Veterans who were injured during active duty service may be entitled to tax-free monthly disability payments from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Eligible veterans can apply for disability benefits at a local VA office or online at VA.gov. There are six types of VA disability claims.
- Original Claim
- New Claim
- Increased Claim
- Secondary Claim
- Supplemental Claim
- Special Claim
The type of claim a veteran chooses to file depends on their unique situation. Disability claims are commonly submitted online along with military documents and medical paperwork related to their medical condition. VA disability can be awarded to veterans with a physical or mental health condition if it can be shown that the condition resulted from, or was made worse by, their military service.
VA disability is a military benefit that gives monthly payments to veterans with an injury or illness from active duty military service or who had a medical condition get worse because of their service. Eligible veterans must apply for VA disability benefits, and if approved, they are assigned a VA disability rating that determines the dollar amount of monthly payments.
Veterans can submit a disability claim online or at their local VA regional office. It can be beneficial to get help from a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) such as the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, or Veterans of Foreign Wars. Experienced disability representatives can help guide applicants through the process and provide helpful tips to increase the likelihood that a claim is approved.
Approved claims get a disability rating that determines the monthly compensation amount. You can find your monthly amount by viewing the current VA disability compensation rates. These rates are adjusted yearly to match the percentage living adjustment increase made by the Social Security Administration to Social Security benefits.
If the VA denies a disability claim, the veteran can choose to appeal the decision. There are a few appeal options available. Consulting with a trained professional such as a disability lawyer is recommended during the appeals process.
In addition to VA disability compensation benefits, disabled veterans may qualify for other VA-sponsored benefits such as VA health care, special monthly compensation (for certain conditions), housing grants, and employment services.
Disabled veterans can also apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provided they meet the individual requirements for both programs. Since the VA and SSA are both federal organizations, your Social Security applications can be fast-tracked, and documents may be shared between them both.
Eligibility Requirements for VA Disability Benefits
There are a few basic eligibility requirements for VA disability benefits. For starters, you must currently be diagnosed with a physical or mental condition, and you must have served on active duty (including active duty for training and inactive duty).
Along with those requirements, you must meet one of the following:
- Your illness or injury is directly related to your military service
- An illness or injury you had before entering the military got worse because of your service
- You have an illness caused by military service but did not appear until after you left active duty
Thanks to extensive research in veterans’ health, the VA has established a list of conditions, many of them invisible disabilities, that are automatically assumed to be service-connected. These conditions are called presumptive conditions or presumptive disabilities. These presumptive conditions are often the result of toxic exposure to chemical or environmental hazards.
The most important part of a disability claim is proving the connection between your illness or injury and your military service. Without clear evidence that your time in service is the cause of your medical condition, the chances of your claim approval are not good.
Applying for VA Disability Benefits
You can apply for VA disability benefits either online, through the mail, or in person at a local VA regional office. Complete the VA Form 21-526EZ fully and correctly to avoid unnecessary delays or denials. Along with the application, you’ll need to submit evidence to prove that your medical condition is a service-connected disability. Required evidence includes:
- Medical records from private medical facilities related to your condition, including treatment notes, test results, exams, X-rays, etc.
- VA medical records
- Military treatment facility records related to your condition
- Military personnel records such as orders, discharge paperwork, DD214
- Nexus letters from medical experts (as needed)
- Statements from witnesses, friends, supervisors, family members who can provide details on your condition or what happened to cause or worsen your condition
Once the VA receives your completed disability claim application, your case will be assigned an effective date, which will become your benefit eligibility date if the claim is approved. You may need to attend a VA Claim Exam (C&P exam) if the VA decides more information is required. You will receive information on where to attend the exam, and the exam is at no cost to you.
Types of VA Disability Claims
There are six different types of VA disability claims. Knowing which claim to file depends on the individual veteran’s situation. The application process for each is mostly the same, with some slight variations.
1. Original Claim
The original claim is the first disability claim that a veteran files. This original claim can be filed while still on active duty with between 180-90 days left on active duty through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program. Service members with less than 90 days left on their enlistment must wait until their separation date to file their claim. If a condition appears after separation from service, a veteran can file an original claim at any time.
2. New Claim
A new claim should be filed when more benefits are requested for an existing service-connected disability. An example would be filing for special monthly compensation, an additional benefit for disabilities that severely limit function, such as loss of limb, loss of sight, loss of speech, or paralysis. You can also file a new claim to request higher compensation due to the loss of ability to work.
3. Increased Claim
If your medical condition has worsened since you were initially awarded disability compensation, you can file an increased claim to have your rating reevaluated to increase your monthly payments. You’ll need to submit medical evidence that the condition has worsened. Before filing an increased claim, be confident that the evidence shows deterioration. If the evidence shows improvement for some reason, the VA could lower your initial rating.
4. Secondary Claim
A secondary claim is filed when another medical condition develops due to a service-connected disability. For example, suppose you’re receiving disability compensation for a knee injury and develop arthritis in your knee. In that case, you can file a secondary claim for arthritis to increase your disability rating.
5. Supplemental Claim
A supplemental claim is filed when new evidence is received to support a previously denied claim. To be eligible to file a supplemental claim, you must not have appealed the original claim decision, and you must have new medical evidence related to the disability. You can file a supplemental claim at any time, but the VA recommends you file within one year from the original decision date when possible.
6. Special Claim
When a veteran has a disability connected to service but doesn’t fit any of the above categories, a special claim is used to request compensation. A special claim can also be filed for expenses resulting from a service-connected disability, such as adaptive equipment, damaged clothing, or temporary assistance for missed work or recovery time.
Filing an Appeal
If you disagree with the VA’s decision on your disability claim, you can file an appeal. The appeal process has changed for all decisions dated on or after February 19, 2019. The new process includes three review options. If your appeal is denied, you can try another review option.
If you have new evidence or previously unsubmitted evidence that can help get your claim approved, you can choose the supplemental claim review option. Submit a supplemental claim using VA Form 20-0995 along with new evidence. The VA can assist you with collecting evidence from federal agencies such as the VA or SSA. They can also get documents from private physicians with your written authorization.
Turnaround time on supplemental claims is approximately 4-5 months. You can request a higher-level review or board appeal if your supplemental claim is denied. You can also submit another supplemental claim if you have gathered new evidence in the time since submitting the first supplemental claim.
You can choose to have your case looked at by a senior reviewer by selecting the higher-level review. The senior reviewer will examine your claim and determine if they agree with the original decision or if they reach a different conclusion. You won’t submit any new evidence at the higher-level review. The reviewer’s decision is solely based on the originally submitted claim.
This option is available within one year of the decision on an original or supplemental claim. You can’t select a Higher-Level review to appeal a claim decision given by a Board Appeal. If your claim is denied at the Higher-Level Review level, you can’t ask for another Higher-Level Review.
You can submit a request for Higher-Level Review online, by mail, or in person. Part of the review process will involve a conference with the reviewer where you will have the opportunity to explain your case and any errors you believe exist with the claim denial. You may want to consult with a VA disability attorney at this stage to help you prepare for your conference.
When you choose a Board Appeal, your case will be decided by a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. You can select three options for your Board Appeal, and consulting with a disability attorney is highly encouraged. You can request a direct review, where you give up the right to submit new evidence or attend a hearing. Another option is to submit more evidence to accompany your original claim for the judge to review. Lastly, you can opt to participate in a hearing with the Veterans Law Judge to explain your case. You can submit new evidence if you wish.
The Board Appeals process generally takes one year to complete. You can request a board appeal after denial of the original claim, supplemental claim, or Higher-Level Review. If you disagree with the decision made by the Board Appeal, you can file a supplemental claim if new evidence exists or appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
VA disability is a veteran benefit provided by the Veterans Administration for service members with injuries or illnesses because of their military service. Disability benefits are paid monthly (tax-free) and increase annually to meet cost of living adjustments. The amount of disability payments received is based on a VA disability rating, which is awarded to approved recipients when their claim is approved.
There are six types of claims that can be filed: original, new, increased, secondary, supplemental, and special. Each claim type serves a special purpose depending on where the claimant is in the process.
Disabled veterans may be entitled to receive other benefits besides disability compensation such as a VA home loan, employment services, and financial assistance. Surviving family members of a disabled veteran may also be entitled to survivor and dependent benefits.
Although veterans can apply for VA disability compensation on their own, it is often helpful to get help from a trained professional such as a VA disability attorney. These professionals not only have years of experience with VA disability cases, but they also know the law and precedents. Consulting a disability attorney at the earliest stages may help a claimant to avoid having a claim denied.