We hear questions about the VA Disability Claim timeline a lot at Strategic Veteran. Most active-duty members are wondering if there are any deadlines to apply for benefits. Then we also have some Veterans who have been out of service for 20-some years who think they’ve missed the timeline to file for a VA disability Claim. We decided to create an overall timeline for VA Disability benefits whether you’re a current or previous service member.
Understanding the VA’s Timeline
The VA talks about 5 steps to their timeline:
- Claim Received
- Initial Review
- Evidence Gathering
- Preparation for Notification
- Claim Complete
It seems simple enough, right?
Not quite. The VA states that 83 days was the average time frame to complete a claim in December 2019.
Here’s a breakdown of those 5 steps:
Claim Received: 7 to 14 Days
There are 3 ways you could have submitted your claim:
- Online using VA Form 21-526EZ
- Using your eBenefits account
- Mailing VA Form 21-526EZ
Initial Review: 7 to 21 Days
In this stage, your VA claim is under review by a Veteran Service Representative (VSR).
Fully developed claims will move relatively fast through this stage because the VSR will identify that there is sufficient evidence for the claim to move forward. Standard claims may take longer, not only in the initial review stage but the entire process may be dragged out too.
Evidence Gathering: 30 to 90 Days
This stage can be one of the deciding factors in how long your claim is going to take. The VA will review any evidence that you provided with your claim. If more evidence is needed for your claim, you may be contacted by a VSR to go to a Compensation and Pension exam (C&P Exam).
Depending on how complex your claim is, we typically recommend reaching out to a professional service to help with your disability claim. Paid services can help you submit a fully developed claim, which may get your claim out of this evidence-gathering stage quicker than a standard claim.
For our most recommended paid services for VA claims, give us a call and we’ll go over what service we think would be best for your situation.
Preparation for Notification: 7 to 14 Days
The VA states that this is the next step in their process, but there are basically 3 steps within this process.
- Preparation for Decision: Your VSR will route your claim and any additional evidence you may have sent in to a Rating Veterans Service Representative (RVSR)
- Pending Decision Approval: The RVSR working on your claim will review your entire claim, including your initial application
- Deferred for Further Development: If the RVSR needs more evidence, then your claim will be sent back to the gathering evidence stage
Now we get to the actual Preparation for Notification. When your claim is in this step, it is decided. The RVSR will route the claim back to a VSR so the draft of the decision letter can be started. Before any official release, a Senior Veterans Service Representative (SVSR) will review all completed documents for final authorization.
Claim Complete: 7 to 14 Days
The VA will send you a decision letter and the Notice of Disagreement Form by mail. This is the final step to your VA claim unless you decide to appeal the VA’s decision and go through the process again.
Tips for Active Duty Military Members Thinking About VA Disability
If you’re still in the military and you’re thinking about applying for VA disability benefits, then you should absolutely go get a physical. Be sure to have everything looked at and documented. When you get ready to separate from the military, you can opt for the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) process and file your claim that way.
If you file within that first year of being out of the military, known as the presumptive year, you could have your decision letter within a month or two. The VA may be more apt to decide in your favor during this presumptive year.
National Guard or Reserve Members
If you are a national guard or reserve member on drill weekend when an accident occurs, the incident must be documented in a line of duty investigation. The investigation protects both you and the government because it proves the accident occurred on military time and is the responsibility of the government.
If you deploy and are injured on active duty orders or National Title 10, that injury falls under the BDD process again because you just separated from the military ‘free and clear.’
Within that presumptive year again, you should be able to file things that happened during that time and have these claims accepted by the VA with less trouble.
Timeline for Veterans Filing For VA Disability Benefits Claims
What if you are just now learning about your rights to file a claim, even 20 years after your military service? The good news is that there’s no law that says you have to file a VA claim within a certain amount of time. The bad news is that you may have missed out on years of VA disability compensation, so begin thinking about filing your VA claim soon!
If you served during a wartime that the VA recognizes, you may want to consider filing a presumptive disability claim. For example, a common presumptive claim is a condition that is associated with Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.
Another presumptive exposure is contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune or atomic exposure from diffusion plants in Paducah, Kentucky, Portsmouth, Ohio, or Oak Ridge, Tennessee, before Feb. 1, 1992.
The VA presumes that exposure to certain substances is the likely cause of certain diseases. If you have one of these identified diseases and served during a place and time where you could have been exposed, you can submit a presumptive claim. The VA should accept it without much additional burden of proof on your part.
Establishing Service Connection in Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
You don’t need a presumptive condition to file a claim years after your military service ended. You just have to prove your disability is connected to your military service. That isn’t always easy, but you will definitely have more success when you provide a Nexus letter.
This letter, usually from a medical professional, connects a veteran’s current medical condition to another service-connected condition, or to circumstances directly related to military service.
A link to an already service-connected disability opens the door for filing for other symptoms you’re dealing with because of the original injury.
For example, some over-the-counter pain remedies and prescribed medications can cause gastroesophageal reflux disease over time. You may have heard this ‘acid reflux’ called GERD. If you have GERD because of medications you are taking for your service-connected injuries, you can file a new claim for the GERD.
Document, Document, Document – It Will Greatly Improve Your VA Claim!
Your claim’s acceptance depends on how well you have documented your injuries and chronic conditions. That includes how many times you’ve been treated for this condition.
Having a paper trail for your condition(s) is important because it can act as evidence that you’re injury or condition has gotten worse over time. Fo
The takeaway here is don’t hesitate to get your medical issues checked out. Documentation helps the VA see that a disability is continuously affecting you, making them more apt to accept your claim regardless of when you file.
Getting your disability claim through the VA system is no easy task. It’s important to know what you’re jumping into and how the timeline works. When it comes down to the VA disability claim timeline, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach but we may be able to gauge an estimate of how long your claim will take based on the type of claim you’re filing. If you’re curious about what’s to come with your VA claim, give us a call at Strategic Veteran.