I separated active duty in 2014. At the time, my best resource for planning my VA claim was an online forum board. Thankfully, my claim succeeded despite my lack of planning. However, now veterans face a different issue. Social media has created an overwhelming amount of information about how to file a VA claim on active duty. Today, we will look at exactly how you should prepare your VA claim while on active duty. In addition, we will share some additional posts that will guide you on how to file for specific disabilities.
Hurry Up and Wait
In a perfect world, the VA would promptly give you exactly the rating that you earned. However, that will simply never happen. You need to expect to go to war. Don’t be the loser that lets the VA win without a fight. Buckle up. This is going to take at least a year.
My timeline will be very similar to many veteran’s timelines. Unfortunately, I waited for several months to try to medical retire through a med board. However, the Air Force refused to retire me, and I ultimately separated. Yes, I wasted several months waiting for the med board that never came through. After I separated, it took the VA close to a year to respond to my claim.
The VA has continually tried to improve the speed at which they complete claims. Veterans in the early 2000’s would routinely wait years for updates. The current wait time varies, but 6-12 months is a good estimate. As a result, you need to plan on being patient. That patience is your friend in this battle.
3 Step Process: How To File A VA Claim On Active Duty
There are three basic steps you need to follow while still on active duty. Each part is essential, but step #1 is the most time sensitive.
Step 1: Go to sick call.
You need to spend any remaining active-duty time documenting all physical and mental issues. This documentation will be valuable in your claim. You need to establish the “service-connected” portion of your claim. If it is isn’t documented- it never happened. Going to sick call is the most urgent part of learning how to file a VA claim on active duty.
Step 2: Assemble copies of all medical records.
As mentioned, you need medical documentation of all issues. As a part of this step, ensure you have proof of all TDY’s, deployments, duty stations, and awards. Proving a specific location isn’t a common part of VA claims, but it can be mandatory in a burn pit or contaminated water type claim. In addition, a record of awards (especially those related to combat) can make a PTSD claim more winnable. Don’t forget to include any civilian medical doctors you saw while on active duty.
Step 3: How You Actually File A VA Claim On Active Duty?
In short, you need to fill out VA Form 21-526EZ to actually file your VA claim. I recommend you file this online, and you can complete it on the VA’s website. Thankfully, the form is straightforward. However, it will require you to detail each disability you are claiming. As a note, it is perfectly acceptable to write “Left Knee issue.” You do not need to specify a specific diagnosis.
3 Ways To File A VA Claim On Active Duty
Ultimately, your final rating will be the same. However, the VA offers three different ways to file your VA claim on active duty. We will examine each claim in better detail.
BDD – Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD)
The VA’s Benefits Delivery at Discharge program allows veterans to submit their disability claims up to 180 days before their discharge from the military. Specifically, the purpose of the program is for you to receive VA disability compensation within 90 days of your discharge. However, this will require some precision planning on your part. You must be on active duty, and you must be separating with-in the next 90-180 days.
Fully Developed Claim (FDC)
A fully developed claim is one in which the veteran has completed most of the initial research and documentation. Instead of submitting a claim followed by supporting evidence, you submit a fully developed claim all at once. This differs from standard claim processing since the veteran does much of the legwork to locate any missing evidence rather than the VA.
Standard VA Claim
When you submit a standard claim, the VA will gather any medical or service records you’ve named as important to your claim. This is less work on your end, but it relies on the VA to do their job properly. In addition, any BDD or FDC that lack information will be downgraded to a standard VA claim.
What Claim Type Should I Use?
Ultimately, your job is to file a VA claim on active duty that is done correctly. BDD, FDC, and standard will all get you to the same result. However, a BDD claim will be quicker than the other two options. As a result, try to use a BDD claim if possible. If not, a FDC or standard will be fine.
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