There are a lot of steps in the veteran’s disbility application process, but the “Intent to File” with Form 21-0966 is an important first step.
If you served in the military and you were recently diagnosed with a medical or mental health condition, you may be wondering what to do next. Do you need to file a VA disability claim, and how do you even do that? You need to gather evidence and figure out the process, but will you have time to get it all done?
An intent to file claim can buy you some time to figure out the claims process, as well as getting you more compensation once your claim is approved. Read on to learn more about this form and how you can file one.
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What Is the Intent to File Process?
The intent to file process is a way of letting the VA know you intend to submit a claim for disability compensation sometime in the next year. Depending on how quickly you can get evidence gathered and submitted, you may not need to take this step in the process. However, as we’ll discuss more later, submitting an intent to file allows you to lock in an effective date for your claim.
The VA intent to file process is fairly straightforward. You’ll need to submit a form either online or through the mail. Once this form is submitted, you’ll have a year to submit your full claim for VA disability compensation.
Getting a Diagnosis
Before we dive too much further into the intent to file process, let’s talk some about what you have to do to qualify for VA disability compensation. There are three main requirements for people hoping to get on VA disability. The first of these is that you have an official diagnosis of your condition.
Your diagnosis will need to come from a VA-approved medical provider. In many cases, your family doctor or any other licensed medical doctor will meet the qualifications. If your doctor can’t diagnose you, they should be able to refer you to a specialist who can.
Proving a Service Connection
Once you’ve got your official diagnosis, you’ll need to be able to point to a specific incident or set of conditions in your military service that caused your condition. For many physical disabilities, this may include things like an injury during your training or during combat. For mental disorders, it may include conditions you served in or specific trauma you suffered.
The exception to this requirement is presumptive conditions. If you served in certain areas or under certain conditions, the VA may presume that your condition is connected to your service. For instance, soldiers who served in regions where Agent Orange was in use may be able to get diabetes, cancer, and a variety of other conditions covered as presumed conditions.
The VA Rating formula for mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders is explained by one of our veterans’ disability lawyers in this video:
Getting a Medical Nexus
The third requirement for you to qualify for VA disability is a medical nexus connecting the incident in your service record with your condition. Most of the time, this will be an official opinion from your doctor stating that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by your military service. You may be able to get this nexus at your diagnostic appointment if you have your service records with you when you go.
A medical nexus prevents veterans from claiming disability for conditions which started before or after your service. You can’t get in a car accident, for instance, five years after you left the service and claim VA disability for traumatic brain injury. However, if you got a concussion in the military and got diagnosed with TBI symptoms later, you can qualify for compensation.
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.
Why Submit an Intent to File?
So you may be wondering why you should bother letting the VA know you intend to file a disability claim. In essence, an intent to file form helps you to lock in an effective date on your claim. This can help you to get more covered and reduce the hassle of filing appeals later down the line.
When you send an intent to file claim, you buy yourself time to gather evidence. You want to make sure you send the VA plenty of proof both of your condition and of the incident in your service record that caused it. This can impact what sort of disability rating you get, as well as increasing the chance that your claim is successful the first time.
What Is the Effective Date?
The effective date on your VA claim is the date on which the VA opens a file for your claim. In many cases, your effective date is the day the VA receives your disability claim application. If you mail your claim on October 3 and it reaches the VA on October 9, your effective date will be October 9.
However, in the case of an intent to file claim, your effective date is the day the VA receives your intent to file form. If you fill out your intent to file online, your effective date will be the same day you submit the form.
The effective date is one of the most important parts of your VA disability claim. This video explains the importance of your effective date from an experienced VA disability lawyer.
Why Is It Important?
Your effective date matters because the VA compensates you for all the time between when you file your claim and when your claim gets approved. So let’s say you submit your intent to file claim on November 18 of this year, you submit your fill claim on October 24 of next year, and your claim gets approved in March of the following year. You’ll be able to get compensation for the entire sixteen months between your intent to file claim and your approval.
Your effective date can also have an impact on whether your claim gets approved at all. The VA has certain deadlines between when you discover a condition and when you file a claim for it. If you find out about a condition but you need more time to gather evidence, an intent to file claim buys you that time.
What’s in an Intent to File Claim?
While an intent to file claim isn’t as detailed as a full disability claim is, there is some important information you need to include. First and foremost, you must include enough information about yourself for the VA to identify you when you submit your full claim. This may include your name, contact information, branch and unit you served with, and social security number.
Your intent to file claim must also include some information about the condition you intend to file a claim for. If you already have a diagnosis from your doctor, include that diagnosis; if you’re still getting tests done, include information about that.
One of the simplest ways for you to submit an intent to file claim is online. You’ll need to create a free eBenefits account if you don’t have one already. You’ll also need to use the support of a VSO through the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal to get to the intent to file form.
Begin by navigating to the intent to file form and initiating a claim. You’ll need to complete the personal information page, filling it out as completely as you can and hitting “save” when you’re done. Once you hit save, that will establish your effective date, and you’ll have a year to submit your full claim.
You can call us for help with any of these steps for free. We help hundreds of veterans get their claims together every week.
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File by Mail
If you aren’t comfortable on a computer, you can also submit your intent to file claim by mail. If you plan to submit this way, be aware that your effective date will not be the date you send your intent to file in. Instead, it will be the date the VA receives your claim.
In order to file by mail, you’ll need to get a paper copy of VA Form 21-0966. If you have internet access, you can print this form off from the VA website; if not, visit your local VA office or call us. Fill out the form as completely as possible and mail it into the VA headquarters.
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File in Person
If you prefer, you can also submit your intent to file a claim over the phone or in person. To file over the phone, call the VA National Call Center at 800-827-1000. Tell the operator you need to submit an intent to file by phone and give them the information they request.
You can also submit an intent to file form in person at your regional benefit office. You can find your regional office on the VA website; go in and tell the office staff you need to submit an intent to file claim. Your effective date will be the day you visit the VA office.
Intent to File Deadlines
In general, it’s a good idea to submit an intent to file claim or a full claim as soon as you discover you may have a service-related condition. The VA places limits on how long after discovering a condition you can submit a claim. You’ll need to submit some variety of claim within a year of discovering your condition.
Once you submit your intent to file claim, you will have one year to submit your full claim. Keep in mind that if you send your claim in by mail, it will need to reach the VA before the one-year mark is up. Claims postmarked on the one-year later date will be considered late, and the VA may not accept them.
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.
After You Submit Your Claim
There are a few things you’ll need to know after you submit your intent to file claim. First and foremost, you may only have one intent to file claim active at a time. If you discover you have an additional condition after you submit your first claim, you will need to submit a new claim with both conditions listed on it.
Once you submit your full claim, your intent to file claim will no longer be active. If you discover another condition after you’ve submitted your full claim and you want to submit an intent to file claim for it, you’ll need to fill out a new form and send it in. Be aware that if your claim is still under review, this may delay the process.
Correspondence with the VA
Once you send your intent to file claim to the VA, they may send you a letter acknowledging that they’ve received your claim. They may include VBA Form 21-527EZ or VBA Form 21-534EZ with this letter of acknowledgment. This is the form you will use to submit your full claim when you’re ready.
It’s a good idea to keep a copy of this letter, as well as any other mail you receive from the VA. This can come in handy as evidence in case the VA decides to try to deny your claim or say they never received your intent to file form later. Put the letter somewhere you can find it again, and consider making electronic copies if it’s a paper letter.
You’ll need to spend the year after your intent to file claim collecting evidence to support your full claim. Make sure you have evidence to support all three of the requirements we discussed earlier. This may include military or personal medical files, service records, lay statements, and more.
If your service record shows the incident that caused your condition, make sure you include a copy of it in your application. If not, get buddy statements from people who served in the same unit as you and who can corroborate your version of events. You may also need to get written statements from your doctor regarding your diagnosis and its connection to your service.
Get Help with Your Intent to File
Submitting an intent to file form can give you extra time to gather evidence before you submit your VA disability claim. It can also make sure you get compensated for the time between when you get your diagnosis and when you submit your full claim. Make sure you fill out the intent to file form as completely as possible and save any correspondence you receive back from the VA.
If you’d like to get help with your intent to file form and the rest of your VA disability claim, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today and start getting the compensation you deserve.