Starting a VA Claim in Virginia
Getting started with a VA disability claim can begin from any location in the US, regardless of where you served. Certainly you can file your claim in Virginia if you served at Naval Station Norfolk or Little Creek, or if you left Active Duty after a tour in Virginia, but it actually doesn’t matter. Because VA Claims are considered a Federal affair, the state in which you apply technically doesn’t matter. It used to be somewhat relevant because some VA Regional Offices were notoriously slower or more mistake-prone than others, but the claims review process has been nationalized so that it is not as much of a factor anymore.
To get started with filing a claim for VA disability compensation, you can apply personally online through the VA, by sending forms directly to the VA, or by seeking the help of a Veterans Service Organization (VSO).
Before applying, you may want to review the very basic requirements for qualifying for VA disability compensation. At the very minimum, you must have served active time in the US military, been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, have a current disability, and be able to show that it was caused or aggravated by your military service.
Once you are sure that you qualify, the first piece of paperwork you need to complete is VA Form 21-526EZ, or you can go electronic and simply apply online through the VA eBenefits portal. You may need to submit additional forms based on your individual circumstances. Additional forms that you may need to submit include forms for PTSD (0781 for PTSD or 0781a for PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma) and specific forms if you wish to be rated Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability (21-8940 and 21-4192) The forms must be signed and dated, packaged with any evidence you wish for the VA to consider, and either mailed to the VA Evidence Intake Center in Janesville, Wisconsin, or faxed to the VA at the number listed on the form.
Initial claims can take a long time to process, so patience may be required. There is usually nothing that can be done to speed up the VA process, although there are ways to advance certain steps if you are over 75 years old, are terminally ill, homeless, or in other financially precarious positions.
It is important to start your claim early to establish an early effective date. Once set, the effective date will not change 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.
It is important to keep in mind that the effective date can be lost if you don’t maintain appeals for your claims. For example, if you have one year to file a notice of disagreement but miss the deadline, you may be forced to reopen your claim leading to a new effective date. One reason that Veterans fight so hard to appeal VA decisions is 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 Virginia.
The effective date for each disability claim is independent so an earlier effective date for a shoulder claim will usually not apply to a gastrointestinal claim initially filed years later.