Before you leave the military, it’s common to look at the disability claims process through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as intimidating. Soon to be veterans can be scared by the process to the point where they don’t even file a claim unless they have really serious ailments.
And, to be fair, the process is still a bit shrouded in mystery. It’s not exactly clear how the VA looks at your evaluations and comes up with a rating for a single ailment, and even more unclear how they compile all those together into a total disability rating.
But don’t let that stop you.
Applying for VA disability is not weakness
I have a friend who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In his six years in the Army, he deployed to combat six times. Seemingly, this would be a guy who had many justifications to apply for disability. But he felt that he didn’t deserve it and so he didn’t go through the claims process.
Where is he now?
He is working in a successful career. His time is precious and he doesn’t have the ability to take time off and start the claims process. And that’s unfortunate because his lower back is starting to cause him a lot of discomfort.
Might this have been caused by something after the military? Possibly. But the fact that he spent a lot of time with a rucksack on his back and jumping out of planes in combat gear makes it hard to ignore the correlation with lower back pain.
The point is, you aren’t always going through the claims process for yourself right now. You may just be doing it to take care of yourself further down the road.
Ok, but how do I make a VA Disability claim?
Here’s what the process looks like:
- You submit a claim to the VA. Your claim can only be submitted within the last 180 days prior to your separation from the military.
- The VA conducts an initial review. At this time, they are not making judgments on anything you claimed, just annotating it.
- The VA will then work through a 3rd party to schedule appointments for you to be evaluated. This is important to recognize- the VA is not actually evaluating you, someone else is. For example, if you claim a mental health issue, you will likely get an appointment for a mental health provider. And this professional will not be in the VA. That person will then evaluate you based on strict criteria from the VA.
- All of your evaluations will be submitted to the VA where they will determine your rating for each individual claim, as well as your total disability rating.
- You will then receive your rating as early as two weeks after your separation from the military.
That’s it. Not so intimidating is it?
Best practices for success when filing your VA Disability Claim
First things first, I 10/10 recommend filing your claim through a Veteran Service Organization (VSO). VSOs are authorized by the VA to file your claim for you. They usually know the ins and outs of the system and common problems to ask about. You may think it’s just normal for everyone from your unit to have their knees pop when they stand up, but that’s not a normal thing. A good VSO can help point this out.
For a full list of approved VSOs, visit the VA’s directory here.
A few more points to take note of:
- It’s important to file your claim while you are still in the military. This makes it easier for the VA to connect your issues with your service. The longer the period between ending service and filing a claim, the more suspect they will be of the claim and more likely to deny or downgrade it.
- Keep track of the mileage for driving to your appointments. This can all be claimed as expenses to the VA.
- Even getting a “0% rating” is better than not filing a claim at all. It’s better for your future self to have gone to the VA and said “this may be an issue” than to say nothing. Having a “0% rating” will at least make a record of it and may help you out down the road should that issue get worse.
- To be considered a “Service Disabled Veteran”, you have to have a single rating of 30%. This means that you may have a rating of 10% for your elbow, 15% for your knee, and 10% for the weird GI thing you picked up in Afghanistan, but because it’s not 30% for a single issue, you will not be considered “service-disabled”.
Lastly, if you feel you were not evaluated fairly or that the rating you receive does not truly match your personal circumstances, you can absolutely appeal it. There is a whole industry filled with lawyers and specialists that can help you through this process. If you think you may need to appeal, you can learn more about the appeal process here.
Do this for yourself
We were all taught to suck up pain in the military. It was also part of the culture not to draw attention to ourselves and seek personal benefit. Because of this, people can be hesitant to file a claim out of fear of being labeled a “leech.”
In going through this process, it’s unfair to judge yourself and how your body feels against what others are feeling. You don’t need to feel guilty filing a claim for your shoulder just because you know someone who lost a leg to an IED. Their pain is their pain, and yours is yours. You filing a claim isn’t preventing anyone else from doing so.
The VA disability claim system is there to provide you fair compensation from injuries or ailments sustained from your military service. It’s not meant to be a handout. Do people use it like that? Definitely. But concerning yourself with the actions of others is not going to improve your personal situation.
You served your country in some tough places. From that, it is absolutely possible that you picked up some injuries, whether physical or mental. It’s ok to admit you aren’t a flawless diamond.
So do yourself a favor and go through the claims process.
Mark Delaney – Author VA Disability Claims
During his own departure from the Army, Mark felt wholly unsatisfied with the transition process. To improve the experience for other veterans, he started The Veteran Professional website and The Veteran (Semi) Professional podcast (Apple Podcasts/Spotify) where he writes about applying to grad schools, entrepreneurship, and professional career options for veterans. He has a retired sled dog named Kismet, enjoys playing bar trivia, and thinks everyone needs to raise money to redo Season 8 of GoT.
Learn about another incredible benefit, the VA Loan, if you really want to take advantage of veteran benefits!
*Note from David* – Pay attention to this. VA Disability claims are extremely important to get right when you exit the military!