A note about this article
If you think that your disability was caused by your time in the service, you should look into getting VA disability benefits.
Getting your VA disability application started is as easy as calling us and answering some questions. We take you through a large list to make sure we cover every aspect of your health. Sometimes a condition that you thought came from loud noises could be caused by exposure to a chemical like jet fuel. Our experienced team has heard it all, so you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed to ask us any of your questions.
In this article about starting your VA disability claim:
- How Soon Can I Apply for VA Disability Compensation?
- How Do I Set My Effective Date for VA Disability?
- How Do I File A Formal Claim with the VA?
- Why Does the Effective Date or the Day I File for Disability Matter?
- Your Effective Date can Change and Affect Your Benefits
- There Is A Difference Between a Formal and Informal Claim
- Once Your Claim Is Denied, That Doesn’t Mean You’re Done
- If At First You Don’t Succeed, Don’t Wait Too Long to Appeal
- How Long Will it Take to Get my Disability Rating Letter?
- To How High of a Court Can I Appeal my VA Disability Claim?
- A Few Final Tips on how to Get the Most out of Your VA Disability Application
How Soon Can I Apply for VA Disability Compensation?
When a service person is on active duty, all of his or her medical needs are taken care of as a matter of necessity. Once a veteran is discharged from active duty, there are a lot of different things to figure out and get used to. Fighting with the VA to sort out a disability claim does not have to be one of them. There are some tips you can follow that will make the process easier and maybe even faster (on your side, anyway).
How Do I Set My Effective Date for VA Disability?
You can begin filing your disability claim for service connection as soon as you are discharged from the service. Your C-File and DD214 are all complete when you leave whatever branch of the service you are in. The date of the claim will become your effective date and all of the timing and calculations of when you should start receiving disability compensation hang on that day.
You can simply write a letter to your local regional office, but that is not the suggested path. A written letter is considered an informal disability claim and requires a formal claim to be filed within one year anyway. Your best bet and the method that will save you the most trouble is to begin with the formal claim.
How Do I File A Formal Claim with the VA?
You can check your eligibility and see directions on filing for VA Disability yourself at the Veterans’ Administration website or you can fill out this short form and we can start the process for you for free. All forms are submitted electronically, so you don’t need to contact a VA attorney nearby. Once we get you onto one of our disability claim teams, we’ll contact you for all of the necessary paperwork and information to make your claim complete. If you have an illness or injury that was caused by or worsened by your active military service, you may be eligible for financial support and additional health care benefits for you and your spouse.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
If someone asks you to fill out a form like VA Form 21-526EZ, that is a start, but unless they are doing the paperwork for you (like we do) there is a lot more to fill out than just that form. Since some types of claims are closed and can’t be edited once they are submitted, make sure you have all of the evidence you can get.
Why Does the Effective Date or the Day I File for Disability Matter?
The day that you file your formal claim often becomes your Effective date. Because the disability claim process takes a long time, it is important to have an accurate effective date. The VA currently shows that the average waiting time is 141.9 days (as of May 2022). Unfortunately, that time frame often ends in a denial which then needs to be appealed. Your effective date marks the day that you should begin receiving benefits. If your housing costs or living costs begin stacking up when your disability worsens, shouldn’t your benefits start coming in then too?
If your claim is awarded, you will receive back pay back to your effective date. This shows why it is so important to have a correct effective date. You need your backpay to go back to when your disability began, not back to some other more recent date in the process.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Your Effective Date can Change and Affect Your Benefits
We have worked with some clients that had an incorrect effective date and almost missed out on years of benefits. According to some disability laws and decisions from Congress, you can even have different benefits or different service-related illnesses based on when you applied for VA benefits. We look through all of the hundreds of pages of paperwork and files to make sure your effective date is correct. Even if you have been denied and your claim is getting ready for an appeal, we still check and verify the effective date to make sure nothing is missed.
There Is A Difference Between a Formal and Informal Claim
Just like telling someone you’re going to marry them is different than getting down on one knee with a ring, there are informal claims and formal claims with the VA. Just writing to the VA and telling them you want disability benefits can count as a start to the process. It won’t count for much, and it will be hard to prove your effective date, but technically, according to the VA, you can start that way.
But we don’t recommend it.
If you have written to your local regional VA office with such a letter, you have to follow up with the formal claim forms within one year. You can download the claim form from the VA (pdf download) and fill it out, but a fully developed claim has a better chance of being approved. A strong formal VA disability claim includes supporting evidence, testimony from friends and family, assessment from professional experts such as doctors and psychiatrists, and whatever other evidence we are able to gather. We try to build a bulletproof case for your claim because it is important and you don’t have time to appeal and revise the case over and over again.
All claims are submitted electronically and then we track their progress. We notify you at least every 60 days to check-in and see if you have heard anything from the VA. We also update you on our progress and ask you for any new documents that we need. We want your case to be as strong as possible when we submit it to the VA for approval. This is also why we submit your case directly to the board in Washington D.C. instead of a regional office. Any decision ruled by the regional office can be overruled by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, so we go directly to them from the beginning.
Once Your Claim Is Denied, That Doesn’t Mean You’re Done
If you get the letter from the VA that your claim was denied, call us and we’ll make plans for our next steps. You have one year to appeal the claim from the date of your denial. We don’t wait around, but we do take some time to research why your claim was denied and what we can do about it. Sometimes someone has applied by filling in the form and not provided enough supporting evidence to support the claim. Sometimes a law passes within a year of the denial that opens up an opportunity to appeal. Sometimes we have even won a case in the meantime that reflected some ways that the VA works on the inside that helped us to write a better appeal.
Either way, denial doesn’t mean we’re done, it just means the final decision going to take longer than we hoped. When we find out about your denial, we’ll start the process of filling out a Notice of Disagreement. Again, you can fill this form out yourself, but we don’t recommend submitting it without letting us review it with you. We might be able to use our experience of hundreds of appeal claims to see why you were denied disability.
If you have been working with us and you get denied disability from the VA, you don’t have to pay us anything. We’ll start working on the appeal and filling out the “Specific Issue of Disagreement” section with detailed analysis and more research from our professionals. We often already have a lot of the information they are asking for if we have already been working with you. Someone on your team will call you to fill in any missing details and we’ll work together to figure out what else we can do to get your appeal for benefits granted.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Don’t Wait Too Long to Appeal
If you wait over a year from your denial, you have to reopen a claim and your effective date resets to that new date. As important as your Effective Date is, you don’t want to reset it to 125.7 days later! You want an earlier effective date if you can get it. It doesn’t do any good to submit the same application and claim over and over, so make sure your appeal has some additional evidence for your claim.
If you are denied a second time, you still have a chance. You aren’t down for the count yet. On your second denial, you have to hustle because now you only have 60 days to appeal. Your Form 9 must be completed and additional information attached within 60 days. Note that #1 on the instructions for Form 9 is “CONSIDER GETTING ASSISTANCE.” You don’t have to panic if you are already at this point of the VA disability application process, but don’t take another step without getting help from someone that knows all about VA disability law. After you call us to talk about your case at (866)232-5777, you can download the VA’s directions on how to appeal your claim to see some of the process we will go through for you.
How Long Will it Take to Get my Disability Rating Letter?
While the VA says that it takes 125 days to get an answer to the initial claim, they also say it takes 12-18 months to review and grant an appeal. It is hard to clearly answer this question since the VA is hit with so many hundreds of letters every week. While there are stories of disability rating letters returning in just a few weeks, more often the case is many months. If the first appeal is denied, like in the scenario we described above, and you appeal to a judge, you are looking at a 5-7 year wait to get a decision. To be clear that we didn’t make a typo there, the wait for a judge to review your case is five to seven years according to www.VA.gov. This makes that effective date that much more important.
You can see that if you’ve only got one shot to make an appeal, you’d better make it the best appeal you can. It’s not worth wasting 6 years to find out that you filled out some paperwork wrong. That is also the reason why we have an entire team working on your claim, not just a lawyer. Our staff is redundant to check and double-check your claim, your professional statements and medical records, all before we submit your claim. We do all of this free of charge. We only get paid if you get paid, and even then we hold to the government regulations regarding our fee schedule.
To How High of a Court Can I Appeal my VA Disability Claim?
You can appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Some cases do make it to the Supreme Court, but they are more involved than just deciding if you can receive disability or not. You have to have it in within 120 days of when the board mailed their decision to you. This is why we are in contact with you at least every 60 days throughout your entire process. If you get the letter or if we get the letter, we work as a team and we want to let you know about it. We are able to check the status of your claim if it is in certain specific stages, so we can find out the right courts that need to hear your appeal.
A Few Final Tips on how to Get the Most out of Your VA Disability Application
To wrap up, here are a few tips on making the most of your VA Disability Application:
- Make the claim as soon as possible when you are discharged or show symptoms of a service-related illness.
- Lock in your effective date if a formal claim.
- Be clear about what you are claiming for. Is it a service-connected disability? Do you want an increased rating?
- Submit all of the records and documents that you possibly can. Don’t hold anything back.
- You have to use their forms. Don’t go informal. There are regulations and steps to this government process, so stick to it.
- Watch your mail for decisions and be ready to appeal fast. Talk to your team here if you have any questions.
- Know that they use VA Math – use our VA Disability Rating Calculator to stay sane.
Your “C-File” is short for you VA Claims File. They range from 100-10,000 pages (yes, we’ve seen them!) and they hold everything that is a written record about your time in the service and your service-related activities since your discharge.
Your VA Disability Claim effective date is the official date that the VA records as the beginning of when you should receive disability benefits. It begins when the VA receives your formal disability claim. In some cases, your effective date can also be the day you were discharged.