Although you cannot receive VA disability compensation while you are still enlisted in military service, you can still apply for VA disability by filing a pre-discharge claim.
Even if you are filing a post-service claim, you can and should begin preparing your disability claim before your discharge.
Filing a disability claim will require you to gather evidence to prove your eligibility for compensation. Your eligibility will depend on whether your disability is service-connected and whether the VA will assign a disability rating for your symptoms. It is therefore important to provide important documentation as evidence for your claim.
Unfortunately, gathering evidence such as VA medical records, hospital records, etc. for an in-service injury is difficult to do after a veteran has been discharged from service. Oftentimes, these records get lost or destroyed, and it is almost impossible to get them revised years later. Therefore, gathering evidence for your VA disability claim before your discharge is key to ensuring you have the strongest claim to prove your eligibility for compensation.
What We Cover In This Article About Applying for VA Disability While Still Enlisted
- How to File a Pre-Discharge Claim
- Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program
- Filing a Standard or Fully Developed Claim
- Integrated Disability Evaluation System
- Documents You Need While in Service to Prepare Your Disability Claim
- Evidence Needed to Prove Service Connection
- Evidence Needed for VA Disability Rating Eligibility
- We Can Help You Prepare Your VA Disability Claim Before Discharge
How to File a Pre-Discharge Claim
A pre-discharge claim is a claim for VA disability compensation that an active-duty service member can file before their discharge from the military.
Although a veteran can file a post-service claim at any time after they’ve left the military, a pre-discharge claim gives a you earlier access to compensation benefits and increases your likelihood of approval due to having stronger evidence.
A service member can file a pre-discharge claim:
- 180 to 90 days before discharge through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program.
- Less than 90 days before discharge by filing a standard or fully developed claim.
- Through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), if an in-service injury or illness prevents them from carrying out their military duties.
If you are an active-duty service member who has suffered an injury during military service and will be discharged from service soon, you should consider filing a pre-discharge claim through one of the above methods.
Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program
The BDD program helps active-duty service members who have been injured during service to prepare and file for VA disability compensation benefits.
This program expedites the disability claims process by allowing the VA to review and evaluate a claim, arrange for any examinations, and render a decision, in most cases, a day following the veteran’s discharge.
You may be eligible for the BDD program if:
- You are an active-duty military servicemember.
- You have availability 45 days from claim submittal to go to a VA scheduled exam.
- You can submit a copy of your service treatment record.
- You are not exempted by any of the reasons in the next section.
You are exempt from the BDD program if:
- You are terminally ill.
- You are pregnant.
- You suffered a grave injury or sickness that requires case management.
- You have lost a body part during active duty.
- You are awaiting discharge from a military treatment facility.
- You are awaiting VA determination on your Character of Discharge.
- You need to complete your VA exam outside of the United States, unless you can do so at a BDD office in Landstuhl, Germany or Yongsan, Korea.
If you qualify for the BDD program, you can apply online at the VA’s eBenefits website, by mail, or via fax. With your application, ensure that you include:
- Service treatment records from the existing service period.
- Medical, dental, mental health records, and any other evidence that documents your injury or disability.
- Birth and marriage certificate, if applicable.
- DD Form 214 Member-4 or Service-2 Copy for your complete service period.
- VA Form 21-526EZ “Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits,” if filing by mail or fax.
If you are filing a pre-discharge claim through the BDD program, we recommend filing as close as possible to 180 days before your discharge. This increases your chances of receiving the VA’s decision closer to your discharge date.
Filing a Standard or Fully Developed Claim
If you have less than 90 days before your discharge from military service, you are no longer qualified to file a pre-discharge claim under the BDD program. However, you can still apply for your benefits by filing a standard or fully developed claim.
A standard claim is a type of disability process that places the onus on the VA to gather any evidence that may be necessary to support your claim. You are still required to:
- Submit your disability application online, by mail, or in person
- Attend any VA scheduled medical exams.
- Notify the VA about any relevant records they may need to pull that is not with a federal agency.
- Provide any private medical records.
- Provide any state or local government records relevant to your claim.
- Provide any prior or current employer records.
The VA will then gather evidence to support your claim from:
- The U.S. Social Security Administration.
- Federal agencies.
- Non-federal agencies with your authorization.
- VA treatment centers.
If you decide to file a standard claim as opposed to a fully developed claim, keep in mind that it will take longer to receive a decision from the VA. This is because it will take the VA additional time to gather the evidence on your behalf for a standard claim. Therefore, if you have access to most of your evidence and you would like your benefits sooner, consider filing a fully developed claim.
A fully developed claim is one that places the onus on you to submit all the evidence needed to support your disability claim. Therefore, you would need to submit your disability application, attend any VA scheduled medical exams, and submit evidence such as:
- Medical records including treatment records for the claimed disability from your private doctor or a non-VA treatment center.
- Federal health records that the VA can request for you from a federal facility or VA treatment center.
- Military personnel records that corroborate the existence of the claimed disability while in active duty.
- Lay statements from fellow service members, family, friends, etc. who can corroborate the existence of your claimed disability.
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This type of claim also requires you to certify that your evidence is sufficient, and the VA will need no more evidence to issue a decision for your claim. We don’t recommend that path, because there is no room for error in the fully developed claim process.
Integrated Disability Evaluation System
The IDES is a pre-discharge program that gives active-duty service members a VA disability rating and access to the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) services if they have suffered a severe injury or illness that prevents them from carrying out their duties.
The service member will receive a disability rating that may entitle them to compensation while the VR&E program gives veterans employment preparation services such as:
- Employment skill evaluation.
- Resume assistance, job training, and apprenticeships.
- Rehabilitation services including medical referrals and counseling.
If you are unable to perform your service duties due to an injury, ensure that your doctor refers you to the IDES program so that you can receive your pre-discharge disability rating and earlier access to disability compensation.
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.
Documents You Need While in Service to Prepare Your Disability Claim
Whether you are filing a pre-discharge or post-service claim, you will need to prove that you are eligible for disability compensation by showing that you have a service-connected disability and that you are entitled to a disability rating.
If you or a loved one is still an active-duty service member, now is the opportune time to begin gathering all the necessary documents you will need to prove these factors.
The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Evidence Needed to Prove Service Connection
A service-connected disability is an injury or illness that incurred while you were an active-duty service member or as a result of an injury you suffered in active duty. If you suffered the injury during military service and you are claiming benefits for this disability, then you will need to prove that your injury has a direct service connection to your military service. However, if you develop the injury as a result of an injury suffered in service, this is a secondary service-connected injury.
For example, if you suffered a traumatic blow to your back during combat, causing lower back pain, this back pain is a direct service-connected injury. However, if you later develop urinary incontinence as a result of this back pain, the incontinence is a secondary service-connected condition. Before the VA approves your disability claim, you would need to prove that these injuries are direct and secondary service-connected before the VA will approve you for disability benefits.
If you are still on active duty, now is a great time to gather the records needed to prove a direct or secondary service-connected disability. Even if you are more than 180 days out from your discharge, begin gathering:
- Your treatment records from military service: These records can corroborate that you suffered the claimed disability during service which would help to prove a direct service connection.
- Buddy statements: These are statements from fellow service members who may have witnessed the event that caused your disability. These statements can help prove a direct service connection.
- Doctor reports: These are written statements from a doctor that can explain why a condition is service-connected. These reports are particularly helpful in proving a secondary service connection which may be difficult to validate.
- Psychological reports: These are reports from a mental health professional that can validate that you are suffering from a mental condition. Mental conditions such as PTSD are oftentimes secondary service-connected. Therefore, these reports can help prove this type of service connection.
Our team of VA disability attorneys can help you to gather the above evidence ahead of time. For example, we can help you gather relevant treatment records shortly after you have suffered the injury-causing your disability or even while you are still meeting with the medic. This will help you to have a much stronger disability claim.
Evidence Needed for VA Disability Rating Eligibility
A VA disability rating is a percentage that the VA will issue to you based on the severity of the symptoms for your disability. Getting a higher disability rating increases the amount of compensation you will receive monthly.
For example, the VA disability rating for sleep apnea ranges from 0% to 100%. If you are asymptomatic, the VA will assign you a noncompensable 0% rating, however, if your symptoms are severe, causing chronic respiratory failure, you may be eligible for a 100% rating giving you monthly tax-free compensation based on this percentage.
If you are currently an active duty service member, now is a good time to gather evidence that can help you prove your eligibility for a VA disability rating. You can begin gathering:
- Your private medical records: These records can corroborate that you are being treated for the claimed disability, and they can validate the symptoms you have suffered which could prove your eligibility for a disability rating.
- Lay statements: These are statements from friends and family who can corroborate the symptoms you are experiencing from your disability. These statements can help the VA determine what disability rating should apply to your symptoms.
If you would like to estimate your VA disability rating before filing your claim, we have a free VA disability calculator to help you estimate the rating you will receive for your condition.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
We Can Help You Prepare Your VA Disability Claim Before Discharge
Oftentimes, we see veterans miss out on some of their compensation because they wait too long to prepare their disability forms.
If you are still an active-duty service member, Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, can help you:
- Determine what pre-discharge claim you may be eligible to file based on your discharge date.
- Gather evidence for a pre-discharge or post-service claim.
- Prepare and file your pre-discharge or post-service claim.
- Calculate your estimated VA disability rating.
Woods and Woods is a family-owned law firm fighting since 1985 to get veterans the benefits they deserve.
Yes, but not on the days that you are on active duty. You can only get paid for one or the other per day. If you can pass your PT test and your disability doesn’t prevent you from joining, you can do it.
No, the more you prepare your documents while you’re still in the service, the easier your application will be. You can call and ask us any questions you have for free while you prepare for your discharge and your application.