There are over half a million Veterans living in Georgia, or roughly 9% of the state population, according to the most recent census data. Of that number, nearly 200,000 Veterans are receiving VA Disability benefits.
Since this service is so vital to many Veterans seeking benefits, it’s crucial to know when to file a claim to qualify for VA Disability.
While there is technically no time limit on when you can file a benefits claim, it’s usually best to file as close to the time you first experience the qualifying impairments or symptoms of your condition.
This is true for several reasons:
- First, in some instances it may be easier to medically prove your condition and its connection to your service if you file a claim early.
- The timeline of receiving your benefits also varies based on individual circumstances and whether you must file an appeal to an unfavorable decision.
As disability attorneys with decades of experience, Affleck & Gordon understands the challenges Veterans face when navigating their VA Disability cases.
That’s why it’s crucial to know when to file and have a realistic timeline of when you may qualify for and receive your benefits.
When You Can File for VA Disability Benefits
Between 180 and 90 days prior to discharge from your service is the earliest you are able to file for benefits. If you choose to file during this period, you would do so via the Benefits Delivery at Discharge, or BDD, program.
According to the VA, to qualify for BDD, you must:
- be a service member on full-time active duty (including a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Coast Guard), and
- have a known separation date, and
- your separation date is in the next 180 to 90 days
There are also certain stipulations that may prevent you from qualifying for BDD when your case requires special handling—such as if you are pregnant, need case management for a serious injury or illness, have suffered the loss of a body part, or are terminally ill, among others listed on the VA website.
However, if you are able to utilize it, BDD is a good way to expedite your claim prior to discharge. You can also take the time pre-discharge to apply for other Veterans’ benefits programs for education, housing assistance, and seeking employment and job training.
If you have less than 90 days before your discharge: Unfortunately, you won’t qualify for BDD. However, you can still begin the process of applying for benefits at any time.
Other Types of VA Disability Claims
In addition to a primary disability claim sought upon discharge, there may be claims that are filed after and in addition to a primary claim.
These additional claims may cause a cumulative increase in the disability rating the VA assigns you—a combined rating from 0% to 100%, which determines how much you receive in monthly benefits.
These can include:
- Increased claim: An existing service-connected disability has worsened.
- New claim: You’re filing a new claim in addition to your original claim.
- Secondary claim: You have a disability caused or worsened by a primary service-connected disability.
- Special claim: You need special equipment or increased payments due to the nature of your disability.
- Supplemental claim: Your claim was denied, and you didn’t appeal in time, but you now have new medical evidence to prove your claim.
Not all of these types of claims would be filed as soon as you complete your service, and they will follow a timeline according to your specific circumstances. For instance, if you received a lower disability rating for your condition, but it has since worsened, you may file a supplemental claim at that time. If approved, your rating and benefits may increase.
In all instances, it’s best to file as soon as possible once you meet the requirements for the type of claim. A disability lawyer can advise you about the specific details of your case and when to file.
Qualifying for Your Benefits: A Timeline
There are some circumstances which can help somewhat in expediting your claim, such as filing under BDD before you’re discharged, qualifying for a presumptive disability, suffering from a terminal condition or financial hardship, or advanced age.
Otherwise, your best course of action is to present as definitive medical evidence as possible of your disability, file all paperwork correctly, attend all required hearings, and meet your deadlines.
Even with these actions, an initial VA Disability claim can take three to 10 months. It may take longer, especially if you must appeal an unfavorable decision.
According to the VA, as of September 2020, the average time to complete disability-related claims was 131.5 days.
Some of the steps of the process can include:
- Filing your claim, with an initial review.
- Gathering medical evidence and a Nexus letter from a doctor linking your disability to your service.
- You may need to complete a Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exam by a VA physician to assess the severity of your condition.
- Information about your claim decision will be mailed to you.
If you disagree with the decision, you typically have up to one year from the date on your decision letter to take the following appeals options:
- File a supplemental claim.
- Request a higher-level review.
- Request a review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
These stages of appeal can also take time. For instance, a review by the BVA can potentially add years to your case.
If you’re approved and receive a disability rating of at least 10%, you should receive your first monthly benefits payment within 15 days.
A qualified disability attorney can: advocate for you at each stage of qualifying for VA Disability, including multiple claims or appeals or when seeking a higher disability rating.
An attorney can also help you with filing paperwork, providing proper medical evidence, preparing for your C&P exam, and navigating any other necessary hearings.
If your VA disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and 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) 795-7449.