Applying for disability compensation from the VA can be a stressful and confusing experience. I don’t know any veterans that have gone through the application process that thought it was a pleasant experience. There are three ways you can apply for disability compensation.
- Apply online using eBenefits. Check out my post about getting an eBenefits account.
- Work with an accredited representative or agent such as a Veterans Service Organization like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) group. You don’t have to be a member of the organization to receive assistance.
- Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you. You can find your regional office on our Facility Locator page
When I applied for disability compensation, I used eBenefits. The electronic application was relatively easy to fill out. One benefit of applying through eBenefits is that you can easily track your application. The status of it doesn’t change that often, but at least you can tell what stage it is at.
When you apply for disability compensation, it is likely that you will have to go to the VA for a medical exam. My disability claim was for tinnitus, so they gave me an appointment with a VA audiologist. For the last few years, the VA has maintained a large backlog of unprocessed disability claims. This makes the claim process move slower. Recently the backlog has been reduced. When I applied, I waited about five months before I heard anything. After three months of waiting, the VA contacted me to schedule an appointment. The audiologist was backed up on appointments so I think I waited another three months before I could come in for my exam. If you aren’t a patient at the VA, you will still probably have to have your compensation and pension exam at the VA. If you do see a private doctor, make sure you get documentation from your doctor relating to your service-connected disability. You will want to submit that information at the time of your initial application.
My visit to the audiologist was relatively easy. I explained the problem I was having and told the audiologist how long it had been going on. She asked what my MOS was in the service. There was a one-page sheet of information I had to fill out that was basically trying to determine if I had any jobs after the service that subjected me to lots of noise exposure.
After your appointment, the doctor will fill out their opinion on if the disability is service-connected. This is where it is very important to have a MyHealtheVet account. Check out my post on getting a MyHealtheVet account. If you have a MyHealtheVet account, you will be able to read what the doctor wrote. This will give you a decent idea on how the rest of the process is going to go. The doctor’s note is a very important factor in your claim, but it isn’t the doctor who decides whether or not your claim is approved. You will still have to play the waiting game after your appointment is over. If you do get your disability claim approved, you will receive back pay to the day you first submitted your application. I think my application from start to finish took 11 months. I have heard other people say it took them 2 years. If you are denied and appeal the VA’s decision, that takes a lot longer.
There is something called the Fully Developed Claim process. This is the quickest way to apply for disability, but you need all of your supporting evidence when you initially apply. If the VA determines more documentation exists, they will just take your claim out of the Fully Developed Claims process and put it in the normal queue. This way there isn’t a risk for the veteran. This is all just what I have learned from the VA’s website. I didn’t apply using this but probably would have if I knew it existed.
I tried having a VA employee assist in my disability application but they really just told me what forms I would need. I probably would have gotten better luck using the DAV. Just remember this is an option if you find any stage of the process confusing. Also, remember that this is going to be a long process and you will go long periods of time where you will not hear anything. My recommendation is to have an eBenefits and MyHealtheVet account before you apply for disability. I would also request your military service records before you apply for disability. That way you will have access to the same information the VA employee that will be making the final decision has.
Check out this website to see the current disability compensation rates. It says 2014, but these are current. They just haven’t changed since 2014.