Starting a VA Claim in Florida
The process of applying for benefits is federal in nature and can be initiated from anywhere in the world. Being stationed in Florida makes the process of filing in Florida obvious, but regardless of whether you served in Mayport or Myanmar you can apply from Florida. To get started, you can use the VA’s website to begin an application, prepare paper forms to submit, or get help from a local Veterans Service Organization (VSO).
The first thing you will need to do is to complete VA Form 21-526EZ or you can start an application online through the VA eBenefits portal. You may need to submit additional forms or information based on the specifics of your situation. For example, you may need to submit VA Forms 21-4142 and 21-4142a if you want the VA to assist in gathering medical evidence on your behalf, or you may need to submit additional forms if you are filing a claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or for Total Disability based upon Individual Unemployability (TDIU). The package of these forms can be submitted to the VA to get your claim going.
Initial claims can take a long time to process, although they can be expedited for certain reasons, including terminal illness, Veteran age over 75, homelessness, or financial hardship. You may also be eligible to get certain processes advanced quicker if you were in a location named in a state of emergency. For example, Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael were given Advancement on Docket status for January-April 2019. Getting a claim sped up can improve total response time by months or years.
It is a good idea to put in an initial claim as soon as possible to set an early effective date for your claim. The effective date remains in place regardless of how long it takes to fully settle a claim, which may last several years depending on the individual claims. The importance of the effective date is that the Veteran is entitled to back pay at the monthly rate they are entitled to reaching from the final decision date all the way back to the effective date. For example, if you started your claim in September 2010, but didn’t get your 70% rating until September 2014, you would be granted backpay for four years at 70%
It is important to keep in mind that the effective date can be lost if you don’t maintain appeals for your claims. For instance, if you have 90 days to file a VAF-9 but wait too long to do so, you may have to reopen your claim resulting in a new effective date. This is one reason it is so important to appeal decisions thoroughly, to keep the effective date in place and receive all the compensation for their disabilities that they earned. See below for additional information about appealing VA decisions in Florida.
The effective date for each disability claim is independent so an earlier effective date for a shoulder claim will usually not apply to an initial claim for PTSD submitted years later.