By Brett Buchanan
Life as an active-duty military service member can be extraordinarily intense, and many veterans will, at some point, experience some type of residual physical or mental difficulty after years of serving their country.
These service-connected conditions may develop into lifelong disabilities that can have considerable impact on a veteran’s daily activities. A response to this need is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation program, which provides monthly tax-free payments to eligible applicants.
There are, however, several potential obstacles that veterans can encounter when looking to file a disability claim. These obstacles can cause delays in claim approval, or even cause claims to be rejected outright. In fact, only about 32 percent of claims were approved by the VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 2021.
One unavoidable obstacle that veterans can expect to face is a wait time of at least several months while their benefits application is processed. On average, it takes the VA approximately 161 days to complete disability-related claims. The exact length of time could vary substantially based on several factors, including the type of claim filed, the number and complexity of your claimed medical conditions, and how long it takes for the VA to collect the required evidence for your claim(s).
The VA has historically experienced times of disability claims backlogs, and it varies as regulatory and policy changes are made to the VA disability program each year. Because it is hard to say with certainty how long the approval process will take, it is recommended that veterans that are experiencing service-connected disabilities submit a completed application and supporting documentation to the VA as soon as possible.
Once an initial claim is submitted, a large portion of the process will involve evidence gathering and review. The VA may ask for additional information from you, your healthcare providers or other governmental agencies. It is important to keep detailed records of your condition and the progression of your symptoms so that they can be demonstrably linked to your service. If you submit an application with outdated information regarding your doctors, the VA may not be able to verify your medical history and could end up delaying or declining your claim.
The VA disability claims process is lengthy and complex, and can prove to be both mentally and physically exhausting. There is very little margin for error if you hope to get an application approved. It may be wise to find an advocate, to help make sure you understand and meet all the requirements for VA benefits. Professionals who work in the area of VA disability benefits advocacy can assist with document gathering, provide expertise with assembling evidence and submit a claim or appeal on your behalf.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has a comprehensive checklist that can help applicants compile a fully developed claim:
Log on to the website
- Go to eBenefits.va.gov and click “Apply for Benefits” to begin an application by answering some preliminary questions about your claim.
Provide information about federal/state records
- Disclose any Social Security benefits you may be claiming, and identify/provide military and/or federal medical records.
Gather all applicable non-federal records
- Request and provide copies of relevant private medical records from your medical practitioner, along with any applicable supporting statements or other documentation.
Choose the correct type of claim
- Select the proper claim: Original Disability Claim, New Disability Claim, Reopened Disability Claim or Secondary Disability Claim. Submit all supporting documentation, including medical evidence of your injury or physical/mental disability and evidence connecting it to your military service.
Upload all documents
- Ensure legibility of all documents, and properly upload them to the VA website. If you have an claims advocate, have them verify all documents to ensure compliance.
It is important to remember that even in the event that your benefits application is denied, that does not have to be the end of the road. If you meet the VA’s requirements, you have earned your benefits. Remaining patient and persistent is critical to the process of pursuing an appeal. Recognizing the resources and expert help available, like VA-accredited claims agents at Allsup, who can advocate for you and your benefits claim, can make a huge difference and help ensure that you ultimately get the benefits you deserve.
Brett Buchanan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is a VA-accredited claims agent at Allsup and guides veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability appeals process.