If you were injured during your military career, veteran service officers and advocates advise you to file a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs – whether you’re still thinking about hanging up your uniform or have been out of the ranks for decades.
It takes the VA an average of 138 days to make a decision on an applicant’s claim, according to the VA website. While the claims process is lengthy, there are some things you can do to streamline it.
Ask For Help Before You Start to File Your Claim
Veterans and service members should never try to file a claim directly with the VA without help, according to Jeremy Amick, a spokesman and veterans advocate for Silver Star Families of America.
“You need to seek out an accredited veterans service officer,” he said.
According to the VA, veterans service officers “work on behalf of veterans and service members – as well as their dependents and survivors,” to help guide VA applicants through the steps to receive benefits.
“We trust these professionals because they’re trained and certified in the VA claims and appeals processes and can help you with VA-related needs,” the VA said on its website.
Beyond professional assistance, don’t overlook the service members and veterans who have gone through the VA claims process before you.
“The biggest thing is that veterans who have been through the system need to talk with other veterans,” said Troy Williams, a VSO with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Let other veterans know they need to use the system and file a claim if they have a disability. Every single veteran that is in the system helps to fund the VA system.”
Gather your documentation
Obtaining your medical records from your time in service – along with your civilian medical records – is essential to navigating the process, Amick said. Your veteran service officer (VSO) can help you gather everything you need when filing your claim.
A key component of your documentation is your medical diagnosis, according to Williams. He said the VA will want to know what documented service-connected injury or illness is still affecting you at the time of the claim.
“It doesn’t matter what it was,” said Williams. “If it happened while you were in the ranks and you have a diagnosed condition, then the VA will most likely grant that disability in their findings.
Be Prepared to Talk About Your Disability Openly
Both Amick and Williams said that veterans shouldn’t be shy about advocating for themselves once they reach their compensation and pension exam. This “C&P” exam is a meeting between VA representatives and the service member or veteran. During the meeting, the VA reviews the claim and your evidence to determine whether or not to grant your claim.
“So many of our veterans ‘clam up’ when they go in during the C&P Exam,” said Williams. “They need to talk about what their disability is and how it affects them in everyday life.”
For example, Williams said, if you have issues with joints – you need to specify how the issues limit your mobility or make motion more painful.
“These are the things you need to be able to talk about because that is how they are going to rate you.”
What a VA Disability Rating Means to You
So, what exactly is a VA rating and what does it mean?
If the VA determines your service-connected injury or illness limits your ability to perform work or daily activities, they’ll provide a rating for how much it impacts you. Your rating determines what benefits you are eligible to receive.
The math for multiple service-connected disabilities gets a little fuzzy, so be sure to read up on how VA Math works.
Williams explained the VA rating system in simple terms as follows:
- If your service-connected disability is rated at 10%, the VA will issue you a small monthly payment and provide you with medical care to treat the claimed disability.
- If you receive a rating of 30% or more, the VA will include additional compensation for your dependents in your monthly benefits.
- If you receive a VA rating of 50% or more, you will receive medical health care with no copays.
- A 100% permanent and total (you may hear this called “P&T”) disability rating provides full medical benefits at no charge, medical benefits for dependents, vocational rehabilitation benefits and dental benefits. This also opens the door to some state-provided benefits. For example: in Texas, a veteran with a VA disability rating of 70%-100% may receive a $12,000 property tax exemption.