VA Disability

Applying for VA disability benefits is a complex process that service members and veterans should carefully consider before submitting a claim. Learn about the aspects of VA disability compensation, including eligibility, disability ratings, the claims process and how to appeal a decision.
Page Last Updated
June 1, 2023

Current military service members, veterans and qualified dependents may be eligible for disability benefits if they have sustained an illness, injury or disability due to their service.

Navigating the VA disability process can be time-consuming and complex. You’ll need to make sure that you meet the qualifications for VA disability and have the documentation required to substantiate your claim.

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    How to Apply for VA Disability Benefits

    The VA disability application process is arduous, but it’s important that you follow it to ensure that you receive compensation for injuries, illnesses or disabilities you acquired through military service. 

    To begin the process, you’ll need to assemble the appropriate documentation, including:

    • Medical records, including X-rays and lab tests
    • Records from medical treatment you received while in the military
    • Any military personnel documentation related to your condition
    • Supporting documentation related to your condition from family members, friends, clergy or law enforcement personnel

    There are four application options available to people applying for VA disability benefits.

    Online Claim

    Active-duty service members and veterans may be able to file their disability claims online through the VA’s website. You must answer a few questions related to current duty status and whether a claim is new or intended to appeal an existing VA decision. 

    If you’re eligible to file online, you will be directed to fill out VA Form 21-526EZ.

    Once you begin an online claim, you’ll have one year to submit it to the VA. Beginning an online application indicates your intent to file and starts the one-year clock.

    By Mail or In Person

    The VA allows you to submit VA Form 21-526EZ through the mail or in person at a VA regional office. Individuals who are uncomfortable filling out the form online or have questions to ask before submitting their claim may find mail or in-person delivery to be a better option. You can locate a VA regional office using the VA’s directory.

    Assistance from a Trained Professional

    Accredited professionals, including attorneys, claims agents or Veterans Service Officers, can support individuals who need assistance filing their claims. Those accredited by the VA are educated and certified in the VA claims and appeals process and can address any questions.

    Keep in mind that any accredited individual who assists you in preparing your initial claim for benefits cannot charge a fee for their services unless they charge for things classified as unusual expenses.

    Application Process

    According to the VA, it takes an average of 132.7 days to complete a disability-related claim. Once a claim is received, the department conducts an initial review. If evidence is warranted, the VA will send a letter requesting information from you, your treating physician or other individuals deemed essential. 

    If the supporting documentation is not considered satisfactory, the VA may request additional evidence. When the VA makes a decision, it will mail a packet to the service member or veteran indicating the results and next steps.

    Appeals Process

    In some cases, you may not agree with the VA’s decision concerning your benefits. Individuals who receive a decision after February 19, 2019, have three decision review options to choose from. These include:

    Supplemental Claim Review

    In a supplemental claim review, you present new evidence not included in your original claim. A qualified VA disability benefits reviewer will analyze the evidence to determine whether a change in your decision is warranted.

    You can file a supplemental claim review any time after the initial decision, but the VA recommends that you submit it within one year of receiving your decision letter.

    Higher-Level Review

    Under a higher-level review, a more senior reviewer will analyze the facts and evidence of your original claim. You may not provide any additional supporting information or new evidence. Individuals requesting a higher-level review have one year to do so following receipt of a decision letter.

    Board Appeal

    A board appeal is the most senior appeal you can make concerning a VA disability benefits case. In a board appeal, a judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, D.C. will review the documentation of your case and consider changes to your original decision.

    You may request a board appeal after an initial claim, supplemental claim or higher-level review decision.

    Eligibility for VA Disability

    When applying for VA disability benefits, you’ll need to establish your eligibility. To do so, you must meet both of these requirements:
    • You have a current illness or injury that affects you mentally or physically.
    • You served on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training.
    In addition, one of the three statements below must be accurate:
    • Your injury or illness was sustained during your duty.
    • Serving in the military worsened a pre-existing condition.
    • You have a disability that appeared after your active-duty service ended.
    Both veterans and qualified dependents are eligible for VA disability compensation. However, service members who received an other than honorable, bad conduct or dishonorable discharge may be ineligible for VA disability benefits.

    Conditions Eligible for VA Disability Benefits

    According to the most recent Annual Benefits Report issued by the Veterans Benefits Administration, the top 10 conditions supported through VA disability benefits are:

    • Tinnitus
    • Limitation of flexion, knee
    • Hearing loss
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • Lumbosacral or cervical strain
    • Paralysis of the sciatic nerve
    • Scars
    • Limitation of motion of the ankle
    • Limitation of motion of the arm
    • Migraine

    Individuals suffering from illnesses, injuries or disabilities not on this list should note that potentially any condition may be eligible for VA disability benefits. The VA groups disabilities into 15 categories, including:

    The most common injuries under the VA disability benefits program are musculoskeletal-related.

    VA Disability Ratings

    The VA assigns a disability rating to each illness, injury or disability you sustained due to military service. If you have more than one disability, they will be ranked in order of severity and combined to determine a disability percentage, which is indicated in increments of 10 percent. 

    Combined rating tables are used to calculate the aggregate percentage of your disability ranking. The disability percentage assigned to you, based on the combined rating table, determines the amount of monthly compensation you will receive through the VA benefits program.

    VA Compensation Amounts

    VA disability compensation is provided in monthly installments to qualified individuals. Payment is tax-free and based on your disability percentage and number of dependents. The 2022 compensation for eligible recipients varies widely. Individuals with a 10 to 20 percent disability cannot receive additional compensation for dependents.

    Tables for current VA disability benefits compensation are available through the VA website.

    Do you need to hire an attorney or advocate?

    You do not need to hire an attorney or advocate when filing for VA disability benefits. However, there’s no harm in doing so. Accredited advocates and attorneys cannot charge you for assisting you with your initial claim for VA disability benefits, except for unusual expenses. 

    Qualified advocates and attorneys are skilled in the underpinnings of the VA disability benefits program and can answer questions you have about applying for benefits. They must undergo a thorough training program, pass an exam and background check, and take continuing education courses to maintain their accreditation.

    If you receive a decision on your initial claim that you disagree with, an advocate or attorney can assist you with the next steps.

    How much can you get from VA disability?

    The compensation you are eligible for will depend on the severity of your injuries, the percentage of disability you are assigned and whether you have dependents. 

    For 2022, disability compensation begins at $152.64 per month for individuals declared 10 percent disabled. Veterans and service members declared 100 percent disabled with one child, a spouse and two parents may receive \$3,952.09 per month. 

    Added increments to monthly payments are available for additional children, spouses receiving aid and attendance, designated severe disabilities and other specific situations.

    Who gets disability? How long is it paid?

    Individuals eligible for VA disability benefits who receive a decision letter granting them monthly compensation will receive regular payments. The length of time you continue to receive these benefits is determined by whether your condition is expected to improve.

    In some cases, recipients may undergo a periodic review of their disability, which requires a physician’s assessment to determine whether a condition has improved. If the condition remains the same, disability compensation payments will continue. If it has improved, disability benefits may be reduced.

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