There are thousands of well meaning people waiting to help you with your claim at the VA. However, before you get your information to one of these well meaning people, you must battle through the bureaucracy. The VA has procedural rules in place to handle the massive amount of claim documents that they receive every day. If you do not follow these procedures your claim documents will not get to the right person in the proper amount of time. Here is a short list of Dos and Don’ts when filing a claim with the VA:
1- Do Use a VSO: A Veteran Service Officer will know a lot more about the regulations that impact your claim and can help you avoid common pitfalls.
2- Do Check eBenefits: This should always be the first place you check when you are looking for information on your claim.
3- Do Use the IRIS system for questions: The Inquiry Routing and Information System allows you to see the answers to questions asked by others and ask a question about your VA benefits. You must create a free account to ask a question.
4- Do Be patient: The VA has more than one backlog. The average processing time for new claims is 9 months. But the average processing time for claim adjustments is much longer.
5- Do Show up on time for your compensation and pension exams: I cannot stress enough how important this is. Make sure that you communicate to the VA that you are serious about your claim by showing up.
6- Do save a copy of everything that you send to the VA and everything that they send back to you: Paper documents are easy to lose. If you keep copies of everything you can simply re-submit your documents. You do not want to lose the effective date of your claim because it took you months to get new documents from your doctor.
7- Don’t write letters in place claim forms: If the VA asks you to submit a form then send that form. If you want to add additional comments, use a VA form 21-4138.
8- Don’t wait till the end of your appeal timeline to ask for help: If you know that you are unhappy with your claim result, go back to your VSO immediately or find a new one. If you wait too long, your claim will be finalized and the standard of evidence to re-open your claim will get tougher.
9- Don’t go down to the regional office to clear things up: If you are thinking that you will just go down to the Regional Office and talk to someone about your claim, I am sorry to inform you that 99.99% that is not going to happen. See items #1, #2, and #3 for better options.
10- Don’t wait too long to follow up on your claim: I realize that I just go through telling you that it takes many months to get a claim through the VA. But please do not wait 9 months to follow up on the status of your claim. Many VA processes have a time limit on them. You do not want to have to start your claim over because you missed a deadline.
Please consider this a Public Service Announcement. Do you have another tip that you thing we should add? Post it below.