The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs administers several programs covering a range of support services, including disability compensation, pension, health care, education, insurance, and loans.
Applications for benefits such as disability compensation and pension are reviewed by VA employees, leading to a decision to approve or deny the application, or a request for more evidence.
Veterans have the option to appeal application denials but can avoid that lengthy process by building a strong, evidence-supported case from the onset.
Here are some ways to strengthen your case for disability compensation with the VA:
- File early. Many veterans wait months, years, or decades to file for VA compensation benefits, even though their condition began in service. The result of waiting can often lead to incorrect denials due to missing records or intervening injuries. The VA can also find that time between service and when you report an injury weighs against your claim that the injury is related to service. Not to mention, your condition may worsen without VA treatment during those years. Also, you only get benefits back to the date you filed the claim—not when the injury actually started. So, if you want to file for VA disability compensation benefits, it is best to file an Intent to File form and submit the supporting evidence as soon as possible.
- Present a clear and strong claim for service connection. Your application should leave no doubt that your condition is directly linked to an injury or event that occurred as a result of your military service. The VA should be able to review your application and draw a clear line from the in-service event to the current condition. While this may be obvious, don’t leave it understated or buried deep in your application.
- Provide ample medical evidence. Your medical records before, during, and after service may all be relevant depending on the nature of your claim. It helps to have your injury or illness well documented by a medical professional, especially contemporaneous with the injury and resulting symptoms. Additionally, you may benefit from obtaining a medical opinion from your provider—although you do not have to—detailing how your condition is related to service and the symptoms you experience as a result of your condition. If the VA asks for your records or schedules you for a medical examination, be sure to comply with the VA’s requests.
- Consider a lay statement from family or friends. While medical evidence is critical, a strong lay statement can help bolster your case for VA disability compensation. This could be from a spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker. Typically a lay statement describes what your life was like before military service and how your quality of life, including your ability to work and function, has changed as a result of a service-connected condition.
- Include any secondary conditions in your initial claim. A secondary condition is a condition that is related to your service-connected illness or injury. If we take Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an example of a primary condition related to a traumatic experience in service, secondary conditions might include sleep apnea, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, or unwanted weight gain. Secondary conditions can also result from medication or treatment for the primary conditions. Avoid the lengthy VA claims process of filing a separate claim for your secondary issue by including it in your initial application.
- Include a buddy statement in addition to your evidence. A fellow service member often has a first-hand perspective on the service incident or conditions that caused your disability. A buddy statement can help establish service connection for your disability. Like a lay statement, it can also provide insight into how your disability or injury has affected you.
These steps can help you build a strong initial claim and increase your chances of approval. If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision.
How to appeal the denial of a disability application
As of February 19, 2019, there are a number of ways a veteran can appeal a denied claim. A supplemental claim is used when you have new and relevant evidence to add to your case. The higher-level review will present your claim to a more senior reviewer. You can also appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and have a Veterans Law Judge review your case. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals Quarterly Report, over 100,000 veterans submitted appeals through this method in 2022. Your choice of these options is not limiting – if you aren’t satisfied with the results of the first option you choose, you can try another eligible option.
During the initial VA disability claim process as well as any appeals, you can monitor your VA disability claim status online through the “My VA” dashboard or by calling the VA hotline number at 800-827-1000.
We can help you build a strong claim or appeal
At Vets National Advocates, we help Veterans and their survivors develop their strongest claim or appeal in order to get the support they need and deserve. We use our expert knowledge to navigate the complexity of VA disability claims and benefits. Contact us today for a free consultation using our online form or call 1 (877) 777-4021.