In this guide, we put together the pieces of the VA effective date puzzle.
Your effective date has a huge impact on your VA disability benefits and an even bigger impact on whether or not the VA owes you back pay.
In some cases, having the correct effective date can entitle you to thousands of dollars in VA monthly compensation back pay.
Don’t leave money on the table. If your military service entitles you to VA disability benefits, then you deserve every penny.
Let’s dive in!
- What is My VA Effective Date?
- How to Establish the Earliest Possible Effective Date
- VA Disability Effective Date vs Payment Date
- What if My VA Disability Effective Date is Wrong?
- VA Effective Date Back Pay
- Situations the VA’s General Rule for Effective Dates May Not Apply
- TDIU Effective Date
- About VA Claims Insider
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What is My VA Effective Date?
Your VA effective date is the date you became eligible to receive VA disability benefits such as VA disability compensation.
As a general rule, your VA effective date is either the date the VA receives your claim or the date entitlement arose, whichever is later.
However, this general rule doesn’t apply in all circumstances. Your exact effective date can vary depending on which benefit you’re pursuing and the specific details of your VA claim.
We’ll break down situations where the VA’s general rule for effective dates may NOT apply later in this post.
What is the Date Entitlement Arose?
The VA doesn’t have an exact definition of this term, but it’s most commonly taken to mean the date your service-connected injury or illness first began exhibiting symptoms.
Your VA claim rater (adjudicator) decides this date based on their best analysis of the evidence in your VA claim, but it is usually the date you receive an official medical diagnosis.
Even though the definition says “the date your service-connected injury or illness first began exhibiting symptoms,” an official diagnosis is required. This is because the VA has no way of attributing your symptoms to a condition unless it’s been diagnosed.
How to Establish the Earliest Possible Effective Date
Oftentimes, you don’t have any control over your VA effective date because it’s based on when your disability started or when your veteran spouse passes away.
However, as we’ve discussed throughout this post, in many cases, your effective date is based on when you submit your VA claim.
This is not the whole story, though. You are not required to submit a complete claim in order to set your effective date.
Rather, you only need to submit an intent to file.
What is an Intent to File?
An intent to file is one step in the process of submitting your VA claim.
Submitting an intent to file lets the VA know that you do eventually plan to submit a claim, but that you need more time to gather medical evidence or other records.
Even if you don’t have an official medical diagnosis, go submit your intent to file. If your condition does end up being service-connected, this will help make sure you have the earliest effective date possible.
There are three ways to submit a VA intent to file:
- You can submit VA Form 21-0966. Once completed, you can bring it to a VA regional office near you or mail it to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
- You can also submit your intent to file over the phone. Just call 800-827-1000 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST.
- Initiating a claim through the va.gov website also serves as an intent to file.
We strongly recommend submitting your VA intent to file using VA Form 21-0966 or through the VA website.
This way you’ll have a paper trail to fall back on, just in case. Just like in the military–and any other government agency, for that matter–you should always keep a paper trail!
PRO TIP: You should submit your intent to file as soon as possible. It’s important to note that after submitting your intent to file, you have one year to submit the rest of your claim.
VA Disability Effective Date vs Payment Date
Your effective date is the date you become eligible to receive disability benefits.
But what’s the difference between your VA effective date vs payment date?
Your payment date is the date the VA actually cuts you a check for your disability compensation.
What if My VA Disability Effective Date is Wrong?
If you believe the VA got your effective date wrong, you can request a decision review and ask for a proper effective date.
How to File a VA Appeal for Earlier Effective Date
Your best bet is to request a Higher-level Review.
This is when a higher-ranking member of the VA reviews a decision to determine if an error was made, or if the previous rater made the wrong decision (this is the “difference of opinion” we mentioned earlier).
VA Effective Date Back Pay
If there is a difference in time between your effective date and the date you actually begin receiving disability compensation, then you could be entitled to back pay.
In some cases, this could be thousands of dollars.
If you’re eligible for a massive back pay check, it’s most likely because you were wrongfully denied in the past.
For example, If a Vietnam veteran who correctly filed a claim in 1988 was wrongfully denied benefits, refiled in 2024 for the same disability, and won, they could be eligible for 44 years’ worth of back pay!
How is this possible? Because there is no ceiling when it comes to back pay. What the VA owes you is what you’ll get.
To put the icing on the cake, back pay is usually disbursed in a single lump-sum payment.
Situations the VA’s General Rule for Effective Dates May Not Apply
Situations in which the VA’s general rule for effective dates may not apply include:
- Direct service connection
- Presumptive service connection
- Reopened claims (BVA Appeal)
- Survivors benefits
- Law change
- Clear and unmistakable error
- Difference of opinion
- Death or disability due to hospital stay
- TDIU claims
- Supplemental claims
Direct Service Connection
Direct service connection is when you’re able to prove through military records, lay statements, and medical evidence that your military service caused your disability or made it worse.
The effective date for these types of disabilities is whichever of these comes later:
- If you file your VA claim more than 1 year from the date you leave active duty, the general rule applies, which means your VA effective date will be the later between:
- The date the VA receives your claim and
- The date entitlement arose
- If you file your VA claim less than 1 year from the date you leave active duty, your VA effective date could be as early as the day following your discharge.
Presumptive Service Connection
Presumptive service connection is when the VA presumes your military service caused your disability or made it worse.
Presumptive service connection applies to VA presumptive conditions. These are conditions that affect so many veterans that the VA assumes they’re caused by service in certain regions or during certain times.
If you have a presumptive condition, then you don’t have to prove your service caused or aggravated your disability (i.e. service connection). As long as you have qualifying service and a diagnosed condition that is included in the presumptive list of conditions, the VA automatically assumes your condition is service-connected.
The effective date for these types of claims is decided like this:
Reopened Claims (BVA Appeal)
If you disagree with the VA’s decision to deny your claim or with the rating they assigned your disability, you can request a review and reopen your claim.
In these cases, your effective date is the later of these two:
- The date the VA receives your filing to reopen the claim
- The date entitlement arose (i.e. when your illness or injury began)
While the above represents the general rule, decision-makers must determine whether any other effective date rules apply to the facts of the case.
The effective date for some survivor benefits (such as dependency and indemnity compensation) depends on the date of the veteran’s death.
For these types of benefits, the VA assigns your effective date in one of two ways:
- If you submit your claim within one year after the date of the veteran’s death, the effective date is the first day of the month in which the veteran died.
- If you submit your claim one year or more than one year after the veteran’s death, the effective date is the date you submit your claim.
If a law or VA rule changes and the change makes you eligible for disability compensation or other VA benefits, your effective date is assigned according to these rules:
- If the VA reviews your claim (either on their own or because you requested it) less than 1 year from the effective date of the law change or VA rule change, your effective date could be the effective date of the law/rule change.
- If the VA reviews your claim (without you requesting it) more than 1 year from the effective date of the law change or VA rule change, your effective date could be dated back to 1 year prior to the date of “administrative determination of entitlement.” (this is when the VA assigns a Veterans Claims Examiner (VCE) to special cases to decide certain things, one being your effective date.)
- If the VA reviews your claim (because you requested it) more than 1 year from the effective date of the law change or VA rule change, your effective date could be backdated to 1 year before you made the request for review.
Clear and Unmistakable Error (CUE)
If you request a review of the VA’s decision on your claim and the VA finds a clear and unmistakable error (known as CUE claims) in their decision, your new effective date will be the effective date the VA would have given you if they hadn’t made the error.
Check out our blog VA Form 10182 [Appealing your VA Claim] – 5 Key Facts to learn more about requesting a review of a VA decision.
Difference of Opinion
“Difference of opinion” is a term used in VA decision reviews and is one possible result of a Higher-level Review (HLR).
It means that the person conducting the Higher-level review feels the previous rater should have made a different decision based on the evidence.
If this happens, the decision on your claim can be reversed.
If you win a review based on a difference of opinion, your effective date will be the date the original rater would have assigned you had they approved your claim.
Increases to Your VA Disability Benefits
If you feel you deserve a higher VA rating than your current one, you can request a review to try and get a VA rating increase.
What type of review you submit depends on whether or not you have new evidence justifying an increase in your VA rating. If you do, then you should submit a supplemental claim. If not, you can request a Higher-lever review.
If you win the review and are granted an increase to your VA disability compensation, your VA effective date will be one of two dates:
- The date you can show that you became eligible for a rating increase. That is, the date your disability became worse enough to qualify you for a rating increase. This only applies if you file your appeal less than one year after that date.
- If you didn’t file your appeal less than one year after the date you became eligible for a VA rating increase, your VA effective date is the date the VA received your review request.
Death or Disability Due to a Hospital Stay
It’s possible for things to go wrong when receiving treatment for your service-connected disability. If this happens and it causes a new disability or death, you could be eligible for additional VA benefits.
For claims for an injury caused by hospitalization or death caused by hospitalization, your effective date is decided in these four ways:
- If you submit your claim less than one year after your hospital stay caused an injury or made an existing injury worse, the VA effective date is the date the injury happened or when it began to get worse.
- If a claim is submitted for survivor benefits less than one year from the date of the veteran’s death, the VA effective date is the first day of the month in which the veteran died.
- If a claim is submitted more than one year after a hospital stay caused your injury or made your injury worse, or the veteran died, the VA effective date is the date you submit the claim.
- If a claim is submitted for survivor benefits more than one year from the date of the veteran’s death, the VA effective date is the date you submit the claim.
VA Supplemental Claim Effective Date
A supplemental claim is 1 of 3 review options you have to challenge the VA’s decision on your claim.
When you request this type of review, you need to have new and material evidence to prove you deserve a higher rating. “Material” just means that the evidence is relevant to your claim. “New” means that it is not already in your VA C-File.
Under the modernized decision review system implemented by the VA in 2019, there is no time limit for submitting a supplemental claim. As long as you have new and material evidence, the VA will review your prior claim.
If the VA receives your supplemental claim less than 1 year after your original claim was finally adjudicated, your VA effective date will be whichever is later:
- The date the VA received your original claim
- The date entitlement arose (i.e. when your illness or injury began)
If the VA receives your supplemental claim more than 1 year after your original claim was finally adjudicated, then your VA effective date is the later of these:
- The date you submitted your supplemental claim
- The date entitlement arose (i.e., when your illness or injury began)
In the context of supplemental claims, finally adjudicated means that the VA or the Board of Veterans Appeals has issued a Notice of Decision.
TDIU Effective Date
Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) is a program that allows the VA to pay you at the 100% rate, even if you don’t have a disability rated at 100%.
The purpose of TDIU is to account for the limitations of the VA rating schedule.
See, the rating criteria the VA uses to evaluate service-connected disabilities can’t always account for the total impact your symptoms have on your life.
For example, say you have a service-connected condition rated at 60% that keeps you from sitting for long periods.
If you make your living as a truck driver, then this condition would obviously interfere with your ability to do your job. You might even have to quit.
But with TDIU, you can receive monthly compensation at the 100% rating level so that you can still provide for yourself and your family as long as you are unable to secure substantially gainful employment.
The effective date for a TDIU claim is the date you became unemployable due to your service-connected disability. Put another way, the date you first met all the qualification criteria for TDIU). This only applies if you file for TDIU less than 1 year from the date you first meet the criteria.
If you file for TDIU more than 1 year from the date you first met the qualifying criteria, then your effective date is the date the VA receives your TDIU claim.
About VA Claims Insider
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Clay Huston is a former U.S. Army Reserves Blackhawk Pilot and officer. Clay enlisted in the Army in 2013 and was commissioned as a 2LT in 2017 after earning a business degree from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.
Since separating from the military, Clay has pursued a career as a writer. He also runs the nonprofit notfatherless.org, which fundraises for Children’s Homes in Mexico.