One of the most contested issues in VA disability claims revolves around the effective date of a disability. Many veterans believe that because their current disability is directly caused by an in-service event or occurrence, the effective date of their disability claim should be the day after they leave the service. Unfortunately, many are disappointed when they learn that in most instances, the effective date of their disability compensation benefits will be a later date.
The General Rule
The general rule is that the effective date will be the date the claim was filed or the date entitlement to the benefit “arose,” whichever is later.
Determining the Filing Date
Prior to March 2015, veterans were able to send in nearly anything requesting a determination of entitlement to service connection. This could have been on the back of a receipt, a napkin, or a detailed, handwritten letter laying out why the service member felt he or she was entitled to service connection. This has become known as the “informal claim.”
Unfortunately for many veterans, the VA did away with the informal claim. To apply for compensation benefits now, veterans must fill out VA Form 21-526EZ. If you need assistance in filing for disability benefits, find a veterans service officer, VA accredited claims agent or attorney to assist at you. By law, no representative may charge you for filing an initial claim or claim for increase with the VA.
Determining the Date Entitlement “Arose”
This focuses on when the disability first manifested and when entitlement to benefits was authorized by law. It doesn’t matter when the evidence is submitted, only that the evidence shows entitlement to a service connected disability.
Exceptions to the General Rule
There are a few exceptions to the general rule:
Veterans who apply within one year after leaving the military will have an effective date be the day following separation from active service;
Veterans who file an intent to file will generally have an effective date be the date of their intent to file;
Veterans who file for an increase in a disability rating within one year of it becoming “factually ascertainable” that their disability worsened.
Veterans who file for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability.
Your effective date will rarely be the date you were actually injured, especially if you apply for compensation benefits years after leaving the military. However, this does not mean that the effective date the VA provides you is always accurate.
The VA often tries to claim that your effective date is the date of your diagnosis, which may come years after you first applied for benefits. Existence of symptoms indicative of a disability can be relevant to determining an effective date. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has previously ruled that all of the facts should be examined to determine the date the veteran’s disability first manifested.
The Bottom Line
If you are thinking about applying for service connection, you should first file an Intent to File. This form is easy to fill out, and it will help preserve an earlier effective date while you gather evidence to support your claim.
If you feel the VA has given you the wrong effective date for your claim, or if you have any questions regarding your VA disability claim in general, a skilled veteran’s law attorney, VA claims agent or veterans service officer can help you obtain the compensation you earned. Attorneys and VA accredited claim agents can only charge a fee if your appeal is successful.