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News > Legal Office offers advice for filing VA disability claims
Legal Office offers advice for filing VA disability claims

Posted 8/10/2011   Updated 8/10/2011 Email story   Print story


by 1st Lt Christopher Porco
375th Air Mobility Wing Legal Office

8/10/2011 - Scott Air Force Base, Ill. -- Filing a claim for service-connected disability compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs and getting it granted can sometimes be difficult, but it doesn't have to be if the filer understands the claims process and uses available resources.

People currently experiencing an injury or illness related to service who were honorably discharged should file a claim with the VA. This is done by filing VA Form 51-526 with the nearest VA regional office. Alternatively, people can file a claim at People with supporting documentation should attach it to their claim. Keep a copy of everything sent to the VA.

Understand that it can take a while before claims are adjudicated by the VA regional office. The VA may schedule a medical exam to have people's disability evaluated. Filers will have plenty of time to provide additional documentation to the VA, such as supporting medical documents.

If the disability claim is denied by the VA regional office, or if the filer is granted less than the full benefits they believe they are entitled to, they can appeal the decision. People can have their claim reviewed by a decision review officer, or DRO, at that regional office or request to have it appealed directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or BVA, without review by a DRO. Generally speaking, it is preferable to have claims reviewed by a DRO first because it provides another opportunity to have claims reviewed and hopefully granted without appealing it further. If the DRO denies the claim, it can still be appealed to the BVA.

While claims are being reviewed by the BVA, filers can still provide additional evidence to support claims, such as recent medical records that show current disability and/or old medical records that show the disability manifested in service. People can also personally attend a hearing before the BVA in Washington, D.C., before a traveling panel (the BVA travels to several cities each year), or via video teleconference. The BVA will ultimately grant the claim, remand (send it back) to the VA regional office for further action, or deny your claim. If your claim is denied by the BVA, you can appeal it further to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court).

So what's the point of appealing an adverse decision and having it remanded back to the BVA or the VA regional office? Retroactive compensation. If the VA grants the claim for service-connected disability, it is granted retroactive to the date the claim was filed. If, however, the claim is denied by the VA regional office and the filer does not appeal this decision further within the allowed timeframe (or if the claim is denied by the BVA and not appealed it to the Veterans Court), people no longer have a live claim. Under certain circumstances, filers can re-open a claim but if that re-opened claim is granted people will only receive compensation from the date the re-opened claim was filed (not the original claim). So while it may be frustrating to have claims appealed and remanded (sometimes multiple times) it is in the filer's interest to keep claims alive at all stages of the process.

Veterans Service Organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and many others, help veterans file their claims and assist them while their claim is pending at the VA regional office or the BVA. For more information about how to file a VA disability claim and about disability claims in general, visit the VA's website: You are also encouraged to seek free, confidential advice from the Scott Air Force Base legal office during legal assistance hours, which are Tuesday and Wednesday from 8:30-10 a.m. and Thursday from 1-2:30 p.m.

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