According to the most recent statistics gathered by Cornell University, 31.6% of Georgia’s “non-institutionalized civilian Veterans aged 21 to 64” reported a service-connected disability. Now consider that there are over 640,000 Veterans currently living in Georgia, making up 7.6% of the entire state population.
The VA spends a lot of time processing VA disability claim applications, requesting and verifying medical and service records, conducting exams, and otherwise assisting Veterans with their claims.
Clearly, understanding the most effective steps to applying for and earning the maximum possible VA disability benefits is vitally important to a great many service members after they are discharged into civilian life, as well as their families.
However, if you’ve never filed before, the process can feel overwhelming—even with the VA’s help.
How easy is it to apply for benefits? What steps can you take to improve your chances of an approval with a higher disability rating?
When should you consult a VA disability attorney about your claim?
Veterans are often dealing with physical, mental, or emotional hardship associated with a disability. The VA’s 2021 data shows that disability claims can take an average of 154 days to complete.
Your time is valuable. The last thing you want is to make a mistake that leads to a bad outcome in your case.
How (and When) to Apply for VA Disability
You may qualify for benefits when you have a disability that is:
- caused by your service in the armed forces
- an existing condition worsened by your service, or
- service-connected but didn’t appear until after you were discharged
However, first you must go through the application process. In most cases, you may begin applying for your benefits between 180 and 90 days before discharge through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program. Claims filed later than this will not be processed until after discharge.
Here are the ways you can get started with the application process:
- Online, you can apply for veterans disability benefits using the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP).
- By mail, you can complete an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension, found at the VA Forms Website.
- By phone, call 800-827-1000. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the TDD line at 800-829-4833. If you live outside the U.S., call 412-395-6272.
- Visit your local VA regional office, and apply in person.
The VA offers a full explanation for additional steps or paperwork you may need for your specific claim, as well as resources the VA offers to help.
Other VA Disability Steps You Can Take
Knowing what is expected of you and being prepared can make the process much easier. For instance, keep comprehensive medical, service, and other records related to your disability, as these may be required of you to prove your disability.
Other types of evidence may include:
- A Nexus letter from a doctor connecting your disability to your service.
- Records of treatments received during service.
- Form DD214 or other separation documents.
- A Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) detailing your condition and its severity.
- A C&P exam by a VA physician, to help determine your disability rating (between 0% and 100%).
- Other paperwork or steps specific to the unique circumstances of your disability.
Once you’ve filed, there are other steps you can take while you await a decision.
Track Your VA Disability Claim Online
Once you file your claim, you can easily track the status of your claim online. All you need is a DS Logon, My HealtheVet, or ID.me account to access the system.
Using this system, you can track your claim type, details of your claim, any evidence you’ve filed online, additional evidence the VA has requested, as well as your VA claims representative.
You’ll also be able to see where your claim is in the review process, and an estimate of when the VA will complete your claim.
Access Other VA Disability Resources
Using the VA’s online system, you can also check a current disability rating, file for increased disability, appeal a decision, upload medical records or other evidence and additional forms, update bank and mailing information, view your disability payment history, and more.
Learn How VA Disability Services Impact You
The VA offers a variety of tools to help you learn how to prepare and apply for your benefits. These learning resources cover many topics, including:
- How to know if you qualify for benefits
- How to file a claim or appeal
- Information about disability ratings
- Compensation rates
- How to get help filing your claim and other VA services
You may also call the VA Benefits Hotline at 800-827-1000 if you have questions.
You may also choose to seek professional help with your claim from a certified attorney, claims agent, or Veterans Service Officer (VSO).
When an Attorney Makes Your VA Disability Claim Easier
There are steps you can take alone or with the help of the VA. However, there are times a VA disability attorney can help guide you and improve your chances of winning benefits or getting a higher disability rating.
Many attorneys offer a free case evaluation. This is an opportunity for you to learn more about how a legal representative can help you win your case.
When you contact a lawyer, your initial claim may have already been denied. Or you may have received a lower disability rating than you feel you deserve.
If this occurs, you will need to appeal the decision through the VA’s review process. The levels of review include:
- Filing a supplemental claim with new evidence
- Requesting that a more senior reviewer review your claim
- Appealing to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans' Appeals in Washington, D.C.
When appealing to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, you may choose for them to directly review the evidence of your case, or you may decide you’d like a hearing.
Consulting an attorney means there will be a dedicated advocate fighting for you and guiding you through each stage. This includes helping you present a compelling case during a BVA hearing, or if necessary, fighting for you at the federal level, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
If your VA Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4972.