If you are a disabled veteran of the U.S. military, you could be eligible for monthly benefit payments through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But applying for those benefits can be confusing, especially because there are many types of VA benefits. You could even leave valuable benefits on the table simply because you don’t know about them.
Disability Law Group’s experienced attorneys can explain the different types of VA disability claims, VA disability claim eligibility, and what you can expect during the application process. You can also contact our firm for a free initial case review if you want to learn more about the benefits to which you might be entitled.
What Are the Different Types of VA Disability Claims?
There are several different types of claims you can file with the VA, including:
- Original claims – The first disability claim you file is called your original claim. You can file an original claim when you have 180 days or fewer left on active duty. You can also file an original “post-service” claim at any time if you develop a service-related disability after discharge.
- Increased claims – You can file an increased claim if you have a service-related disability that worsens. You can request an appropriate increase in your VA-established disability rating and financial benefits when you file an increased claim, but you must submit recent medical evidence to support your claim.
- New claims – You can file a new claim if you wish to request additional disability benefits or make other benefit requests on top of an existing VA disability claim. When you file a new claim, the VA will only consider the evidence you include with the new claim, ignoring evidence you submitted with past claims.
- Secondary service-connected claims – A secondary service-connected claim is a claim for new disabilities that are linked to existing service-related disabilities. For instance, you could file a secondary service-connected claim if you develop a heart condition due to an existing service-related high blood pressure diagnosis.
- Special claims – A special claim is a claim requesting benefits for special needs. For instance, you might file a special claim if you need to pay for accessibility modifications to your home or vehicle because of a service-related disability.
- Supplemental claims – You can file a supplemental claim to provide new evidence for a previous disability claim that the VA denied, assuming you did not appeal the denial at the time. You must provide new and relevant evidence for the VA to consider when you file a supplemental claim.
What Evidence Is Needed Before Filing My VA Disability Claim?
Before you prepare and file your original VA disability claim, you should plan to gather the following types of supporting evidence:
- Your DD214 or other discharge documents
- Your service-related medical treatment records
- Medical evidence of a service-related injury or illness
- Evidence of a service-related event that harmed you
- Medical evidence of a current mental or physical disability
- Evidence linking your current disability to the service-related event
If you file a secondary or special disability claim, you may need to provide additional evidence and completed application forms. You can download the VA Form 21-526EZ to review the VA’s official evidence requirements for disability claims.
Are There Programs to Help Speed Up the Claim Process?
Yes. Depending on your situation, you could participate in one or both of the following programs to expedite your disability claim decision:
- The pre-discharge claim program – If you are a service member with 90 to 180 days left on active duty, you can file your claim through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program to get your benefits more quickly.
- The fully developed disability claim program – Any eligible claimant can participate in the Fully Developed Claims program by including comprehensive evidence with their claim to get a faster decision from the VA.
VA Disability Claims Eligibility
If you served in the military on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, and you have a current mental or physical disability, you could be eligible for VA disability benefits if one or more of the following is also true:
- You sustained an illness or injury while serving, and you can link your current disability to the service-related illness or injury.
- You had a pre-existing illness or injury when you joined the military, and your service worsened the pre-existing condition.
- You currently have a disability related to your military service that did not manifest until your service ended.
What Compensation Is Available from VA Disability Claims?
Basic VA disability claim compensation includes monthly tax-free benefits for disabled veterans and qualifying dependents. The amount of compensation you receive is based on your disability rating and number of dependents you have. In some cases, you could also receive special monthly compensation (SMC) for special needs.
Can I File My Claim Online?
Yes. You can file online by signing in to your VA.gov account to pre-fill your disability benefits application with your existing account details, save in-progress applications, and review the status of your application once it’s submitted. You can also file by mail or in person at a regional VA office near you.
If I Wasn’t Honorably Discharged, Does That Affect My Claim?
Yes. If you received an other-than-honorable discharge, a bad conduct discharge, or a dishonorable discharge, you might not be eligible for disability benefits. However, there are two ways you could still qualify:
- Applying for a discharge upgrade – If your discharge was related to a mental health condition, traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma, or sexual orientation, you could obtain a discharge upgrade and become newly eligible for disability benefits.
- Participating in the VA Character of Discharge review process – If you cannot upgrade your discharge status, you can participate in the Character of Discharge review process, in which the VA will review your record to determine eligibility based on whether your service was “honorable for VA purposes.”
Contact Disability Law Group for Help with Your Claim
Do you need to discuss your VA disability benefits claim with an experienced attorney? Then, contact Disability Law Group. We can address your concerns and evaluate your case for free during your initial consultation.