If you’re a veteran and need to learn how to file a VA claim, you’re in the right place. In this comprehensive FAQ guide, we answer all of your VA claims questions about the process of filing a VA disability claim. We break it down into steps so that you know exactly what to do at each stage of the process.
- What qualifies a veteran for a disability rating?
- How to File a VA claim?
- How will I know if my VA disability claim has been approved or denied?
- Can I file a VA claim by myself?
- How long do you have to file a Claim?
- Is it better to file a claim while still on active duty?
- How much do you get for a VA rating/claim?
- What can I do if my claim is denied?
- How to File a VA Claim Video
- About the Author
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What qualifies a veteran for a disability rating?
If you’re a veteran and your military service caused an injury or illness (or aggravated pre-existing conditions), you could qualify for a disability rating.
Several criteria are needed to win a claim for a VA disability rating:
- You served in the military and have eligible military service
- You have a medical diagnosis of your disability condition
- Your disability was caused or made worse by your military service
- Current symptoms of your disability are active in present day
The severity of your condition (under the VA’s schedular rating system) will determine the percentage of your disability rating.
What evidence do I need to file my VA claim?
The evidence you’ll need to file your VA claim will depend on the nature of your condition and how it relates to your military service.
You’ll need to provide medical evidence from a doctor or other health care provider that supports your diagnosis.
Medical evidence examples include:
- Service treatment records
- Doctor’s reports and medical opinions
- X-rays, MRIs, and other imaging
- Medical test results
If your condition is documented in your service treatment records from the military, it’s generally much easier to prove that your condition is service-connected. If you’re still in the military, see your primary care physician to get your condition on the record.
One of the most common mistakes made when filing a VA claim is not including all of the relevant evidence. Make sure you include everything that could support your claim, such as medical records, service records, and documentation of any treatment you’ve received for your condition.
To increase your chances of being approved the first time, make sure the evidence you’re submitting is directly related to your disability.
You’ll also need to provide military records, such as your DD-214 or other discharge papers.
Can I file a VA claim without a diagnosis?
While legally, you don’t need a diagnosis, you must at least provide evidence of a disability. According to the VA guidance, this evidence can be from a medical professional or lay evidence (someone who’s not an expert).
We advise that you get a diagnosis from a medical professional and have medical evidence to support your claim. This is critical to winning your claim.
If you don’t have a diagnosis from a doctor, you can still file a claim with the VA. However, it will be much more difficult to prove that you have a disability without a diagnosis. The chances of getting your claim approved without a diagnosis are much lower.
If you don’t have a diagnosis yet, you can still notify the VA of your intent to file. This informal process lets the VA know you plan to file sometime in the next year. Typically this is also the day the VA uses to calculate when you start receiving compensation for back pay.
The VA will review your medical records and any other evidence you submit to decide on your claim. Getting a diagnosis from a doctor will strengthen your claim and increase the likelihood that your claim will be approved.
What is a service-connected disability?
A service-connected disability is a condition that was caused or aggravated by your military service. To be eligible for VA benefits, you must have a service-connected disability. There are several different ways to establish service connection, including:
- Direct service connection: there is clear evidence that your condition results from your time in the military. This could be a condition caused by or a pre-existing condition that was worsened by your service.
- Presumptive service connection: the VA assumes that certain conditions are related to your military service. Gulf War Syndrome and Agent Orange exposure are two conditions that impact hundreds of thousands of veterans with many different illnesses. For example, if you served in Vietnam and later developed leukemia due to Agent Orange exposure, there’s a presumption that the cancer is service-connected.
- Secondary service connection: you have a service-connected condition that causes or leads to an additional illness or disability.
To get your condition service-connected, we recommend including a nexus letter prepared by a qualified medical professional to establish a connection between your condition and your claimed in-service injury or disease.
How to File a VA claim?
If you’re ready to file a VA disability claim, there are a few steps you need to take:
- Gather your evidence and submit your intent to file
- Submit your claim
- Await a decision (expect an exam from the VA)
- Appeal if necessary (denial or rating increase)
As discussed above, gathering all your evidence will help support your VA disability claim. The process is slightly different depending on how you intend to file.
If you intend to file electronically, starting an application online sets your effective date. Once you start the application online, you have one year to complete it.
If you intend to file via mail, submit an intent to file to set your effective date.
Submit a Claim
There are a few ways to file a VA disability claim:
- Mailing in forms
- In-person at your local regional VA office
Can I file a VA disability claim electronically?
Yes, you can file online. The fastest way to file a VA disability claim is to file online with the Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation on the VA.gov website.
What forms will I need to file my first VA disability claim?
You can also submit VA Form 21-526EZ in person at your local VA office or by mail to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
Processing your Claim: The 8 VA Claim Steps
VA Claims Insider breaks down how the VA processes your claim into these eight steps:
- The VA receives your claim
- Initial review
- Gathering of evidence
- Review of evidence
- Preparation for decision
- Pending decision approval
- Preparation for notification
- Claim completed
Most of these steps can take 7 to 21 business days to complete, but some take up to 60 business days. Learn more about the VA claim steps here.
How long does it take for the VA to process my claim?
One of the most common VA claims questions is how long you will have to wait. After you send in your claim, you’ll get a confirmation from the VA that they received your claim. This happens within hours if you filed electronically and within two weeks if you filed through the mail.
The VA will let you know if they need any additional information.
During the gathering of evidence phase, you may be required to complete a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam, which will help the VA assign you a rating. Keep on the lookout for notification from the VA that your C&P exam has been scheduled.
After your C&P exam, the VA will review your claim and make a decision. If your claim is approved, you’ll receive a disability rating and benefits based on that rating. If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision.
The VA’s claims process is notoriously slow. It can often take months or even years to get a decision on your claim. If your claim is denied, the appeals process can add even more time to the already lengthy timeline.
As of May 2022, the VA is averaging 141.9 days to process claims.
Keep in mind that the more injuries or disabilities you claim and the more complex the claim, the longer the VA will claim will take to come to a decision.
The good news is, if your claim is approved, you’ll receive back pay to your effective date.
How will I know if my VA disability claim has been approved or denied?
If you’ve filed a VA disability claim and are wondering how to find out if it’s been approved or denied, there are a few different ways you can check the status of your claim.
VA Decision Letters
Your regional VA office will send you a decision letter regarding their decision on your claim. This letter will include an introduction, decision to approve or deny your claim and specific rating, evidence they considered, reasons for the decision, and any references they used in making the decision.
If you want to check the status and haven’t received a letter (they may not have made a decision yet), you have several options.
The VA App
Call the VA
If you prefer not to use the portal, you can also call the VA toll-free at 800-827-1000 to check on the status of your claim.
Can I file a VA claim by myself?
Yes, you can file a VA claim by yourself. However, we recommend working with a specialist to help you file.
Veteran Service Officers (VSO) can help you gather the evidence you need and ensure that your claim is filed correctly, for free. There are many different VSOs with different levels of training and knowledge, so be careful who you choose. You can learn more by reading our post on selecting the right VSO to help you file.
VA Claims Insider can also help. We make VA disability benefits EASY by providing Veterans with a suite of expert-level educational resources across our websites and in our Membership programs. Our veteran coaches also make sure YOU are NEVER alone in this fight!
How long do you have to file a Claim?
When learning how to file a VA claim, when you file matters. Although you can file a VA claim at any time, your chances of winning your claim go up if you file sooner. There are two important takeaways when it comes to the timing of filing a claim:
1. The sooner you file, the sooner your effective date will be.
If you wait too long to file, you might not be able to get benefits for the time period leading up to when you filed.
For example, let’s say you were injured in combat in 2010 and didn’t start having symptoms until 2014. You finally filed a claim in 2018.
The VA will only give you benefits starting from the date you filed your claim in 2018. In general, you won’t receive any back pay for the time period between when you were injured and when you finally filed your claim.
This is why it’s important to file as soon as possible after you’re injured or become aware of a service-connected disability.
2. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to prove service connection.
The other reason to file as soon as possible is that it can be harder to get benefits the longer you wait.
This is because, over time, it becomes more difficult to find evidence to support your claim. For example, if you were injured in combat and didn’t seek treatment until years later, there might not be any records of your injury.
Or, let’s say you have PTSD and are trying to prove that it’s related to your time in service. The longer you wait, the harder it is to find witnesses who can attest to your symptoms and how they’re connected to your time in service.
Is it better to file a claim while still on active duty?
In general, veterans who file a VA disability claim while still on active duty receive a faster decision, get more benefits, and have time to complete any required follow-up exams.
You become eligible to file a VA claim for disability benefits under the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program 180 days before separation or retirement.
Most veterans get a decision back within 30 days!
How much do you get for a VA rating/claim?
The VA pays out disability benefits in the form of monthly disability payments. The monthly amount is determined by your disability percentage, from 10% to 100%. The amount is also increased once you’re rated 30% disabled or above if you have dependents.
Monthly VA disability pay in 2022 ranges from $152.64 to $3,332.06 for veterans with no dependents, based on your rating percentage.
Disabled veterans are also eligible for a number of additional benefits outside of monthly compensation.
If you receive a 0% rating, you won’t receive monthly compensation from the VA, but there are many other benefits available.
If you’ve already filed a VA claim and were approved but aren’t happy with the result, you can learn more in our post on how to increase your VA disability rating.
What can I do if my claim is denied?
There are three different ways to appeal a denied claim. These include:
For most veterans, we recommend a supplemental claim request using VA Form 20-0995. You’ll need to provide new evidence to support your claim for this type of appeal to work. This type of review is generally processed the fastest, but you must appeal within one year of the date of your denial.
If you’re a veteran with a service-connected disability, you may be entitled to VA benefits. Don’t wait to file a claim—the sooner you file, the better.
How to File a VA Claim Video
NEED MORE ASSISTANCE?
Most veterans are underrated for their disabilities and therefore not getting the compensation they’re due. At VA Claims Insider, we help you understand and take control of the claims process, so you can get the rating and compensation you’re owed by law.
Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully-developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating fast!
If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you deserve!
We’ve supported more than 15,000 veterans to win their claims and increase their ratings. NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.
About the Author
Trisha Penrod is a former active duty Air Force officer. As an Intelligence Officer, she led teams of analysts to apply advanced analytic skills to identify, assess, and report potential threats to U.S. forces.
Trisha attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds an MBA from Webster University. After receiving an honorable discharge in 2018, Trisha worked as a growth marketer and utilizes her analytic skills to help others accomplish their business goals.