How to Apply for Veterans’ Disability Benefits

Most veterans in Virginia and across the country served out of a sense of duty – not because they expected reward or recognition. However, out of respect for their service, Congress created a benefits program that helps veterans who suffer from a service-connected disability and can no longer fend for themselves. To qualify for these benefits, veterans must essentially show the following:

  • Qualifying condition – The veteran must establish that he or she currently suffers from a disability that is connected to an illness or injury that the veteran suffered during a period of service.
  • Severity – The veteran’s medical records must demonstrate a connection between the veteran’s condition and his or her service as well as the extent of the disability.

Veterans’ benefits typically consist of a monthly stipend that is designed to defray a veteran’s ongoing medical expenses. However, veterans who received a bad conduct discharge may not be eligible for these benefits.

Here, we provide a brief guide to how the veterans’ disability benefits application process works and what to avoid as you go through that process.

Apply for VA Benefits

When you are ready to apply for benefits, you can submit your application by:

  • Going online and applying through the Veterans Online Application (VONAPP) portal
  • Mailing a paper application to your local VA office
  • Calling (800) 827-1000
  • Visiting your local VA office and applying in person.

If you file the application yourself, a personal visit may be the best route. You can get assistance from a veterans’ service officer at the VA office.

Generally, you have no time deadline for filing your claim. This is because many service-related illnesses – for example, illness from asbestos exposure – may not become apparent for several decades.

Your application must list your medical conditions. While it may be tempting to include a laundry list of conditions to convince the reviewer of the severity of the matter, this approach often backfires because it significantly delays the approval process. So, you should only list those conditions that a doctor has diagnosed and that have a relationship to your period of service.

In most instances, if you can show a temporal relationship, it should be sufficient. For example, if you served in the tropics while in the Navy and contracted malaria, the two are almost certainly related.

Some common VA disability claims include:

  • Back, neck and joint pain
  • Cancer such as mesothelioma,
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Military sexual trauma,
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Diabetes
  • Traumatic brain injury.

You should include a very brief narrative summary – perhaps a couple of sentences. That summary could serve as a roadmap and make your application easier for the reviewer to navigate.

Next, you should include as many relevant and available medical records as you can track down. The VA approves well-documented claims at a much higher rate than poorly documented ones. Also, even though the VA normally requests medical records to fill in any gaps, those requests can delay the approval process. If possible, your records should reflect both the diagnosis and prognosis of your condition.

Finally, you should include relevant military records. If these documents are absent, the VA may not consider the claim. At a minimum, the application package should include any discharge papers, specifically including the DD214, and all available service treatment records.

Application Pitfalls to Avoid in Virginia

VA review officers try to weed out as many claims as possible as early as possible. So, if you make a mistake during the application process, it could be costly. Some common mistakes to avoid are:

  • Providing improper or incomplete documentation – This error is not fatal. However, it does often extend the wait for a decision.
  • Failing to list all illnesses – Veterans are entitled to benefits for both primary and secondary conditions. However, many times, they only file for the primary condition, which is a mistake. (As a side note, you must be honest about your symptoms. Any inconsistencies between your application and your medical records could lead to the denial of your claim.)
  • Leaving out “buddy statements” – Fellow veterans can sometimes help you to fill in the gaps. For instance, in a “buddy statement,” a fellow veteran can provide information as observations of your behavioral changes or eyewitness accounts of a military incident that caused your injury or illness.
  • Failing to get an IME – Veterans may submit an Independent Medical Examination report that sheds light on the illness or injury.
  • Giving up – At the end of the application process, far too many veterans either quit if their claims are denied or simply accept whatever course the agency recommends. You should always have an attorney review your claim before you abandon it or accept the VA’s decision.

Your ability to pursue an appeal must meet deadlines, so you should not delay seeking legal help if the VA denies your claim.

Get Help from Our Virginia Veterans’ Disability Benefits Lawyers

At Marks & Harrison, we help veterans to seek the benefits they deserve by aggressively pursuing VA disability appeals. Contact us today for a free consultation from an experienced VA disability attorney in Richmond or at one of our eight other offices in Virginia.

Joel R. McClellan is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Valparaiso University School of Law who has represented hundreds of personal injury victims throughout Virginia as an attorney with Marks & Harrison. Joel is licensed to practice in Virginia, the District of Columbia and the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. He has also chaired the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association's Young Trial Lawyers section and served on the Legal Aid Justice Center's Advisory Council and on the Executive Committee of the Richmond Bar Association's Young Lawyers section.