How to file a VA Disability Claim
After determining your eligibility to receive VA disability benefits, for a service-connected injury or illness, you will need to gather certain records and perhaps other documentation to back up your claim.
If you’ve gotten married or divorced since you served, your name may be different than what the VA has on file. When filing a VA claim for disability benefits, it is important to use the name you used during your military service.
Once you have completed the paperwork correctly or gathered your supporting materials, then you can mail, fax, or hand-deliver your claim package to a regional VA office near you. You can also upload your claim directly to your ebenefits account.
First, know what kind of claim you want to file. Your original claim is the first claim where you establish a service-connection for your injury, illness, or disability. You can also file a new claim to establish a service connection for a different condition or to increase your rating for a worsening condition that is already service-connected.
You can file a claim for a secondary condition that is caused by an underlying service-connected disability. For example, let’s say you’ve been prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for your service-connected arthritis. You may know these as Ibuprofen, Motrin, or even Aspirin, among others. Repeated use of these drugs over time can destroy the lining of your esophagus and allow for heartburn and other nasty side effects. If this happens to you, you may have a secondary claim for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) related to your service-connected arthritis.
Each type of claim requires different types of supporting documentation and certain answers on the claim paperwork.
The VA paperwork asks for the typical information you might expect: name, address, birthdate, military branch, date of separation, type of discharge, and so forth. Then it asks for specific information regarding the incident or illness. You may need to provide a statement of explanation, such as a lay statement or buddy statement.
If it were an accident during which you sustained an injury, you’d tell them things like:
- What your job was and what you were doing at the time of the incident
- How the accident happened
- How the injury affected you
- How the injury affects you now
To corroborate your claim, you can submit supporting documentation such as any VA medical records or records relating to this disability from other treatment facilities and private physicians, and\or any records showing your disability has worsened.
You may also want to include supporting statements from your service buddies who witnessed the incident (or witnessed how it affected you) or similar statements from friends, family, clergy, or law enforcement personnel. Basically, you can submit statements from anyone who’d be knowledgeable about the claimed condition and the difficulties it presents to you now. A dated letter from active duty to a family member or friend mentioning the incident can be used as evidence.
That last part is critical. It is not enough to have sustained an injury or illness while on active duty. The effects of that injury, illness, or condition must be affecting you now, or you have no disability claim.
You do not have to submit medical evidence with your claim. The VA always reserves the right to schedule you for a comprehensive medical exam by VA doctors so they can evaluate your condition.
You have the right to be evaluated by the VA ‘on your worst day,’ which is tricky because you don’t control scheduling. But you can be honest and talk about the pain you feel when you move, and how the condition limits or affects your daily activities. This C&P exam is the VA’s evidence to either refute or support your claim.
If you can supply supporting medical evidence from professional, non-VA resources, it can be in your favor to do so. For example, a precisely written medical report can be extremely valuable in helping you establish your condition’s connection to your military service. This is called a nexus letter.
Gathering the documentation to support your claim can be time-consuming. In addition to requesting copies of your medical records relating to your claim from your private sources, medical records from MyHealtheVet, and service medical records (SMR) from your branch’s archive location or from the general archives in St. Louis, MO.