5 Mistakes Veterans Most Often Make When Filing for Disability Benefits

Our military takes care of us, and when they are injured, sick or unable to work, the VA can help take care of them. For a successful benefits claim, here are some mistakes to avoid.

An older man sits at a desk in front of a computer, looking thoughtful.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since President Biden signed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act (opens in new tab) in August 2022, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has already received over 100,000 (opens in new tab) new disability compensation claims. With more veterans entering the system each day, it’s important that they understand how to approach the filing process with confidence and avoid the mistakes veterans make with disability benefits.

As veterans try to get the full extent of their earned benefits as quickly as possible, there are a few key mistakes to avoid, and some resources — like Allsup Veterans Disability Appeal Services (opens in new tab) — can make a world of difference.

Mistake #1: Waiting Too Long to File

When injured during service, a member’s first impulse may be to try to power through it. However, even if they are able to grit their teeth at first, the injury or exposure may worsen with age, especially if left untreated. According to Allsup’s VA Disability Benefits Survey (opens in new tab), the second largest group of veterans to file for benefits (29%) submit claims 10 or more years after separating. But the VA approval process doesn’t happen overnight. On average, it takes the VA 127 days (opens in new tab) to process a disability claim, and this timeline can quickly expand when complications and appeals are added to the equation.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/xrd7fjmf8g1657008683.png

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Filing claims now ensures that veterans have ready access to all services and benefits before their condition becomes severe.

Mistake #2: Having an Incomplete Diagnosis or Treatment History

Although veterans themselves know their health history and conditions, if they haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor, their medical records may be unclear or incomplete. In addition, if a veteran has seen civilian doctors for treatment, the medical history that the VA needs to make an accurate disability rating assessment may be piecemeal.

However, when veterans know their options and have a VA-accredited claims agent to guide them, this issue is easy to resolve. Veterans can either upload their records through the eBenefits system (opens in new tab) or rely on the VA’s “duty to assist (opens in new tab),” whereby the VA tracks down missing or incomplete medical records from civilian providers.

Mistake #3: Failing to Show a Clear Connection

Lacking a clear connection between the health condition and a service-related injury or exposure is a common problem. In order to receive adequate benefits, veterans need a complete account of the circumstances around their injury or exposure. For instance, an individual with cancer who files an exposure claim must provide a clear explanation of the what, where, how and why that links the incident to their condition.

This link is even more crucial after the landmark PACT Act (opens in new tab), which accepts more service-connected illness claims, such as respiratory illnesses, cancer and radiation-related illness for veterans who were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange or other toxic substances. Being able to outline this connection is not only important for initial filing, but consistent, specific claims strengthen a veteran’s case if they must appeal.

Mistake #4: Neglecting to File for Priority Review for Appeals

The VA offers an expedited appeals review process for veterans in need to help them receive their earned benefits faster. Veterans who are over the age of 75 automatically have their appeals submitted for Advanced on Docket status (opens in new tab), but veterans can request priority review if they suffer from a serious illness, are in financial distress or have other sufficient cause for an expeditious appeal review. Moving their appeal to the front of the line is a simple process that can help get veterans their benefits quickly.

Mistake #5: Not Claiming Unemployability as a Result of the Disability

If a veteran’s service-connected disability impairs their ability to work, they may qualify for Individual Unemployability (IU) (opens in new tab), which makes them eligible for additional compensation and insurance on top of their VA disability benefits. However, our survey shows that almost half of veterans don’t understand their disability benefits and therefore miss out on the resources they deserve.

IU recognizes that even without a 100% disability rating, veterans may suffer from chronic symptoms that severely impact their employability. Veterans can file this claim without affecting their standing VA disability benefits, and it may give them a more substantial support system than they would otherwise receive.

By avoiding these mistakes, veterans can manage their health with their service-earned benefits. For active-duty military members, a basic understanding of VA disability benefits now may help ensure that they are better equipped to navigate the process if they ever need to apply.

Thousands of service members receive VA benefits for service-connected health conditions. Looking to veterans who have gone through the process before and Allsup’s knowledgeable VA-accredited claims agents for guidance can help veterans access their rightful benefits with ease.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC (opens in new tab) or with FINRA (opens in new tab).

Brett Buchanan
VA-Accredited Claims Agent, Allsup

Brett Buchanan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is a VA-accredited claims agent at Allsup (opens in new tab) and guides veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability appeals process.