- What are Veteran Disability Benefits?
Veteran disability benefits consist of monthly payments to the veteran from the United States government. A U.S. veteran who was injured during service and suffers from a resulting disease or disability may be eligible to receive these benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The payment amount is dependent upon the veteran’s degree of disability. In addition to monthly payments, veteran disability benefits may include travel expenses for rehabilitation or treatment.
- Who Is Eligible to Apply?
To be eligible for veteran disability benefits, you must be a veteran of the United States military service, serving on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training and have a disability rating for your service-connected condition.
- You must also meet all of the following guidelines to be eligible:
- You must have a disease or disability diagnosed;
- There must have been an incident during your active service; and
- The disability must be “service-connected”, meaning that there must be a proven causal connection between the incident and the disability (see additional information below)
- What does the Service-Connection Requirement mean?
As explained above, the disease or disability must be service-connected in order to qualify for veteran disability benefits. This means that your active service (or incident/injury during active service) caused or helped to cause the disability.
There are three different types of service connections:
Direct Service Connection
- A direct service connection occurs when the disability occurred directly due to military service. In these cases, you must show evidence of your current disability, evidence of the incident that caused the disease or injury and provide medical evidence that the occurrence caused the current disability or disease.
Aggravated Service Connection
- An aggravated service connection can be established in cases where you entered military service with a pre-existing condition that is noted in your entrance medical exam. You will need to provide evidence that active military service or an incident during your service aggravated this condition.
Presumed Service Connection
- A presumed service connection can be established when you (if you have served at least 90 days) develop a disability or chronic condition within one year of active service. Some examples of chronic conditions arthritis, diabetes or hypertension. Federal law lists the disabilities and illnesses that are presumed to result from active military service. The disability must appear within a certain amount of time after active service and the lengths of time vary by type of disease or disability. You can find additional information on specific presumed conditions here: https://benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/serviceconnected/presumption.pdf
- What if I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The VA has streamlined its rules for PTSD so that when applying for disability benefits for PTSD, you do not need to provide evidence of the traumatic event that caused the PTSD. If you have a PTSD diagnosis related to a traumatic event that a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms was enough to cause PTSD, you the event is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and is likely to have happened during your service, you will be granted benefits.
- How Do I Apply for Benefits?
To apply for benefits, you must file VA Form 21-526. You can find the form here: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf
In addition to completely Form 21-526, you must also provide a DD214 (separation or discharge paperwork) for all periods of service, along with medical records, evidence of the claimed disability and evidence showing the disability or disease was caused by active service. You must also submit copies of marriage certificates and/or divorce records, birth or adoption records for all dependent children and nursing home records (if applicable).
- How Happens After I File My Claim?
The VA will let you know once they receive your claim. They will do an initial review of the claim. They will then begin to gather and review evidence from you, your health care providers, government agencies and others. They will make a decision and mail you your claim decision packet.
If you are approved for Veteran Disability Benefits, you will be assigned a disability rating based on the severity of your service-connected condition. This rating will be used to determine how much disability compensation you will receive each month.
- How Long Does it Take to Get a Decision from the VA?
While the time frame can vary, on currently takes about 132 days to receive a decision.
- What if I am denied and I disagree with the decision?
If you disagree with the VA’s decision, you can choose from 3 decision review options to continue your case:
- To be able to file a Supplemental Claim, you must add new evidence (information that the VA didn’t have before the last decision) and relevant evidence (information that could prove or disprove something in your claim. You can file a Supplemental Claim anytime, but it is recommended that you file it within one year of your decision date. It usually takes 4 -5 months to get a decision on your Supplemental Claim. To file a Supplemental Claim, fill out Form 20-0995: Decision Review REQUEST: Supplemental Claim here: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-20-0995-ARE.pdf
- You can request a Higher-Level Review of either an initial claim or a Supplemental Claim decision. In a Higher-Level Review, a reviewer will determine whether the decision can be changed based on a difference of opinion or an error. You cannot submit any evidence but you and/or your representative can speak with the reviewer on the phone to tell them why you think the decision should be changed. You have one year from the date on your decision letter to request this type of review. It usually takes the VA 4 – 5 months to make a decision. NOTE: Make sure you answer your phone. The reviewer will call try to reach you or your representative at the phone number you provided. If possible, they will leave a voicemail if they can’t reach you. If they are unable to leave a message or make contact after 2 attempts, they will proceed with the review without your input. To request a Higher-Level Review, fill out VA Form 20-0996: Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review here: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-20-0996-ARE.pdf
- You can request a Board Appeal after an initial claim, Supplemental Claim or Higher-Level Review decision. You cannot request two (2) Board Appeals in a row for the same claim. You have one year from the date on your decision letter to request a Board Appeal. It is highly suggested that you contact an attorney for help in pursuing a Board Appeal.