How Do I Start the VA Process?
If you’ve ever served in the military, then you have probably heard the words “VA claim”, “VA disability”, “service-related disability”, or something akin to Veterans Affairs as it relates to disabled veterans. Although the Veterans Affairs department has a reputation that precedes itself; their reputation should not stop you from claiming the benefits that you’re entitled to based on your service to our country. One of the most common reasons veterans delay their claim for VA benefits is because the process can be extremely daunting to navigate. Let’s discuss how to start the VA process, what service records you’ll need to start the VA process, and when the best time to start the VA process is.
What are Veterans Affairs disability benefits?
The term Veterans Affairs benefits (or VA benefits) can range from disability compensation to VA-backed home loans. Although the VA offers a wide range of benefits, disability compensation can feel like the most time consuming benefit to obtain as a disabled veteran.
In layman’s terms, VA disability compensation is a monthly tax-free payment to veterans who got sick or injured while serving and those who already had a pre-existing condition that was made worse during their service.
For example, if you served on active duty or other qualifying terms of service and you stubbed your big toe which resulted in a joint replacement; your injury could qualify for VA disability compensation.
Is it hard to get VA disability?
It can be difficult to obtain a 100% disability rating depending on the type of injuries incurred, proving those injuries are service-connected, and the number of injuries you’ve accrued due to your military service. This is why it is important to ensure you begin the VA process as early as possible, document any injuries or illnesses while you are in the service, and maintain a good copy of all your service and medical records.
When should I apply for VA disability benefits?
Ideally, disabled veterans should register with the VA while they are still in the service. It’s important to get your foot in the door before you potentially lose access to the systems and personnel that can easily search for the records you might need to substantiate your VA claims later on. Registering with the VA is the first step in starting the VA process and doesn’t require you to file VA claims right away.
If you’re looking to receive VA disability compensation while you’re in the service, keep in mind that you can only receive up to a 70% disability rating before it begins to affect your base pay. For Reserves or National Guardsmen, you can still attend inactive duty training (or drills) for retirement points and forgo your base pay if you’re receiving a 70% disability rating. However, it is important to be mindful that increased disability ratings have the potential to trigger the medical board process for administrative separation. Therefore, it might be wise to wait to file disability claims if you are not ready to end your contract.
You can speak to a VA representative to determine the best strategy for VA disability compensation as most are familiar with various circumstances surrounding disabled veterans and the most opportune time to file a VA claim.
How do I register with the VA?
In order to apply for VA healthcare, you’ll need to complete the VA Form 10-10ez. This form is required for initial registration with the VA to determine benefits and/or compensation you may be entitled to.
You may need to attach your separation orders or DD 214 to the VA form 10-10EZ as supporting documentation to receive VA healthcare.
How do I start my VA benefits?
If you are still on active duty or serving as a full-time National Guardsman, then you can file a pre-discharge claim 90-180 days prior to your separation date. To utilize the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) avenue, you must be able to fulfill all of the below requirements:
- Be a veteran on full-time active duty
- Have a predetermined separation date that falls within the next 180 to 90 days
- Be available and present for VA exams for 45 days of claim submission
- Provide a copy of service related treatment records for your term of service that you’ve filing a claim for
If you are no longer serving in the United States military, then you can either apply for VA disability benefits online, submit a paper application via mail or fax.
The VA Form 21-526EZ is the application for disability compensation and related compensation benefits. It provides an extensive explanation of qualifications, benefits summaries, and standard claim processes. Oftentimes, it is best to work with a VA representative to ensure you have filled out the form in its entirety as it applies to your particular circumstance to service-related injuries.
What documents will I need to support my VA disability claim?
In order to support your VA disability claim, you’ll need the following documents at minimum:
- DD 214 or other separation documents (e.g. discharge orders)
- Service treatment records
- Medical records that can be used as evidence to support your claim (e.g. x-rays, hospital discharge paperwork, lab results, doctor’s reports/notes)
The key to supporting your VA disability lies in the link between your term of service and the dates you received medical treatment for illnesses and/or injuries incurred during your time in the military.
Know that you are not alone if you did not receive medical care for injuries while you were serving in the military. Most veterans chose not to go to sick call or medical check-ups outside of mandated physical health assessments while they were in the service for fear of being perceived as weak. However, if you were treated after being discharged then your medical records can still support your VA claim.
How do I get my military service records?
Sometimes one of the most difficult feats to accomplish during the VA process is obtaining old military service records. Fortunately, there are ways of getting service records depending on the component that you served in.
You can complete an SF 180 to request military service records and mail it to:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
If you were in the National Guard and still reside in the state that you served, you can contact your local Readiness Center and they can put you in contact with the Archive recordkeeper for that state. Usually they will have a simple request form to fill out and they will mail you a copy of your military service documents.
In either circumstance, it is important to include as much information as possible so that the organization can use that information to find your specific records.
Is it hard to get VA disability?
The process to obtain VA disability compensation can be long and drawn out if you do not know what you’re doing when it comes to filling out the forms, providing documentation, and navigating the system altogether.
Most disabled veterans that get their disability claims denied don’t understand what they did wrong, which is why it is important to work with a VA representative that has your best interest in mind while they guide you through the process.
If you are a veteran who has served or is currently serving, it is important to maintain all of your records because serving in the military does eventually wear and tear on your body over time. So even if you don’t think you need to claim VA disability now or in the future, it is better to be safe than sorry and register with the VA as soon as you can.
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