Filing a claim for disability benefits with the VA is a straight forward process. There is no magic formula to the process.
However, recent revelations about some employees at some VA Regional Offices destroying or hiding claims raises issues regarding how veterans can protect themselves from such unconscionable behavior. There are some things you can do to help make sure your claims are received and processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The easiest way to protect against lost or destroyed claims is by delivering the claim to the VA Regional Office directly. Deliver the claim directly to the VA and ask the VA employee accepting the claim to date stamp the claim as received and provide you with a copy. The VA employee should be glad to accommodate your request. If the employee is not willing to abide by your request, ask to see a Supervisor. Now you have a copy of the claim you filed with a VA date stamp showing the date it was received by the VA. If you later discover the claim has been lost or has otherwise not be processed by VA, you can provide them with a copy of what you have and insist they open the claim and begin processing. Remember the date of the claim should be the date shown on the copy VA provided to you. This date is important because most benefits granted are granted effective the date the claim was filed with VA. There are exceptions to this but the date of the claim is a very important date and it should be correct.
Next, if you can’t get to the VA Regional Office for some reason, the next best way to prevent lost or destroyed claims is to visit a Veterans Service Organization such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or your state veterans service organization. They can help you complete the claim paperwork and can submit the claim for you directly to the VA Regional Office. Make sure the organization you choose has procedures for filing the claim. Most veterans service organizations log claims filed for claimants into some type of database or tracking log to ensure the claim gets opened and processed by VA. Again you should ask the service organization for a copy of what they file on your behalf. Then if the claim gets lost or destroyed, you have proof the claim was filed supported by the service organization records of the claim.
Finally, if you have received a decision from VA on a claim that you don’t agree with, hiring an attorney can be a good idea. Most attorneys use certified mail, return receipt requested when sending claims, documents or other important paperwork to the VA. This ensures the VA receives what has been sent. The VA must sign for the submission and that signed receipt is returned to the attorney.
Remember, it’s your claim; take responsibility for ensuring everything that can be done, is done to make sure the Department of Veterans Affairs receives, opens and processes your claim for benefits. Whether you file your claim directly with the VA, through one of the veteran service organization or an attorney, make sure you’ve done all you can to ensure your claim is given the attention it deserves by the VA.