Submitting a VA Claim for disability benefits can be a scary venture. One way to make anything easier to manage is to understand the timeline involved. Here, we’ll outline the steps and timeline you can expect between filing your initial claim and receiving your first benefit check.
Step 1: Preparation
Be prepared in advance to ensure your timeline is as short as you can possibly make it. Research how you qualify and know what the VA is looking for. Having your supporting documents ready will be helpful.
To file a claim, the VA will need you to submit:
Step 2: Submitting the VA Claim
Start your claim by going to eBenefits.va.gov or calling 1-800-827-1000 for assistance. Read the form carefully, and make sure it’s filled out completely and your submissions are accurate.
The time it takes to fill out the claim form is generally 25 minutes. Be sure to take your time as you go through the process. Submitting a complete and accurate form makes it easier for the VA decision-makers to give you a quick and correct decision.
Note: The VA offers what they call a Fully Developed Claims Program. This program allows for a quicker decision by submitting evidence along with your claim. On the other hand, if you don’t submit your evidence with your claim initially, you will be allowed one full year after the date you start your claim to submit any supporting evidence. Sending in your evidence later will only delay the decision.
You can fill out and submit your claim form in one of three ways: on-line, via mail, or deliver the printed forms in person at a VA regional office near you. To find the nearest VA regional office, please call 800-827-1000. If you choose to download and print the documents and forms to submit via USPS (mail) or in person, be sure to file an “intent to file” document. Submitting this form before you file your claim will establish an “effective date” (possibly allow you to get retroactive payments starting from your effective date).
Step 3: The VA Claim Under Review
VA claims are most commonly denied for “no medical diagnosis of a disability”. In each case, the veteran failed to show a clear medical diagnosis of a disability in his/her service treatment records (military medical records). Again, being thorough with the supporting evidence is the best way to get the proper rating for your disability.
If you choose not to submit all supporting documents with your claim, be prepared to have a claim exam scheduled so the VA can learn more about your condition. If a claim exam is scheduled, be fully present at it and come prepared.
Whether you send the supporting documents or not, the VA will acknowledge receipt of your claim. If submitted online, an on-screen message will appear almost immediately. If sent via USPS, the acknowledgement will arrive in 1-2 weeks.
Step 4: The Gathering of Evidence & the VA Evidence Review Process
The amount of time it takes to review your VA disability claim depends on a few different factors. These factors include the type of claim you filed; how many injuries or disabilities you claimed (and how complex they are); and how long it takes the VA to collect the evidence needed to decide your claim.
The claim will be sent directly through the process if the VSR (Veteran Service Representative) reviewing your claim thinks there is no additional evidence necessary. This result is ideal and is why it pays to be thorough and diligent in the preparation phase.
On the other hand, during this review process the VSR may ask for further evidence from you. This evidence might be information from health care providers, government entities, buddy letters or statements from a significant other. Your claim could move into and out of this phase multiple times depending on how complex they think your condition is. This process could take as much as 30-60 business days. This is normal. Be patient.
The VSR will make a decision on your VA disability claim by reviewing your entire claim application along with your supporting documents. These will include medical records, personal statements, buddy letters, and C&P exam results as well as any other supporting information. The VA often denies claims for disability benefits because there is not enough evidence in the veteran's file to issue a favorable decision.
Step 5: The VA Decision
If, however, the VSR does make a decision, they’ll begin the process of preparing the necessary documents to detail the decision they have made, and the notification process begins.
According to the Office of Veterans Affairs, as of July 2020, it takes an average of 124.8 days to complete a decision on a disability-related claim. The number was lower in 2018, but the COVID-19 pandemic affected the efficiencies they had gained in 2019.
Step 6: The VA Notification is Prepared
Your VA Disability Claim decision packet, in its entirety, is now prepared to be mailed to you. This step usually takes around 7-14 business days.
Step 10: Contact an Accredited VA Lawyer
Military Disability made easy with the right assistance
Once you’ve received a decision on your VA Disability Rating, you are eligible to seek further assistance from an accredited VA disability attorney. You must go through the VA claim submission process at least once before an attorney can assist you.
You might find that the VA didn’t deny your claim but rated it much lower than you feel is fair. An accredited VA attorney can assist you through the appeals process. When you do reach out to an attorney, be sure to seek the help of an accredited attorney to get the best care on your case.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs states that “An accredited representative is an individual who has undergone a formal application and training process and is recognized by VA as being capable of assisting claimants with their affairs before VA.” A VA accredited attorney is required to complete 3 hours of qualifying continuing legal education (CLE) requirements during the first 12-month period following the date of initial accreditation by VA, and an additional 3 hours every 2 years thereafter. This keeps them up to date with the latest changes in the VA regulations.
The Board of Veterans' Appeals Annual Report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 indicated that the VA disability appeals success rate for veterans was 35.75 percent. Specifically, out of 85,288 decisions issued, 30,492 were allowed, or granted. Further, attorneys succeed in over 80% of VA disability appeals.
This timeline is approximated, and each step will differ based on your individual circumstances. As you can see, the process can take anywhere 3-4 months. The first part (filing the initial disability claim) is a necessary step that all Disabled Veterans must take. Once you’ve received your claim decision, however, you no longer must go it alone.
A VA disability attorney is a great advocate who knows the ropes on getting you the rating you deserve and keeps your timeline from continuing indefinitely.