The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awards disability claims to those veterans with a service-connected disability. As of late 2014, the agency was still experiencing an extensive claim backlog, so be prepared to wait for your claim to be reviewed. Sometimes it takes up to two years or longer for claims sent via regular mail to make it into the system, but you can also show up at a regional office to file a claim with the help of a VA representative, work with an accredited representative or file a claim online once you have a logon at the agency's ebenefits website. If your claim is denied, and you have good cause, work with a VA-accredited attorney or veterans service organization to help you get your claim approved.
To file a claim online, access the VA's ebenefits website to register for a logon. To do so, you must have either a Common Access Card, an active Department of Defense I.D. card or a Defense Finance and Accounting Service account; be registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System; or be a veteran, dependent or spouse of a veteran. On the registration page, choose one of the above options to register your name. Be prepared with your Social Security number or tax identification number and your military identification number.
VA Disability Claim Form
Fill out the Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, VA form 21-526. This form requires you to provide your personal information, military service branch and dates of service, service pay and direct deposit information for your bank or financial institution. List the disabilities you are claiming on the individual numbered lines, such as hearing loss or left knee injury. Claims for post-traumatic stress disorders must be filled out on form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sign the claim and have a witness sign as well. If you plan to submit additional evidence, check the box that says "I do not want my claim considered for rapid processing."
Submit the Evidence
Along with your claim form, if you have any medical evidence supporting your claim outside of the VA health care system, include these records with your claim. Have your doctor fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire form if you received treatment from a private physician. The individual questionnaires are listed by symptoms, such as cardiovascular; ear, nose and throat; gastrointestinal; and dental and oral on the VA's website for download. Choose the form that best matches your physical injury or ailment as a result of your military service and have your doctor fill it out and sign it. Include this with your claim.
Attend All the Evaluations
After your claim has made it into the system, the VA schedules one or more compensation and pension evaluations. They may schedule X-rays or MRIs as needed after the C&P evaluation in addition to these appointments. Do not miss any of these appointments. You are allowed to reschedule them only once. If you miss an appointment, the VA can deny your claim, which will require you to begin the process again. The purpose of the C&P evaluation is to determine the validity of your disability claim. It is not an examination for treatment. If you need treatment, the VA recommends contacting a local VA hospital or medical clinic or seeking help from your personal physician.
All is not lost if the claim is denied. Inaccurate forms, missed C&P evaluations or lack of proper evidence can result in the VA denying your claim. When a claim is denied, you can appeal the decision. Fill out a letter and title it "Notice of Disagreement." Include your VA claim file number, which appeared on your denial notice and submit it to the regional VA office that handled the claim initially. You can also hire the services of a VA-accredited attorney to handle your appeal or work with a VA-approved service organization by downloading the list at the VA's website.