Securing the VA disability benefits you have rightfully earned can be a difficult, frustrating, and long process. Congress intended the Veterans Affairs Department to be a veteran-friendly benefits system. Unfortunately, the reality is likely to be far different. Veterans and their beneficiaries know that all too often the VA is uncaring and indifferent.

While you cannot control the way the VA is going to handle your claim or how long they will take to hand down a decision, there are steps you can take to improve your chances for a successful outcome. Here are five steps that we recommend to our VA clients:

Step 1:

The first step is to get your VA C-File. It is the single most important component in the entire VA disability claims process. The C-File is your VA Claims File. When you file a claim for disability benefits the VA creates a C-File and—in theory—it contains all the information the VA needs to judge your claim. You should review your C-File to ensure that all the records in your file are yours and that everything you have sent to the VA is included. I cannot stress enough how important your C-File is.

Step 2:

The second step toward a successful VA disability claim is to be aware of deadlines. You are responsible for meeting all the deadlines during the claims and appeals process. One of the most important of these is the amount of time you have to file an appeal to an unfavorable decision.

In an effort to cut down on wait times for complicated disability cases, the VA has overhauled its review process. The new rules are called the Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act or AMA for short. Under AMA the VA will issue a rating decision that spells out what issues were decided, includes a summary of the evidence, has an explanation of the applicable laws and regulations, and lists what findings were in your favor. Most importantly, if your claim was denied the rating decision must explain what evidence you must provide to establish service connection or identify what criteria you must meet to be awarded compensation. After this rating decision you have one year to exercise one of three options: appeal for a higher review at the Regional Office, file new and relevant evidence—now referred to as a supplemental claim, or file a Notice of Disagreement to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If the Board Review decision is unfavorable, you have an option to file a supplemental claim within a year, or you can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. You only have 120 days to file the appeal to the CAVC.

Step 3: 

Step three is that you must show up for your Compensation and Pension Exam. C and P exams are medical exams ordered by the VA to assess the severity of your disability. If you miss the C and P exam, it is almost certain that your claim will be denied. If, for any reason, you are not able to be there for an upcoming exam get in touch with the VA right away to reschedule it.

Step 4:

Being honest with your healthcare provider is step four. Do not exaggerate or minimize your symptoms. What you say or don’t say to your doctor can have a major impact on your case and you want to be sure your condition is properly documented in your medical records.

Step 5:

The fifth step is: ask for help, if you need it. As I said at the beginning, the VA disability process can be difficult to navigate—do not be afraid to reach out for help. As accredited VA attorneys we stand ready to help you get the benefits you have earned.

Let Our Experts Help You!

Contact us at Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your situation.


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