Disability compensation benefits are available to veterans who suffer from a disease or injury that was caused or worsened by their military service. You should apply as soon as possible, but even if it is many years since you were on active duty, you are still eligible for benefits.
Here are several ways to apply for disability compensation.
Apply as soon as you know you are disabled to preserve the earliest possible effective date for your benefits. Submit your application even if you don't have all the required documentation ready. You can always submit it later.
As part of the application, you will have to list your illnesses or injuries for which you are requesting disability compensation. Be very specific. Provide the approximate date you began having symptoms. Know that for every disability you list, the length of time it takes to process your claim increases. List only those disabilities for which you suffer symptoms and/or have received a medical diagnosis. This will help speed up your claim.
If you have medical records that support your claim of disability, you can submit them along with your application. But don't worry if you don't have any or all of your medical records. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will request them on your behalf.
It can take anywhere from months to three or more years for your initial claim for benefits to be processed and for you to receive a decision from the VA.
You can reduce your wait time by using the VA's "Fast Track" or "fully developed claim" program. This program, instituted in 2010, allows you to speed up the processing of your claim by submitting all of the medical records with your application. That way the VA doesn't have to take the time to collect your records. You have up to a year to submit everything, but it is to your benefit it to submit all medical evidence as soon as possible.
You are also eligible for Fast Track if you have claimed only one or two disabilities, even if you don't submit all the medical evidence yourself.
Veterans who suffered military sexual trauma, have post-traumatic stress disorder, or are former POWs are entitled to priority in claims processing. Or, if you are a Vietnam veteran making a claim for disability based on exposure to Agent Orange, you can use the VA's Agent Orange Fast Track Claims Processing System. Homeless veterans and veterans in dire financial need are also eligible for fast track processing.
Fast Track is available in most VA offices, but check with your local VA office to see if it has implemented the program.
If, after submitting your application, you realize that you forgot to list an illness or injury or you develop a new disability that is related to your service, you can amend your application. You do this by completing and submitting a Statement in Support of Claim, which can be found on the VA Forms Website.
You can appeal the denial of your claim by filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA office that issued the denial. You can find the NOD form on the VA Forms Website. For more information, read our article about how to file an appeal or arrange a consultation with a disability lawyer.
Don't forget that, in addition to veterans disability benefits, you can also apply for Social Security benefits if you are disabled. You can receive both veterans disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits at the same time. There is a different application process for Social Security, and while it can take months or even over a year to be awarded benefits, it's usually much faster than getting benefits through the VA.