Some Tips for Filing a VA Disability Claim

January 5, 2011 By
Posted in Veteran Benefits

The blog below was something I recently got from the VA in an email. It is a very good guide on how to apply for VA disability so I wanted to share it here with our readers.

Some Tips for Filing a VA Disability Claim

By Tom Pamperin

Filing a first claim for disability compensation can be a stressful experience. The stress can originate from one or more of the following factors:

Physical or mental discomfort
Financial need
That transitional feeling when you are no longer in the military but not really a civilian
Concern about the outcome
Lack of knowledge of the process
Unrealistic expectations
Erroneous assumptions
Things you have heard from other Veterans and the media and, just
Dealing with a bureaucracy

During this discussion I’d like to use my experience as both a Veteran and a senior VA official to demystify the process and empower you with information you need and what you can expect.


Dealing with large organizations can be frustrating. Some things that appear clear and certain to you may not be to others. Additionally, legal requirements can sometimes be confusing and time consuming. To have the best experience possible I recommend the following:

1. If you are still on active duty and thinking about getting out and filing a claim, go through the Benefit Delivery At Discharge or BDD program at your installation. To qualify you must have between 60 and 180 days left on active duty. We will take your claim and get you examined before you go home. Normally, decisions are available about two months after you separate or retire.

2. If you are still on active duty but have less than 60 days to go, you can still file a “Quick Start” claim. Quick Start claims are processed at dedicated facilities so decisions are quicker for most Veterans.

3. If you are out of service for less than a year, think you might have a claim, but are unsure if you want to “go through the hassle” apply. The evidence is fresher and cleaner, there are unlikely to be what we refer to as “inter-current injuries” (i.e. you back hurts a little but when you get out you get a job as a long hall truck driver or a construction working and don’t file a claim for years. In such cases even if there is some documentation of “something in service” without evidence of treatment for the condition within the first year, service connection is less certain).

4. If you’re concerned that it might not be appropriate to take money for a condition because “I’m fine, was just doing my duty and I have a job”–there are a lot of people who feel that way–consider this. I think you should file your claim. If granted you can always decline to receive the money. If, at a later date, your condition worsens or you age and it interferes with our work, or you decide you want compensation after all you can always contact us. That way we will examine you and determine your current level of disability. We won’t be trying to determine whether you warrant service connection in the first place.

5. If you have been out of the service longer but still think you have a condition related to your service apply! There is no filing time limit. It just might be a little more complex and take a little longer because of the need to develop more records.

6. Our goal is to complete all claims within 125 days or four months by 2015 with 95 percent accuracy. Right now more than 30 percent of our claims have been pending longer than that. Some claims, such as those involving participation in nuclear tests, covert operations, military sexual trauma or other similar circumstances where records may be difficult to locate can and frequently do take longer, sometimes much longer.

7. To meet the challenge of a rapidly growing claims volume, VA has been provided with significant numbers of new staff in the last couple of years. Their jobs are complex and it takes a while to become fully qualified so if you think we made a mistake, ask you may be right. As I said earlier, one of our goals is to get our quality level to 95 percent by 2015. Currently our quality level is 84 percent. While a significant portion our quality problems reflect process errors rather than errors in the final decision with respect to the granting or denying of benefits, rates paid and effective dates of payment, we do make mistakes.

How You Can Help Yourself and VA

The claims process doesn’t need to be a hassle. Here is what you can do to help yourself and VA:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

2. Appoint a representative. While there are attorneys who will represent you for a fee, it is rarely necessary to pay to have your claim processed efficiently and successfully. National Service Organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, as well as State Departments of Veterans Affairs or Veterans Commissions and County Veteran Service Officers can give excellent assistance and its free. Call your local regional office to see what organizations are available at that office.

3. Consider what you want to claim. Many Servicemembers and veterans have been told they should go through their service medical records and claim everything they have ever had or been treated for. While you can do that, it is likely to significantly increase your frustration level, result in unnecessary examinations, and slow the process without getting added benefits. You should not claim acute disabilities or illnesses you had in service unless they left a residual. For example, if you got the flu in service and got over it, the claim will be denied. On the other hand if you broke your leg and recovered from it you should claim that because the fracture, if found on x-ray, can be service connected. While it might only warrant a zero percent evaluation now, if you develop arthritis at the site later, you are covered. Don’t claim things like personality disorders, baldness, the fact that you wear glasses, or similar kinds of things because they are considered “constitutional or developmental abnormalities” that you would have gotten whether or not you were in service. The law doesn’t permit payment for these. Don’t claim lab results like hematuria (blood in the urine) or high cholesterol. We don’t pay for those either. On the other hand, you should claim pseudofolliculitis barbae (a skin condition that affects some black people).

4. If private providers have treated you, get the records and send them to us. While the application you fill out does offer the opportunity to sign a release and we will request the records for you, we cannot compel providers to send us records nor can we pay for them. It is my experience that many times–maybe even most–when VA sends a release a private provider, the provider ignores the request. If the provider does respond, many times they will ask that we pay them in advance for the records. In either case, we will have to write to you and tell you that if you want the records considered you will have to get them and send them. In the worse case this can add two to three months to the process.

5. Show up for your examinations.

6. The first thing you will get from VA once you file your claim is a lengthy letter commonly referred to as a “VCAA letter.” This is a letter required by the law that tells you what we will do, what you will be expected to do, and in very general terms tell you how we will decide. The letter may also include specific requests from your local regional office for information. Read it carefully for specific requests for information from us. Finally, the letter offers the option of completing an attachment telling us you have no more information. If that is the case, complete the form and return it immediately. If you don’t and you have no more information, we will wait for 30 days before proceeding for no good reason. Even if, during the course of working the claim you do get additional information you can always submit it when you get it.

7. When you get your decision, read it carefully. It will have attached to it the text of the actual rating decision explaining why we decided what we did. If you think our decision didn’t consider something, didn’t cover a topic, or is wrong, call your representative right away. If we have made a mistake, we would rather just fix it now than get involved in a lengthy appeal that isn’t terribly satisfying for you or VA.

Final Note: VA exists to serve those who served and their survivors. I have worked for VA for over 36 years and the overwhelming majority of people who work for VA are committed to the mission. If we are not clear or you think we have made a mistake, let us know so we can both fix it, and provide a learning opportunity for our staff to serve other Veterans better.

After serving in Vietnam as an Infantry Platoon Leader with the 101st Airborne Division, Thomas Pamperin began his career with VA in 1974. Having risen through the ranks, he is currently VA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Disability Assistance and is responsible for oversight of Compensation Service, Pension Service, Benefits Assistance Service, Fiduciary Service, and Insurance Service in the Veterans Benefits Administration.

9 Responses to Some Tips for Filing a VA Disability Claim

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Some Tips for Filing a VA Disability Claim --

  2. Robert Winchester

    Dear Mr. Pamperin

    While hospitalized four over four months for my service conectied condition, the BVA mailed myIndiviual Unemployability decision to my home address. Due to me being placed unexpected in the hospital, I was not able to notify the postal service to hold my mail and based on a telephone conversation with a BVA reprepresentaive, the decision letter was returned undiliverable. The BVA informed me that they had sent the decision letter to the Pittsburgh Regional Office where my case is being handled and that I should request a copy from that offioce.

    I tried to request this BVA IU decisosin telephoniocally form Pittsburgh Regional Office and was told that the request had to be in writing.

    I mailed a letter dated October 11, 2010 explaining my situation and requesting the BVAIU decision from the Pittsburgh Office.

    Yesterday, January 29. 2011 I received an envelope dated January 25, 2011 from the Pittsburgh Rergional Office with a letter dated January 21, 2011 stating that the Appeal decision that I requested was enclosed. Mr. Pamperin, the BVA decision was note enclosed. The documents that were mailed in the envelope were of a previous Pittsburgh level decision, NOT THE BVA IU DECISION AS REQUESTED. Today I am going to write Pittsburgh again to inform them of this mistake as well as to inquire about my temporary 100% disability and my 21-4138 requsting an increase to my current disability bases on my recent social security award. The 21-4138 increase was also sent to VA in October 2010 as a result of my long term hospital stay and worsening condition. I have not received any corresponce from VA regarding my Oct 2011 increase request or 100% temporary unemployability being that I had to be hospitalized for over five months for my service connected condition.

    Any assistance you can provide in getting my appea decision back on track and my 100% temporary disability request and increase request acknowledged by the Pittsburgh VA Office would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you very much!

    Robert Winchester

  3. I had surgery for sleep apnea while in the Army; my apnea is worse now then it ever was. I have been seperated from service for almost 10 years, and didn’t claim when I left the service. I fell in the
    “I’m fine, was just doing my duty and I have a job” category, but now it is seriously affecting my health.

    Would I be able to file a claim for the apnea? And, if so, would I be eligible for retro pay?


    • You would not be able to collect retro pay. The day you start your claim is the start of your pay if you are considered eligible. For instance my claim started in june of 2010 and still hasn’t gone through but say it goes through this month, yea right lol, they would owe me 18 months of whatever the pay amount is. So basically the day you file is how far back they can pay you retro. Hope this helps.

  4. While in basic training in 1982, I fell several times and hurt my back and legs. We were told to suck it up and be a soldier. Also, on the 15-mile march, I injured my knee. The drill sargeants always told us to be tough. Now, I am paying the price with constant pain and stress. We were not allowed to go to the doctors. I have filed a claim but was denied benefits. I have filed an appeal. They have placed me on a list to meet with the hearing board. What do you think will happen with my case. We

  5. Active duty from Nov 1980 – Dec 2000. I worked in career fields that subjected me to high noise areas and am now experiencing hearing loss. Although my service records should show some history concerning hearing tests, I do not have this information. My wife has detected an increase in the loss and is concerned as well. What do I need to do to attempt a claim with the VA? Thanks.

  6. My Father-in-Law filed a claim for a service-connected injury on Dec 2010.In July 2011 He went to his Service Officer to find out the static of his claim.The Service Officer calls the VA.The VA said there is no history of his claim.The Service Officer re-submits the claim backed dated to Dec. 2010. In Aug.2011 he receives a letter that his claim is being processed.Now it is Dec.2011 and no claim info.Also,no one can find his Service Officer.What can he do to find out info on his claim.
    Thank You, Nam Vet 69-70

  7. My claim has been going on for 18 months and I made every appointment given to me and still I HAVEN’T HEARD ONE DAMN THING. I filed the day after my ETS date and still here I sit with worsening spine (several disc bulges, L5-S1 operated on by Army which herniated AGAIN) and now i’m having problems in my neck with two bone protrusions that can be felt with the naked hand and can’t get them looked at because my VA rep says everytime my back gets worse they pull my claim to have it re-evaluated because of my worsening condition due to service connected injuries. This is completely ridiculous. It has been in the second rater’s hands at least twice and here I sit in constant pain and anguish. What do I have to do to find out what is going on? Like I said, I have had NO CONTACT from Pittsburgh. None whatsoever.

    SGT Love, Douglas D
    OIF III and OIF 07′-09′

  8. “Some Tips for Filing a VA Disability Claim – You Served®”
    was indeed a remarkable article and I personally was
    in fact pretty glad to locate it. Thanks for your effort,Gayle

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