Posted on Sep 13, 2016

You can file an application for disability compensation at any time after you are discharged.  Except in a few specific situations, there are no time limits.  The initial filing of claim isn’t too difficult, but you are not allowed to pay anyone to represent you at the initial filing stage.   

You can file online through the Veterans Administration’s website or by mailing in your claim form.  The form to use is VA 21-526 VETERAN'S APPLICATION FOR COMPENSATION AND/OR PENSION.  The form is six pages with an additional four pages of instructions.

Is it Worth Your Time to File? Before you fill out the form, you may want take stock of your personal situation and determine whether or not it is worth your time to file. There are four requirements you must meet to successfully win your case:

  1.  You must prove eligible military service. You must have served in one of the branches of the armed services and must have a discharge that is other than dishonorable.  If your discharge is other than honorable but not dishonorable (e.g. under honorable conditions, general) you may be qualified for only some types of benefits.
  2. You must have a current medical condition. You must have an injury or illness that can be connected to your military service. It is not enough, however, just to say you have a medical condition; you must be able to prove it with solid medical records prepared by a physician (your best option) or another qualified health care provider. We cannot overstate how important precise and detailed medical records will be for you to successfully get the VA disability benefits you have earned.
  3. You must have evidence to support your claim. The best evidence is your Service Medical Record (SMR) if it clearly describes the onset of your illness or an event that led to your injury. The VA will also be looking for the details of how your condition was treated and what are the residual effects of your illness or injury.
  4. You must establish a clear service connection.  If your condition is not combat-related, your medical evidence must show that there is a least a 50-50 likelihood that your disability was a direct result of your military service.  This is called “service connection” and if you can’t prove service-connection you will not be awarded benefits.

If you can meet these requirements, we encourage you to apply for the benefits you earned by serving your country.  But be aware that the process is very slow – hampered by a huge backlog of cases at the VA, prone to many errors and will require your regular and ongoing attention. For these reasons and so you are prepared for an appeal, if the VA denies your initial application, we strongly suggest that you keep detailed and well-organized records. 

Because  it can be difficult to prove that a phone call was received and what was said in that phone conversation (and the same holds true for email), we recommend you communicate with the VA in writing and send your letters, forms, and copies of records to the VA via registered mail with “return receipt requested”. Keep copies of everything you send to the VA and everything they send to you.

(This article is excerpted from Cuddigan Law’s definitive book about VA disability benefits: The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims (With Insider Tips to Maximize Your Benefits). Click here to download your free copy.

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Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska