How to Understand the Basic Documents in Your VA Claims File (C-File)
To file an initial or second appeal, you'll need to request your claims file from the VA. Here's what you'll find.
When you apply for disability benefits, the VA creates a claims folder. Information you send to the VA, records the VA obtains on your behalf, and documents created by the VA are all in this folder. The claims file is commonly referred to as the “C-file.”
Requesting Your Claims File
If you have been denied disability, you will want to obtain a copy of your VA Claims file to obtain information that will help you in filing your appeal. Request it from the VA Regional Office where you submitted your claim for benefits. If you do not receive it in a timely manner, make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the file. For more information about filing a FOIA request, see Nolo's article on obtaining VA records. You are entitled to receive one copy of your claims folder for free.
Typical Documents in a VA Claims Folder
When you receive your VA Claims Folder, don't be surprised if the documents are somewhat disorganized. Also, there may be several copies of documents even though you really only need one copy. It can take awhile to sort it all out. If you want some help with this, you may want to find a VA disability attorney to assist you.
Here are some basic documents you might find in your C-file if you have applied for VA benefits. This is not an exhaustive list but merely a description of the most common and important documents you should find in your file. If any of these documents are missing, you will want to obtain them. (See Nolo's article on obtaining VA records for more information about how to do that.)
DD-214, Report of Separation From Service
This is a very important document. It includes information about your character of service, which can determine your eligibility for benefits. Your DD-214 will also include your dates of service, specialties, any medals received, and other information about your term(s) of service.
Application for Benefits
Any applications for benefits that you have previously made should be included in your C-file. This can be important if you did not keep copies before submitting an application.
Denial Letter, Ratings Decision, and Code Sheet
If you have been denied benefits, there should be a letter in your file notifying you of the decision to deny you benefits. Until recently, the VA also issued detailed ratings decisions explaining why benefits were granted or denied, and why certain ratings were assigned to service-connected disabilities. Now the ratings decisions do not provide much information and tend to be quite brief.
There should also be a code sheet accompanying the ratings decision. The code sheet contains information related to the ratings decision, such as the diagnostic code that was used to assign the disability rating. It also provides information about the effective date of benefits and whether a future reexamination will be required, as well as additional details about the decision.
If you are going to hire an attorney, one of the first things they will ask you for is a copy of the denial letter, ratings decision, and code sheet.
Service Medical Records
You may find copies of your service medical records in the file, if the VA requested these while gathering information to decide your claim. An important document in these records is the report from your enlistment examination. This exam report contains information about whether you suffered from certain medical conditions at the time you entered service.
VA Medical Records
Your file may contain records from the VA Medical Center where you receive treatment, but it may not. Or, it may contain an incomplete set of your medical records. You can request your medical records directly from the VA Medical Center by requesting them in person or over the phone.
Compensation and Pension exam
Another document a lawyer will want to see is a copy of your compensation and pension exam report. This is the exam you went to where the VA doctor evaluated your disabilities and made a recommendation to the Veterans Benefits Administration about whether or not your disabilities were service connected.
Service Personnel Records
Your file may also include copies of your active duty personnel records. This will include information about where you served, copies of certificates for medals you received, performance evaluations, and other information.
Appeal Documents in a Claims File
If you have already filed an appeal and had an appeal denied, the following documents may be in your C-file.
- The Notice of Disagreement you filed, telling the VA you disagreed with their decision.
- Statement of the Case, a document describing in detail how the conclusions in the ratings decision were reached.
- A transcript of a hearing before a Decision Review Officer (DRO) or the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), if you had a hearing.
- Information about your representative or attorney (if you had one).