Filing a VA Disability Compensation Claim (Step-by-Step)

By Cody Scholberg
Cody Scholberg
Cody Scholberg
September 15, 2014 Updated: September 15, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides Disability Compensation to eligible veterans, and it is something almost every veteran should apply for. For one, most veterans qualify for at least some type of compensation, despite the fact that many are not aware of it. Secondly, it’s free money for the rest of your life. Better yet, this money is tax-free.

This is a step-by-step guide to applying for Disability Compensation from the VA, and it applies equally to those who are currently leaving the service as well as veterans who have already left the service, though there is an alternate, quicker method of applying for those who are currently leaving the service; this will be covered in a later article.

The first thing is to understand the process. What makes a veteran eligible for Disability Compensation? There are three things:

1 – The veteran must have a service-connected medical condition (see below).

2 – The veteran must have received either an Honorable Discharge or a General Discharge (Under Honorable Conditions).

3 – The VA must assign a disability rating percentage to the condition of at least 10%.

Service-connected medical conditions are conditions that the veteran incurred while in military service, conditions which existed prior to military service but were made worse by military service, or secondary conditions that occur because of another service-connected disability.

It is important to note that the military did not necessarily have to directly cause the condition. For example, if you develop psoriasis while you are on active-duty, it is considered service-connected. There is logic to this, for soldiers are on duty 24/7, and there is no real way to determine if the condition was caused directly by the military or not.

The process of filing a claim properly essentially consists of discovering which conditions you have that are service-connected, gathering medical evidence to support this, and putting in your application to the VA. It is very important not to rush, but to take your time and do this properly, for appealing a denied claim can take years.

Now, the step-by-step:


1 – Determine the service-connected conditions you have

To start, you’ll want to get a complete copy of your medical records for the entire time you were in service. This includes every shot you received, every sick-call appointment you went on, etc. You can request a copy of your medical records by sending a Standard Form 180 (SF-180) to:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138 
You can also make a request online, but you’ll still have to mail in or fax a signature to get your request processed.
Your records can take a few months to get to you. Your medical records are typically given to you when you leave the military, so if you still have them, you don’t have to wait. If you have to wait, be patient. Your claim is not worth rushing.
Once you have your medical records, go through them with a fine-toothed comb. Write down every complaint you made, every diagnosis, and everything that could possibly mean you have a medical condition that occurred while in service.

2 – Familiarize yourself with the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD)

This is also known as 38 CFR Book C. This is the criteria which the VA uses to determine how disabling each service-connected disability is. You’ll want to know the parts relevant to your condition like the back of your hand so that you can use the proper terminology to maximize your claim.
Using proper terminology does not mean lying, however. The doctors the VA uses are professionals, and if you try to exaggerate your conditions or just plain lie about them, they will probably be able to tell. If you are caught lying, the VA won’t entertain your claim.
The VASRD is quite long, and it will take some time to familiarize yourself with it. Don’t skip it.

3 – Go see more doctors to get further evidence to back up your claim

This is pretty self explanatory. Now that you know the VASRD and have a list of health conditions that are service-connected, you should go get each of these conditions checked by a doctor. It doesn’t matter if the doctor is a civilian doctor or a doctor at a VA hospital. You will want to obtain a copy of their reports and have them ready for when you file your claim.


4 – File the claim

Applying for Disability Compensation on eBenefits
Applying for Disability Compensation on eBenefits
To file your claim, you’ll need an eBenefits login (instructions on how to obtain one are on the site itself). Once logged in, click on the “Apply for Benefits” tab and click “Apply for Disability Compensation” and follow the instructions. Have your list of medical conditions ready, any supporting evidence from your military medical records, and your new medical records from your recent appointments.

5 – Go to VA Doctor’s Appointments

After you apply, the VA will schedule you appointments for their own doctors who will review your conditions. You’ll definitely want to make these appointments, and though they seem a bit redundant, they are important for the decision of your claim.

6 – Wait

Now comes the fun part. You will need to wait anywhere from 6 – 18 months (or longer, in some cases) for the VA to reach a decision on your claim. You can check the status on your eBenefits account page under the “Check My Status” tab.
Good luck!