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How to File a VA Disability Claim? [A Step-By-Step Guide]

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

how to file a va disability claim

Veterans who have become injured or sick while serving in the military are eligible for what is called VA Disability Compensation. Veterans whose existing conditions have been made worse because of his/her service can also avail themselves of the VA Disability Compensation.

If you are a veteran in either category, you can apply for and receive your compensation pay by making a disability claim. In this article, we will walk you through how to file a VA disability claim. Filing a VA disability claim is not as difficult as it sounds. There are four key things you need to do:

(1) Determine if you are eligible for VA Disability Compensation

(2) Gather sufficient proof to support your disability claim

(3) Fill out all the necessary VA disability claim forms to complete your claim

(4) File your claim through one of the three approaches: mail, in person, online

By the end, you should be able to do it all by yourself!

Filing for VA Disability


Before you go ahead and do anything else, you need to make sure that you are eligible to apply for VA disability compensation. Review the following criteria to determine your case:

You must meet both of these:

  • Have a current condition — illness or injury — that affects your body or your mind and
  • Have served on active duty, training active duty, or training inactive duty.

Plus, you must tick at least one of these:

  • You can make an inservice disability claim: You became injured or sick because of/while serving or
  • You can make a preservice disability claim: You had an injury or illness prior to the military but serving aggravated it or
  • You can make a post-service disability claim: You have gotten a disability related to your active-duty service that became apparent after you have parted from the military.

Conditions that are covered by VA disability benefits include:

  • Chronic back pain as a result of a current diagnosed back disability
  • Breathing problems as a result of current lung disease or condition
  • Serious hearing loss
  • Scar tissue
  • Loss of motion range
  • Ulcers
  • Cancers as a result of contact with toxic chemicals or other hazards

Other possible conditions are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury
  • PTSD: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Here are illnesses that can be concluded and covered if symptoms appear within one year after your service:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)
  • Peptic ulcers

However, do note that the illnesses must be at least 10% disabling.

Visit Title 38, Code of Federal Regulation, 3.309(a) to find the detailed list of valid illnesses.

If your discharge was something other than honorable (aka. dishonorable or bad conduct), you might not be qualified for the VA disability application. Luckily, there is one potential solution: getting a discharge upgrade.

If your discharge was linked to any of the following, you have a good chance of being approved for an upgrade:

  • Mental health conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • MST – Military Sexual Trauma: Sexual assault or harassment during service

You could apply for another discharge upgrade if you failed the first time. But you must disclose that you are reapplying by selecting YES when asked if you have applied before.

After getting a discharge upgrade, you will be issued a DD215 that shows the corrections to your DD214 and attach the old DD214 along with it. If you want a new DD214 that shows no record of your earlier discharge status, click here and select:

Once you are certain that you are in the position to file a VA claim, prepare sufficient evidence. It will depend on the disability you claim, but in general, these supporting docs are needed:

  • VA medical records, private medical records, hospital records, and service treatment records relating to your injuries or illnesses or show your rated disability has aggravated
  • Supporting statements from your family, friends, clergy members, the law enforcement, or those who were in service with you
  • DD214 or other separation papers

The evidence you submit need to demonstrate

  • That you have a physical or mental disability, and thus, are less able or totally unable to do normal daily tasks and meaningful work and
  • An event, injury, or illness that caused the disability, occurring during service
  • Finally, a link between the first and second bullet points above.

If you do not submit any supporting documents, you will need to arrange a claim exam with the VA to disclose information about your condition(s).

This process of gathering evidence can be done on your own, with the help of a professional, or through the VA’s programs: standard disability claim and fully developed claim.

Standard Disability Claim

The VA will collect your records (on your behalf) from VA medical centers, any federal agency, and the Social Security Administration. You will also be provided a medical exam.

This type of claim program takes a longer time than a fully developed claim.

Fully Developed Claim


The VA will help you request your records from VA medical centers, any federal agency, and the Social Security Administration. Plus, the VA will help you schedule a health exam or get a health care provider’s opinion.

You can work with an accredited VSO: Veterans Service Office if you want.

You can start your application first and take up to a year from the date VA receives your claim to collect the proof. It will be recognized as long as you complete the process in 365 days.

There are three ways you can submit your claim:

(1) By mail

Fill out the VA Form 21-526EZ: Application for Disability Compensation & Related Compensation Benefits and mail it to the following address:

Department of Veterans Affairs

Claims Intake Center

PO Box 4444

Janesville, WI 53547-4444

(2) In Person

Alternatively, after filling out the form, you can bring it to a VA regional office and submit it in person. Use this tool to locate the nearest office!

For either of these approaches, you should turn in an intent to file form first. This will give you time to compile the evidence and supporting documents you need and not have to wait for a later start date (dubbed an effective date). Plus, you may be able to receive retroactive payments, which is compensation that begins at a point in the past.

You can submit this form through mail or in person. But you must call and notify 800-827-1000 first. You have one year to complete and submit your official claim form after your intent to file form is received by the VA.

Note: This is not necessary if you are filing your claim online because your effective date is set when you start filling the form online and before you submit it.

(3) Online

After you have filed your disability claim, you may be sent a letter requesting more information or be scheduled for claim exams. So, keep this in mind.

The average time it takes for the VA to process disability claims is 160.9 days.

Up until now, we have been talking about your original disability claim. But there are also other types of claims that you may want to know and consider making.

  • Increased Claim: Claim for more compensation on a disability already recognized.
  • New Claim: Claim for added benefits or other specific benefit requests.
  • Second Service-Related Claim: Claim for a new disability linked to your existing one.
  • Special Claim: Claim for special needs linked to your service-related disability.
  • Supplemental Claim: Provide new proof for a claim previously rejected.

If you have not been discharged but know that you want to file a disability claim, then consider the pre-discharge claim. This is applicable if you have 180 to 90 days left in service (active duty).

This type of claim can help you obtain a claim decision sooner. You are eligible if:

  • You are serving full-time active duty and
  • Have a separation date in the next 180 to 90 days and
  • You can go to VA exams for 45 days from your claim submission date and
  • You can submit a copy of your treatment records for your present service period

However, you cannot avail of this if you tick one of the following:

  • You require case management for a serious condition
  • Are terminally ill or pregnant
  • Waiting for discharge while being treated at a VA facility or for a Character of Discharge
  • Added a condition to your original claim within less than 90 days left of active duty
  • Must have a VA exam in a foreign country
  • Except if it can be requested by the overseas BDD office in Korea, Landstuhl, Camp Humphreys, or Germany


Congrats! You are now more aware of the veteran disability claim process. Hopefully, this article about how to file a VA disability claim has curated here will help you make your claim easily and successfully. If you have any other questions, please reach out to us in the comments below. We will try our best to reply!

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