Veterans’ Claims Attorney — Filing an Initial Claim
Our VA disability lawyers can help with the burden of proof the VA puts on you
Many disabled veterans are surprised when they first apply for VA benefits and the VA throws up its hands and says it’s all up to you. Yet, despite the many forms and records the military maintains about service members, the VA requires the disabled vet seeking compensation to submit service and medical records in a claim or to tell the VA where to find them.
Many initial veterans’ disability claims are denied because they do not contain enough information for the VA. It is not unusual for a vet to cite disability due to a “leg condition” or “back pain,” but not understand that the VA requires a specific diagnosis backed by medical records, and service records that explain when and how the injury occurred. Most vets simply do not have the necessary information.
George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers can help. Our attorneys understand what the VA requires of a veterans’ disability claim and how to efficiently obtain evidence to prove eligibility for benefits. George Sink Sr. himself is a disabled Vietnam veteran who had to fight for VA benefits, and other lawyers at the firm are also military veterans.
We’ll work to get you the VA benefits you are entitled to with as little burden on you as possible. Our aim is to get ALL of the disability benefits you have earned into your hands as FAST as possible. Contact George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers to get started today.
VA Claims Lawyer: Applying for Veterans’ Disability Benefits
Like so much else, the application process for veterans’ disability benefits has moved online. The VA says using the online process is “the best way to apply,” though the claim form — VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits — is also available for printing and mailing in.
VA Form 21-526EZ (the EZ or “easy” version) is 10 pages long, six of which are instructions that refer the applicant to additional forms, which may be necessary to fully substantiate a benefits claim.
According to VA disability laws, to apply for benefits, a veteran must have access to:
- Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
- Medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports)
- Dependency records (marriage and children’s birth certificates)
When applying, the vet may submit a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) or file through the Standard Claim Process.
An FDC is faster, according to the VA, and may be pursued if the vet has or can obtain or identify all relevant evidence necessary to substantiate the claim. This includes the records above, and:
- All, if any, relevant, private medical treatment records.
- An identification of any relevant treatment records available at a federal facility, such as a VA medical center. The VA will retrieve relevant records the veteran adequately identifies and authorizes the VA to obtain.
- Any forms required for special circumstances benefits, e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Individual Unemployability (IU), Aid and Aid Attendance benefits, etc.
As the VA advises, if you file a claim in the FDC program and it is determined that other records exist that the VA needs to decide your claim, the VA will remove the claim from the FDC Program and process it in the Standard Claim Process.
In the Standard Claim Process, a veteran relies on the VA to obtain evidence of their disability. This may include government records, such as from the service or VA medical facilities, and from private medical providers or others. The vet must give the VA enough information about the evidence so the VA can request it from the person or agency that has it.
If the holder of the evidence declines to give it to VA, asks for a fee to provide it, or otherwise cannot get the evidence, VA will notify the vet and give him or her the opportunity to obtain and submit that information.
In both the FDC or Standard Claim Process it is the veteran’s responsibility to make sure the VA receives all necessary records — federal, state and private — to process and substantiate a claim.
A veteran has up to a year after the VA receives an initial claim to provide additional information to support the claim. If additional information is provided for a claim in the FDC process, it becomes a standard claim.
The VA must assess and evaluate all evidence in a claim, so anytime additional information is added to a claim file, the evaluation process is lengthened and a decision delayed.
The VA may also require the vet to undergo a medical examination by a VA doctor, or seek a medical opinion based on the evidence in the claim, if necessary to decide the claim.
The vet on their own may have their medical provider or a VA doctor complete a VA Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for their specific conditions. DBQs provide medical information directly relevant to determining a disability rating and ensure that VA’s ratings specialists have the precise information to assess claims.
Proving Eligibility in an Initial Veterans’ Disability Claim
It is not enough for a veteran to provide the VA with service and medical records and claim a disability in an initial benefits application. An original veterans’ disability claim must make the case that the veteran’s medical condition is due to military service and is disabling to a degree that qualifies for benefits.
As it examines benefit claims, the VA assesses and rates the extent of the veteran’s disability or disabilities in 10% increments from 0% to 100%. If the vet claims more than one disability, the VA develops a combined disability rating between 0% and 100% according to a VA formula calculated and set down in a table.
To qualify for veterans disability benefits, a former service member’s claim must show that he or she was not dishonorably discharged, and has at least one physical injury or illness or mental disorder that:
- Is rated by the VA system as 10% disabling or more if a physical disability.
- Makes the veteran unable to work for a living if a mental disorder.
The veteran must also prove that their disability is service-connected. The VA recognizes five categories of service connection for disabling injuries or illnesses. For many specific disabilities — including for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Certain Disabilities Associated With Gulf War (GW) Service — there are additional, separate requirements for determining service connection.
Establishing service connection for a disability may require not just DD214 discharge order, but additional information from the service member’s 201 file or OMPF (Official Military Personnel File), which would document specific deployments during which injuries or exposure-based illness occurred.
The VA presumes that certain military veterans are eligible for disability benefits, including:
- Former prisoners of war (FPOWs)
- Veterans who have certain chronic or tropical diseases that manifest within a specific time after discharge from service
- Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation, mustard gas, or Lewisite in the service
- Veterans exposed to certain herbicides, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam
- Veterans of service in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War
However, all disabled veterans must detail the extent of their disability in their claim so the VA can determine a disability rating and the benefit amount.
The VA has developed step-by-step assessment guidelines for each imaginable physical or mental medical condition, as well as some specific to military service (e.g., Agent Orange exposure), which claims examiners are required to follow. From these resources and the Combined Ratings Table, the VA examiner makes a determination of the vet’s disability rating and benefit payment.
Call our VA Claims Lawyers for Help Now
The complexity of the veterans disability benefits claim process is necessary to meet all potential needs of disabled veterans and ensure those who obtain benefits truly deserve them. However, even the expedited Fully Developed Claim process can prove daunting to many disabled veterans as well as loved ones trying to assist them.
The veterans’ disability lawyers of George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers can help you obtain the disability benefits you deserve faster and with less of a burden on you or your family members. Our experienced disabled veterans’ benefits attorneys know the VA process and the rules and regulations that guide it.
We can make sure your original veterans’ disability benefits claim is accurate and complete when filed. We can obtain records on your behalf and, through our experience and network of contacts, can help you identify records you may not have complete information for.
Our objective is to ensure your VA benefits claim is processed without unnecessary delay. We want you to receive ALL of the money you were promised for your sacrifices and to get it FAST. Don’t fight the VA on your own. Call George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers today.