The VA claims process is a long and winding path, with emphasis on the length. Initial processing took an average of 127 days in 2006, a timeframe that has surely increased since them. And that’s not even counting appeals fighting denial of veterans benefits, or other things that can drag the process out for years. Why does it take so long? Some of this is due to the people in the system being overburdened and under-trained, but there are also a number of legally required steps that every claim must go through.
What Are the Steps of the VA Claims Process?
File a claim. This should be obvious, but before the claims process can begin, a claim must be filed by the Vet stating that he or she believes they are entitled to benefits based on a disability they are suffering. When you file a claim, don’t be too specific with medical terms. If, for example, you claim that you are suffering from spinal damage because you’ve been having a lot of pain, and it is later determined that the damage is instead to your muscles, it can lead to denial of veterans benefits by the VA.
Develop a claim. After you file your claim, the VA is required to help you develop your claim. This means they will try to get your Veterans service medical records to follow up, as well as any other medical records that you mention. However, they won’t look at your military records – if those are important to your claim, get them yourself. The VA will also give you a VAE, or physical exam, for any current medical condition related to the claim, and provide a report with medical findings. And finally, the VA must send you a letter explaining the VA claims process – how to substantiate your claim, what the VA has and will do, and what you need to do. Unfortunately, this “help” leaves a lot to be desired, which is why it’s so important to find a good veteran’s representative or veterans benefits lawyer.
The Rating Decision. Once all the information is in, a Rating Decision will be made, rendering a decision on the claim. For a favorable decision, you must have proven a service connection, percentage of disability, and an effective date of eligibility. Denial of veterans benefits will happen if any of these things is not met, and each individual element can be appealed.
Notice and Award Letter. Win or lose the claim, you’ll still get a letter from the VA notifying you. In fact, you need to make sure the VA has your current address, or they simply won’t adjudicate your claim. Win, and you’ll get an award letter that states your percentage of disability and tells you your effective date – the date from which you will start receiving benefits. The exact dollar amount of your compensation will be sent to you in a follow-up letter. You have the right to appeal all rating decisions. If you receive a denial of veterans benefits, it’s in your best interest to get a lawyer involved to assist with the VA claims process.