claim online, make sure all digital files are clear and legible - scanned documents should be high-resolution and in a format accepted by the VA portal (typically PDF). Label your files clearly to make it easier for the VA to review your claim.

If you prefer to mail a paper application, send it to the closest VA office in your region. Addresses for these offices can be found on the VA's website. It's also a good idea to request a return receipt to prove that the VA received your claim.

Upon receiving your claim, the VA will thoroughly review all your submitted forms and supporting documents to ensure they meet the eligibility criteria. This review may involve checking your service records, medical history, and the evidence you've submitted. If the VA deems it necessary, they might ask for additional information to better understand your claim. This could include more detailed medical records or personal testimony about your condition. The VA might also schedule you for a Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exam to further assess the severity of your disability. Cooperating with these requests is vital to the success of your claim.

Once the VA has reviewed your claim and all necessary evidence, they'll assign a disability rating to each of your service-connected conditions. These ratings, ranging from 0% to 100%, reflect the severity of your disabilities and their impact on your life. The VA uses a detailed schedule to determine these ratings based on the specifics of your conditions and their symptoms. Your overall disability rating, which might not be a straightforward sum of individual ratings, determines the monthly compensation you'll receive.

After the rating decision is made, the VA will send you a notification letter outlining their decision. This letter includes the specific disability rating assigned to each of your service-connected conditions, the reasoning behind these ratings, the effective date of your benefits, and the amount of monthly compensation you'll receive. It's important to carefully review this letter to understand all aspects of the decision.

If you disagree with the VA’s decision, you can appeal. First consider filing a supplemental claim or requesting a higher-level review to contest the decision without a formal appeal. If those are unsuccessful, you can file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and request a Decision Review Officer review, or appeal directly to the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

Consulting with a VA-accredited representative or attorney is recommended if you decide to appeal. They can help you understand the process, identify issues with your claim, and gather additional evidence. Remember you have resources available to help get the benefits you deserve. Don't go through the appeals process alone.

How Does the VA Appeals Process Work?

If you disagree with any part of the VA's decision – be it the denial of your claim, the assigned disability ratings, or the effective date of your benefits – you have avenues for appeal. Initially, you can submit a Supplemental Claim with new evidence. Alternatively, you might request a Higher-Level Review without new evidence. If these measures are unsatisfactory, you can file a Notice of Disagreement leading to an appeal with the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). 

Throughout these steps, consulting with a VA-accredited representative or attorney can be invaluable. They offer guidance on the appeals process, help identify areas for further argument in your claim, and assist in gathering any additional evidence. It's essential to know you're not navigating this process alone, and numerous resources are available to ensure you obtain the benefits you rightly deserve. Remember, the appeals process requires patience and persistence. Understanding each step and utilizing professional assistance can greatly increase your chances of a successful appeal. Don't hesitate to fight for the benefits you deserve.

Filing an “Intent to File” Form

Notifying the VA of your intent to file a disability claim is a crucial step in the claims process that may allow you to obtain retroactive disability compensation payments. Here's what you need to know:

What is an Intent to File?

An intent to file establishes a potential start date, also known as an effective date, for your benefits. By notifying the VA of your intent, you may be eligible for retroactive payments, which cover the period between when you submitted your intent to file and when your claim is approved. This applies to claims or Supplemental Claims for disability compensation, pension benefits, and DIC.

If You Start Your Application Online:

When you initiate your disability application or Supplemental Claim online, it automatically notifies the VA of your intent to file. This reserves a potential start date for your benefits, eliminating the need to separately submit an intent to file form. However, please note that this automatic intent to file does not apply to online claims for pensions or DIC benefits.

Other Ways to Notify the VA of Your Intent:

Download and complete the Intent to File a Claim for Compensation. After filling it out, mail the form to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center, PO Box 4444, Janesville, WI 53547-4444. Alternatively, you can bring the completed form to a nearby VA regional office.

Contact the VA at 800-827-1000 to inform them of your intent to file. VA representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET.

Timeframe for Filing Your Claim

After notifying the VA of your intent to file, you have a period of one year to complete and submit your claim. Utilize this time wisely to gather the necessary evidence, consult experts, and ensure your claim is comprehensive and well-prepared.

Appealing a Denied Disability Claim - a Step by Step Guide

If your VA disability claim is denied, or you disagree with the rating you received, you can challenge the decision. It's essential to navigate this process with a thorough understanding, and enlisting the expertise of an attorney experienced in VA disability claims can be invaluable. They can guide you through the appeal, ensuring all necessary evidence is in place and maximizing your chances of a successful outcome.

Remember, the appeals process demands patience and persistence. With an understanding of each step and professional support, you increase your chances of a positive appeal. Stand your ground in securing the benefits you rightfully deserve.

Upon receiving your initial VA disability claim decision, scrutinize it. If it's unfavorable or if you contest the assigned disability rating, start contemplating the appeal.

There are three main paths to appeal:

  • Supplemental Claim: Submit new evidence supporting your claim.
  • Higher-Level Review: Request a senior reviewer to reassess your case without adding new evidence.
  • Notice of Disagreement: Express disagreement with the decision and appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

After choosing the appeal path, especially the Notice of Disagreement, the VA will provide a Statement of the Case. It details their reasoning, encompassing relevant laws, regulations, and examined evidence.

If you selected the Notice of Disagreement path, a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans' Appeals reviews your appeal. You can choose a direct review (no new evidence or hearing), submit additional evidence, or request a hearing.

If you opted to submit more evidence, ensure it's submitted promptly and effectively strengthens your case.

If you requested a hearing, you can have it at a local VA office, via video conference, or with a Veterans Law Judge.

The Veterans Law Judge reviews all submissions, conducts the hearing (if requested), and then issues a decision. The resolution can either grant, deny, or remand your claim for additional information or action.

If you're dissatisfied with the BVA outcome, you have the right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) within 120 days from the BVA decision date. Alternatively, with new and relevant evidence, you can reopen your claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Handle My VA Disability Claim?

Hiring a lawyer who specializes in VA disability claims offers a multitude of advantages, including:

Expert Knowledge - our lawyers possess in-depth knowledge of the laws, regulations, and precedents that govern VA disability claims. This expertise allows them to navigate complex legal issues on your behalf, avoiding any loopholes or pitfalls.

Guidance - from the initial claim filing to the appeals process to the final resolution, our VA disability lawyers can guide you through each step with compassion and patience. They ensure that all necessary (and in-depth) paperwork is completed accurately and submitted within the required timelines.

Gathering Evidence - our lawyers will work on your behalf to collect and organize appropriate medical evidence and any other documentation needed to support your claim. They know exactly what evidence will strengthen the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Communication with the VA - we can effectively communicate with the VA on your behalf, addressing any concerns you might have.

Personalized Support and Advocacy - we understand the unique challenges veterans face and are prepared to offer compassionate support tailored to your unique situation. Our lawyers will ensure that your voice is heard and your rights are protected - all the way to the courtroom if necessary. This is especially crucial during the appeals process - legal representation makes an enormous difference in your chances of overturning a denial and securing the benefits you deserve.

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Choose Wettermark Keith for Representation:

Wettermark Keith, with offices located throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida, has an excellent reputation as one of the most accomplished personal injury firms in the country. Our reach is not only regional but includes a diverse range of practice areas, including personal injury cases, auto wrecks, trucking wrecks, medical malpractice, on-the-job injuries, social security disability, and veterans’ disability claims. At Wettermark Keith, we believe in taking cases personally. Our purpose is to practice with care and compassion - to tell our client’s stories and make their voices heard.

While it may feel daunting to navigate the complexities of filing or appealing a VA disability claim, you don't have to do it alone. Consider choosing Wettermark Keith’s accredited VA attorneys to act as your advocates and support system through this process. You can contact our office today through our website or by calling 877-715-9300.

Frequently Asked Questions

Any veteran who has a current disability or a disability that originated or was aggravated during military service may be eligible to file a VA disability claim.

Almost any physical or mental health condition that occurred or worsened during military service can be claimed for VA disability benefits. The most common examples include physical injuries, PTSD, hearing loss, and chronic illnesses.

It is advisable to file a VA disability claim as soon as possible after you become aware of a service-related disability. Filing early can help establish an earlier effective date for benefits if your claim is approved.

The process typically involves completing and submitting the appropriate VA claim form, providing supporting documentation and evidence, and undergoing any necessary medical examinations. The VA will then review the claim and make a determination.

While not required, seeking assistance from a VA-accredited attorney can make a serious difference in the success of your claim. These professionals have experience navigating the claims process and can provide invaluable guidance.

It is essential to include all relevant medical records, service records, incident reports, and any other supporting documentation that substantiates the connection between your disability and military service.

A C&P examination is a medical examination conducted by a VA-appointed healthcare provider. The purpose of the examination is to gather objective and professional medical evidence that helps the VA determine the severity of the disability and whether or not it is connected to the veteran’s military service. The examiner will assess the impact of the disability on the veteran's daily life, work abilities, and overall well-being. They may also consider the veteran's past medical treatments and diagnostic tests.

After the examination, the healthcare provider prepares a detailed report that includes their findings, observations, and professional opinion regarding the veteran's disability. This report is then submitted to the VA, where it becomes an essential piece of evidence in the decision-making process.

The processing time for a VA disability claim can vary significantly based on various factors such as the complexity of the claim, the completeness of the supporting documentation, the availability of medical evidence, and the VA’s current backlog of cases. Generally, the timeline for receiving a decision on a claim can range from a few months to several years. However, each claim is unique, and the time taken for processing can differ from case to case.

No, VA disability benefits are generally not available while you are still actively serving in the military. However, the military may provide temporary disability benefits through their own evaluation process.

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