We cover a lot of topics here at VA Claims Insider, but sometimes it is important to get back to the basics like, “How to File a VA Claim for disability!”
There are many disabilities with different helpful information and tips exclusive to them, but the truth is there is still a foundation of filing a successful VA disability claim that will work for ANY disability.
So let’s talk about some essential items to consider when filing a VA disability claim.
We frequently speak to clients who do not understand why the VA has not compensated them for the injuries they have reported. Many of them are a few years post-military service and have a long list of ailments they have reported to their local VA.
Yet, they are still perplexed because their claim is continually denied.
Unfortunately, many veterans appeal to the VA without knowing what the VA is looking for. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the benefits they are seeking, it just means that they haven’t been told HOW to file a VA claim correctly and substantively.
The truth is, the VA is very specific about what it wants to see from your VA claim. There is a reason for this! There are millions of veterans with millions of disabilities! The VA is tasked with taking care of all these veterans, but they also have a budget. If the VA was not specific there would be a lot of room for abuse and misuse of those funds.
That being said, it can be very frustrating! As with every government agency, sometimes those rules and regulations meant to be helpful can make things harder for the people who really DO need help.
And that’s why VA Claims Insider is here for you!
We want to educate and assist you so that you can navigate the VA system and get the benefits you deserve for serving our country!
So let’s get to it! Here’s how to file a fully developed VA claim for disability compensation… CORRECTLY.
The 3 Most Important Things the VA Needs to File a VA Claim
There are three things the VA MUST SEE before they will accept your claim and award you compensation. The three most important parts of how to file a VA claim are:
- Service Connection. Your service-connection is proof that your injury, disease, or other medical condition occurred during your time in service, or that your injury, disease or condition was worsened by your time in military service.
- Medical Diagnosis. An official medical diagnosis of your condition must be reported by your primary care doctor or documented in your military service medical records. The VA will not accept anything but an official diagnosis. If you feel you have an ailment that has yet to be diagnosed, please see your medical provider to discuss getting an appropriate diagnosis.
- Life Impact. This is where the VA wants to know the answers to the questions: How does that disability impact you today? What can you not do today that you could before?
Now that we have introduced these critical parts of your claim, we’ll go ahead and break them down to help you understand the bureaucratic process that is the VA. In this post, we will be giving you the tools to WIN your next VA Disability Claim!
#1 Most Important Part of your VA Claim: Service Connection
This is the first critical information that needs to be established when learning how to file a VA claim. What does service connection mean? Simply put, it means that at some point in your military service, you experienced an event that caused or worsened an injury, illness/disease, or other medical condition.
Obviously, this is most easily established if you reported it during your time in the military and it is recorded in your military medical records. That, or if you are the victim of a presumptive VA disability.
Presumptive disabilities are conditions so strongly linked to a veteran’s time in military service that the development of that disability does not require the evidence of a direct service-connection link. Instead, that link is already presumed by the VA.
For example, Vietnam veterans have a list of presumptive disabilities linked to exposure to Agent Orange and Gulf War veterans have a list of presumptive disabilities linked to what is commonly referred to as “Gulf War Syndrome.”
(For a much more detailed list of presumptive VA disabilities, you can view this list from the VA HERE)
If you do not qualify for a presumptive disability, which most veterans do not, then you are required to establish your service-connection.
In order to do this, you will first want to go over your medical records during the time of service. You’ll want to check if the event which caused or exacerbated your condition is recorded. If it is, then you are well on your way to establishing service-connection!
Many conditions are diagnosed after your time in service, which is why the recording of this event is so important. Next, you will need a Nexus letter from a medical professional explaining the connection between your condition and the event which took place during service.
(A Nexus letter is an extremely important document for your claim. To help get you a strong Nexus letter, you may want to read the Top 5 Doctors Who Write VA Nexus Letters.)
Obviously, this is all made much easier if your condition AND the event are recorded in your medical records. However, this isn’t always the case.
Furthermore, there are cases where the event was NOT recorded, or your condition is the result of some kind of impact over a period of time. In these cases, your service-connection will not have objective evidence to prove it. This means that you will need to have friends, family, and fellow-service members write buddy letters, which can describe, in the form of witness testimonials, how they have seen the condition affect you over time.
For more detailed information about how you can prove service-connection without medical records, check out, Can You Prove Service-Connection Without VA Medical Records?
Remember, without proof of service-connection, the following two parts will not be recognized by the VA for compensation.
Most Important Part of the Claim #2: Medical Diagnosis
Ok, you have established your service connection, so now your next step is the official diagnosis.
Now, it is possible, (and for some veterans very likely) to have received an official diagnosis before proving your service-connection. Many veterans receive a diagnosis from their primary care physician and THEN go back and link it to their military service.
It’s ok to do that, although it’s much easier if your diagnosis occurred during your time in service.
What’s important here, for how to file a VA claim, is that your diagnosis is OFFICIAL. That means that it is recorded in official medical records either in or out of service.
This is where you will want to review your medical records before submitting your claim. Make absolutely SURE you have a recorded official diagnosis! Without it, your claim has no shot of being approved.
If you cannot find an official diagnosis in your records, call your physician and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure it gets documented in a medical note before you submit your VA claim.
#3 Most Important in filling a VA Claim: Life Impact
This is where the VA wants to know the answer to the question, how does this disability impact you today?
For many disabilities, this is a question that can be answered with clear evidence. For example, if you have a physical injury, say, in your knee, the VA can measure range of motion (ROM). In your compensation and pension exam (C&P), the VA will measure how far you can extend or bend your knee.
If you have lost range of motion in your knee, that will have an impact on what you can do today. Be prepared to speak about specifics so the examiner can get the full picture of the impact on our life.
Be specific when talking about life impact; they know it hurts. They need to see what you cannot do today that you could do previously. Were you an avid runner before your military service? Perhaps you cannot even walk for 20 minutes today. Now, that is a specific life impact.
I talk to many veterans who are frustrated with the VA not compensating them for their knee or back pain. Let’s be honest here, the VA does not really care about your pain. That might sound harsh, but truthfully pain is relative, and there is no way to quantify it.
If you are suffering from a disability that cannot be objectively proven, this is where you will need more personal records and buddy letters to prove to the VA you have a need for compensation. This can be especially true in regards to mental health issues.
Mental health issues can be very difficult to diagnose objectively. Most doctors will simply rely upon the testimony of the person suffering and then offer a diagnosis with a treatment plan.
The VA will not accept something so simple for a compensation claim. They want to know, without any doubt, that you are truly suffering and your life has been impacted in a way you cannot control.
Knowing this, you can start compiling your own evidence now before submitting your claim. Write down detailed records of what your life is like on a daily basis with your condition. Note how different life is like for you now compared to how it was before the condition.
Next, ask those closest to you, and those who served next to you, to write detailed accounts of what they’ve seen in your life before and then during your affliction.
The more compelling the evidence to the impact on your life, the better chance you have at having your claim approved, and to receive a higher rating.
How do I File a VA Disability Claim?
Now, with all of this taken together–service-connection, diagnosis, and life impact– you are ready to put together a strong VA claim for disability compensation!
To recap, things many veterans neglect to do is review their medical records. Don’t forget to do that! You are looking for records of the events in service which caused or worsened the disability you are filing a claim for. Once you know that you can prove the event, you will want your medical professional to write a Nexus letter for you linking the disability to the event in service.
This will take care of your service connection.
Next, review your records and make absolutely SURE your diagnosis is official and recorded!
And finally, have detailed accounts prepared to explain the impact of your disability on your life. This is especially important if you are dealing with a mental health issue or other disability that has a lack of physical evidence.
Finally, you can take even further steps to prepare for filing your claim by studying your specific disability and then learning how the VA RATES that disability. This pro tip can really help you get the best rating possible for your condition!
A better rating means more compensation. By knowing how the VA rates your specific condition, you can have a better idea of what to expect for how it is impacting you.
Knowing all of this about how to file a VA claim, if you still feel you need help, you can reach out to us here at VA Claims Insider; there is likely a disability that you suffer from that meets the above criteria that you are currently overlooking!
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About the Author
About VA Claims Insider
VA Claims insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible Independent Medical Opinions & Nexus Statements (Medical Nexus Letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.