The effective date for disability compensation benefits is usually the date the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received your application. Disability benefits will be due to you from the first day of the month following the month of the effective date. For example, if a veteran applied for benefits on October 12, 2014 and was finally awarded benefits in January 2016, benefits would be due to the veteran from November 1, 2014 forward. Because the VA takes months or years to decide applications, veterans can expect back payments going back many months once they are approved.
The general rule for first-time applications for service-connected disability compensation is that the effective date for benefits is the date entitlement to the benefit began or the date the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received the application for benefits, whichever is later. The date that entitlement began means the date on which the veteran satisfied all of the requirements for disability compensation. This will often be the date when there was first medical evidence of the disability (meaning, when the veteran was first treated for it).
For most veterans, the application for benefits is made after the disability manifests and the veteran receives medical treatment. So the application for benefits will be made later than the first medical treatment and evidence of the disability (when entitlement began). This means the effective date for benefits is usually the date the veteran applied to the VA.
If you have requested and been granted an increased disability rating, the effective date for the increase will typically be the date you filed a claim for the increase.
In some cases, veterans will be awarded benefits prior to the date of their original application for benefits.
Recently discharged vets. The most common exception is for newly discharged veterans. If a veteran applies for benefits within a year of discharge from active duty, the effective date will not be the date of application, but the date of discharge.
Vietnam vets. Special rules apply to some Vietnam veterans with claims for disability compensation for Agent Orange-related illnesses. This is in recognition of the fact that some diseases arose many years before the VA began granting service connection for those illnesses. In these cases, the effective date is typically the date the VA recognized the illness as related to Agent Orange. These rules do not apply to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange outside Vietnam.
Error. Another exception to the basic effective date rule is where the VA has made what is called a "clear and unmistakable error" in denying a case, but that is uncommon.
If you have not yet applied for benefits, it is to your advantage to notify the VA as soon as possible of your intent to file an application in order to preserve the earliest possible effective date. Filing an informal claim before you officially file your application will give you the largest possible retroactive payment if you are awarded benefits.
Notify the VA in writing or using a Statement in Support of Claim form of your intent to file for disability compensation. Include your name, dates of service, and Social Security number.
After you submit an informal claim stating your intent to apply for benefits, the VA will send you an application form for disability compensation benefits. You must complete and submit this application within one year of receiving it or you lose your right to the earlier effective date based on your informal claim.
The VA has a legal duty to notify veterans of their right to apply for benefits, but a failure to do so will not justify an earlier effective date for benefits. Veterans have tried to argue that they had their disability long before they applied for benefits and would have applied sooner had they known they had the right to. This argument has not been successful, and these veterans have typically been restricted to the effective date based on their first application for benefits.
If your claim for disability compensation benefits was denied and you submitted new and material evidence to reopen that claim, and the VA then awarded you benefits, your effective date will generally not be the date of your first application. Instead, the effective date will usually be the date you submitted your application to reopen the claim.
There is only one type of claim that is eligible to receive retroactive benefits for up to a year before the filing date. A "fully developed claim" for service-connected disability compensation can be eligible for retroactive benefits if it's the veteran's first disability claim and the veteran was disabled for a year before applying for disability benefits. Retroactive benefits have been approved only for August 6, 2013 through August 5, 2015, though they could be extended. For more information, see Nolo's article on fully developed veterans disability claims.
If the VA failed to issue a decision on your original application for benefits, and you later file a new application, the effective date may be the date of your original application. This will be true, however, only if the medical evidence shows that your disability had arisen by the date of the first application. Also, you must be able to prove you applied for benefits earlier and there must not have been any communication from the VA that could have been perceived as a denial letter. Other legal matters must also be considered that require consultation with a VA disability attorney.