Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Problems with Veterans Benefits Claims
Getting the benefits due you as a veteran from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is often a frustrating experience. Claim your veteran benefits without the frustration by following these simple rules.
Accept help in claiming your veteran benefits
Don't go it alone. Numerous people and organizations are able to help you, including veterans service organizations (VSOs), counselors at VA regional offices and vet centers, representatives at various state veteran offices, and even lawyers who specialize in veterans affairs.
Read the instructions for claiming veteran benefits carefully
Taking a few extra minutes to read the instructions can save you loads of time. Sometimes a particular VA form is used to file for more than one benefit. The instructions will tell you which part(s) of the form to complete for which benefit(s).
For example, the same form is used to apply for both disability compensation and a VA pension, but the form has separate areas to fill out for each. Because the law says you can’t receive both disability compensation and a VA pension at the same time, you only need to complete the section of the form that applies to the benefit you want.
The instructions also usually include information about where to file the claim. Sending your claim to the wrong place can add months to the processing time.
Answer all questions on the veterans benefits form
This may seem obvious, but many people leave a question field blank if they think it doesn’t apply to them or they don’t know the information. It’s much better to write Unknown or None or Not Applicable on the form than to leave the area blank if you want to avoid having the VA send the form back to you with a letter requesting more information.
If you have an unusual situation that requires lengthy answers, feel free to attach separate sheets of paper. For example, if the form asks for your child’s Social Security number and you don’t have one yet because the child was recently born, explain that. Don’t just leave the area blank.
Include only relevant information when claiming veterans benefits
Make sure any evidence or information you include with your claim is directly related to the claim. Remember, it’s the quality, not the quantity, that counts. Including information and background that has nothing to do with your claim just wastes time.
The reviewing officials then have to sort through the irrelevant information to find the stuff that directly supports your claim. That’s not only a bummer for them, but it can result in a significant delay of processing your claim.
Use your veterans benefit claim number
When you file a claim for a VA benefit, you’re issued a claim number the VA’s reference to the location of all of your claim information. Write your claim number on all correspondence and all forms you complete in relation to your existing claim. Otherwise, your information may wander around the halls of the VA for a time before it finally reaches the right place.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of writing your claim number only on the envelope. Usually the envelopes are opened and discarded in the mailroom, so the number and the envelope’s contents are forever separated.
Keep the VA informed
The folks who work at the VA aren’t psychic. They have no way of knowing if you moved, changed your phone number, had a kid, got married, got divorced, or whatever unless you tell them.
Because many of these factors affect your eligibility for benefits and how much you may receive in benefits, you want to let the VA know about these changes as soon as possible so they can be included when considering your claim.
Don’t assume that one section of the VA talks to another section. For example, if you’re receiving healthcare at a VA medical center and also have a claim pending for disability compensation with the VA regional office, don’t assume that if you change your address at the VA medical center that the VA regional center will know about it. You need to notify both centers.
Meet the time limits
If you receive a letter from the VA about your claim and it states you have a certain amount of time to respond, take the deadline seriously. In most cases, these time limits are established by law. If you fail to respond in the required time frame, it may result in an automatic denial of your claim, and then you have to start the process all over.
Read VA correspondence carefully
Correspondence from the VA is often loaded with useful information. For example, it may include a required time frame during which you must respond to keep your claim open, or it may provide you with information about how you can get even more goodies from the VA. Don’t make the mistake of reading just the first page. Every page is important.
Establish a filing system
Every piece of paper you receive from the VA is important. File a copy of everything in one place and arrange it chronologically. Make sure your loved ones know where the information is filed in case they have to carry on for you if you’re sick or hospitalized. If a problem occurs with your claim, this correspondence (arranged chronologically) can help you form an appeal.
Keep your appointments
If you’re scheduled for an appointment for a hearing on your claim or for a physical examination in support of your claim, do everything possible to be there. If you miss an appointment for a hearing, you may not get another chance to explain your side of the issue.
If the VA does agree to reschedule the hearing, it could delay your claim or appeal by months. If you miss a medical examination in support of your claim, it can also take months to reschedule the exam.