Hack the VA: Filing your VA compensation claim

Jonathan Kaupanger
April 10, 2018 - 1:35 pm

Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic


Filing a disability compensation claim with Veterans Affairs is frustrating, confusing and time consuming, but if you know what to do, there are ways to manage the process without feeling like you’re banging your head against the VA wall.

  • Submit your Intent to File. It is required and for good reasons too: it sets your effective date for pay purposes. From that date, you have one year to complete your application. There are four ways to start this process; online, you can download the form and mail it in, or call a VA representative who will get things going for you.  But the easiest way is to get help from an accredited Veterans Service Organization.  You can pay for an attorney to represent you, but VSO’s have people who are trained to do this, and it’s free. 
  • Figure out what exactly it is that you want to claim. You could go through your medical records and put in a claim for everything that has ever bothered you while on active duty. This will just add more frustration to the process. Stick with lingering issues. This is why you should get professional help with your claim. 
    • Example: let’s say you broke your leg while serving, but are totally recovered. You should still claim the injury because, even if you get zero percent evaluation right now,  if arthritis sets in later, you are covered. Whatever you claim, it has to meet three criteria:
  1. An event in service that caused or aggravated a disability or illness;
  2. A current diagnosis of a disability or illness;  
  3. A medical opinion connecting the two.  Without these three criteria, your claim will not be granted.
  • Write a statement to support your claim. This is very important because your statement is considered evidence.  If you are submitting for multiple claims, you’ll need a separate paragraph for each claim. Describe how the event, while in the military, affects your current disability.
  • Be as specific as possible.
    • Touch on everything you can, pictures, medical records, prescriptions. If you don’t think the event is in your service or medical record, find someone you serve with who can be a witness to the event. A witness statement alone will not grant you the claim, but it can be added to other evidence.
    • If you have your service medical records, add those to your evidence pile.  If you don’t have your records, VA will request them from military archives.  You can (and should) get a copy for yourself though. You can request them from the National Personnel Records Center.  Here’s a step here that can save you a nice chunk of processing time.  Highlight the pages and passages in the records that are related to the medical condition that you are claiming. 
  • You may be required to go to a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. These aren’t a normal doctor’s visit. You won’t be treated or diagnosed for anything. The doctor may just review your records and ask you a few questions. There is a method to this madness. The doctor is actually filing out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire, also called a DBQ. 
    • You can find a list of DBQ’s here. VA prefers that the healthcare professional complete the DBQ electronically. Legibility is so important, before you leave the office thought, make sure the doctor completes the last section of the DBQ by providing their name, signature and contact information.
    • One last tip for your C&P, be honest and specific with your answers. Instead of saying, “I hurt my back in the Navy,” again, be specific with your response. “I was on a ladder and slipped.  There’s an accident report which is on page 17 of my medical records.  I’ve had problems with my back ever since.”  This way, the doctor can connect the incident to the current disability.  And since you have already highlighted the page in your medical/service record, and noted it on your statement to support the claim, the doctor and the ratings team won’t have to search for the information.
  • And then... you have to wait. Sorry, but we don’t have any tips on how to make waiting go any faster except maybe humming the theme from Jeopardy.  Here’s 10 hours’ worth of it to get you started.