Home → Veterans Guide to VA Benefits → VA Benefits-Filing a Claim/Refer to Veterans Guide to VA Claim Filing → Filing an Application for Compensation or Pension
All claims for VA benefits begin with an application. Unless there are very unusual circumstances, a claimant should use the form that the VA specifies for the benefit desired. As with all VA forms, you should read the Form instructions carefully and get help if you are unsure of what is required.
To obtain a copy of the current version of any VA form go to:
Starting March of 2015, the VA introduced a new process know as the "Intent to file" using VA Form 21-0966. This form notifies the VA that you intend to file a claim for VA compensation, pension, or survivors' benefits but additional time is required to obtain the information needed for a completed claim. You will have one year after filing the intent to file form to file a complete claim for either: Compensation (VA Form 21-526EZ), Pension (VA Form 21-527EZ), and Survivor's DIC/Death Pension/Accured Benefits (VA Form 21-534EZ). The date that the VA receives your intent to file for each specific benefit will be protected as the effective date for the benefit that you applied. The intent to file process allows the VA to award benefits retoractively to the receivede date of the intent to file. The VA will only recognize one intent to file per general benefit category at any given time. Thus, you can not file for two claims simultaneously for the same benefit category. Once a completed claim is filed, the intent to file for that claim becomes inactive. Then you can submit an new intent to file for the same benefit category for a different issue.
Filing a complete application is important to avoid delays in processing a claim. VA is not required to take action on a claim until a substantially complete application has been filed. In addition, it takes considerable time for VA to review an application, notify a claimant of problems, and review the information received to correct the problems. During this time, nothing is being done to move the claim along. If the requested information is not submitted within 12 months, VA will deem the claim to have been abandoned and the claimant may have to start all over.
When submitting a compensation claim to VA, it is best to include all of the available information. A completed claim includes:
There are five ways to file a form,application or information with the VA:
What happens to my completed claim after it is submitted to the VA?
Unless the claimant is participating in a test of a new "paperless" process, when VA receives an application, the VA creates a "claims file" (widely known as a "C-file") for the claimant. The claimant also is assigned a "claim number" that is unique to that person. This number is important because VA uses it to identify that claimant for life. The person's VA claims number remains the same no matter how many other applications are submitted or claims awarded.
VA next reviews the application for compliance with the filing instructions. If the application is not "substantially complete" or is otherwise not acceptable, VA will notify the claimant and give them up to a year to submit the necessary information. If an application is not made substantially complete within a year, the application is considered abandoned and VA will take no further action. A new application has to be filed in such a case.
When a substantially complete application is received, VA will "develop" the claim. The C-file is submitted for review by different teams of VA employees. All incoming claims are reviewed by a "triage" team that looks to remove totally unsupported claims. Claims that pass the triage team are delivered to the "development" or "pre-determination" team who gathers service records, service medical records, private treatment records, and other information that VA needs to make a decision on the claim.
When the claim is deemed sufficiently developed to allow a decision on the claim, the pre-determination team forwards the claim file to a "rating" team for decision. The rating team consists of "rating specialists" who are VA employees trained to evaluate the evidence and decide whether a claim should be granted or denied under the legal rules for VA benefits. Although rating specialists are trained by VA for this job, they are not medical or legal professionals by education or experience.
The rating team has the authority to award compensation and set an effective date, which is generally the date that the application was received by the VA or the received date of the intent to file form (VA form 21-0966). Payments usually start on the first day of the month following the effective date. The rating team can also send a C-file back to the development team for additional development without making a decision. This often occurs when a medical diagnosis is not unanimous among evaluating physicians or because a required record is missing.