How Long Do I Have To File A VA Disability Claim? When To File

How VA Disability Benefits Work 

You may be eligible for disability benefits if you are a Veteran with a physical or psychological disability that you believe is connected to your military service. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) grants disability benefits to Veterans who can confirm that they have service-connected disabilities. The VA recognizes a number of conditions as a disability, and any of these conditions – or a combination of multiple disabilities – can qualify a Veteran for monthly disability benefits.

The VA grants benefits to qualifying Veterans who suffer from a wide variety of service-related disabilities. The primary factors that come into play when a Veteran files a claim are the connection between a disability and a Veteran’s military service and the amount of medical evidence presented to confirm that a Veteran’s claim is accurate. 

If you file a disability claim and cannot verify that there is a connection between your disability and an injury or experience from your time in the military, the VA is highly likely to deny your claim. To give your claim the highest possible odds of being approved, make sure to present any documentation that may provide helpful evidence – this can mean military medical records, lab reports, doctors’ notes, and more.

In some cases, the VA will deny the claim of a Veteran who has a service-connected disability. The VA may rule inaccurately if they are not presented with enough evidence or cannot properly assess a Veteran’s condition. If you file a claim with the VA and receive a rejection, you can appeal the VA’s decision with the help of an attorney.

VA Disability Ratings

VA disability benefits are tax-free, and disabled Veterans who qualify will receive their benefits monthly. If your disability has made it impossible for you to work, disability benefits from the VA can be life-changing. Monthly tax-free compensation can help you support yourself and your family if your disability has made you ineligible to work.

Even if you are considered employable, you may still have a disability that the VA views as grounds to receive compensation. The VA rates disabled Veterans on a percentage scale from 0% to 100%. Increasing in increments of 10%, the VA’s disability ratings correspond to different monthly compensation levels. A 0% rating means a Veteran does not qualify for monthly disability payments while a 100% rating implies that a Veteran will receive the highest level of VA compensation available to them, excluding special monthly compensation. If you have a service-related disability but can still work, you may end up with a lower disability rating than a Veteran whose disability makes them unemployable. However, even a lower disability rating can be financially helpful for a Veteran. If you have a service-related disability, it is well worth taking the time and effort to file a claim with the VA.

What If My Rating Is Too Low? 

If you are given a disability rating by the VA that you feel is too low, you can dispute the decision through an appeal. Rejection of your claim isn’t the only VA decision that you can appeal – a rating that you feel is too low can be disputed as well. An experienced attorney can team up with you to help you make a strong case to the VA to raise your disability rating.

Getting the right disability rating from the VA can make a huge difference in your financial stability. Since VA disability ratings correspond to certain levels of monthly benefits, an increased rating can mean you have the means to support yourself and your family. 

What If The VA Lowers My Disability Rating? 

In some cases, the VA may lower a Veteran’s disability rating after a certain period of time. The VA lowers ratings by default for some disabled Veterans under the assumption that a Veteran’s condition has improved over time. Because of this, many Veterans end up with lower disability ratings than they deserve. You might still have the same level of symptoms but have a lower disability rating than the VA initially granted you. If your disability rating has been lowered, you can dispute the VA’s decision to reduce your rating.

When Is The Earliest I Can File My Disability Claim?

You can file a VA disability claim up to 180 days before you leave the service. Claims that you file before retiring from the military are called pre-discharge claims. These disability claims pertain to physical or psychological conditions that develop while still actively serving in the military. To become eligible to receive disability benefits as soon as you leave the service, you can file your claim early and expedite the process.

If you file a disability claim with at least 90 days left before you are discharged, you can file your claim through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program offered by the VA. This program exists to help disabled Veterans get the compensation they need as soon as they finish their time in the military.

Filing A Claim After You Have Left The Military 

If you are currently deployed, you can still file a disability claim and get the application process started so that you’ll have benefits when you return from active duty. You can file a disability claim with the VA by mail if you are currently serving away from your regional VA office. 

If you are trying to file your claim through the BDD program, you will need to do so before you are 90 days away from leaving the service. Past the 90-day point, you can still file a disability claim, but your benefits may not be active by the time you reenter civilian life.

If you have a disability that is service-connected but developed after you left the military, you can still file for a disability claim. Fortunately, the VA accepts disability claims for conditions that develop decades after a Veteran’s military service. This means there is no time constraint on when you can file a disability claim. However, it is wise to file your claim as soon as possible. That way, you can start receiving benefits sooner rather than later.

What Happens After I File My Disability Claim? 

Once you file a claim with the VA, you will be required to take a Compensation & Pension exam. This examination happens in-house at your regional VA office and is administered by a VA-affiliated physician. The results of your C&P exam play a key role in the VA’s evaluation of your claim.

If your VA C&P exam does not present the VA with enough evidence to support your claim, your application to receive benefits will most likely be denied or deferred. If your claim is deferred, it typically means that the VA needs additional evidence or documentation from you so that they can make an informed decision regarding your claim. 

You can stay up-to-date on your claim’s status by visiting the VA website. That way, you’ll be aware of  any messages from your regional VA office regarding your claim. Sometimes, the VA will request additional documentation from you before they can move forward with their decision. To keep your claim from getting stuck midway through the decision-making process, make sure to keep tabs on your claim status from this page.

What If My Claim Is Denied? 

A denied disability claim usually means that the VA has not found a significant connection between a Veteran’s disability and their military service. Without this connection, the VA cannot grant disability benefits to a Veteran, even a Veteran with a diagnosable, provable disability. 

In other cases, the VA may deny a claim because a Veteran’s disability, while service-connected, is not severe enough to warrant a 10% disability rating. Disabled Veterans who score below a 10% rating cannot qualify for benefits – the 10% rating is the lowest disability score a Veteran can receive and still get approval.

However, the VA’s decisions regarding Veterans’ claims are not always completely accurate. In the case of many disabilities that thousands of Veterans suffer from, proving a service connection can be difficult. If your claim is denied, it does not necessarily mean you do not have a service-related disability – instead, it means the VA did not find enough evidence to prove that the connection was present. However, you can make a strong case to the VA that their decision should be changed by making an appeal and presenting additional evidence with the help of an attorney.

The VA appeals process can be difficult and overwhelming to navigate on your own. One of Berry Law’s dedicated attorneys can join your fight, helping you go through the appeals process and working with you to get the benefits you deserve. A skilled attorney can change your claim’s outcome by helping you make a strong, evidence-based appeal to the VA.

 

Sources:

https://www.specialneedsalliance.org/blog/government-benefits-for-vets-with-ptsd/

https://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/general/BDDFactSheet.pdf

https://www.va.gov/claim-or-appeal-status/