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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

So, you want to make a claim to the VA for PTSD or some other service-connected disability, but you don’t where to start.  Well, you can call the VA and get going that way, or you can head to the VA’s website and begin your research there.  What you’re going to find is that you need to start with VA Form 21-526, which is the basic paperwork that you submit to the VA. 

A couple of things are very important when you fill out this document.  One, you need to read the instructions very carefully, because certain areas of the form will have nothing to do with your situation so you can skip those.  The lines that do pertain to you are extremely important and you must fill in those blanks with information.  If you don’t, for whatever reason, the form will be sent back to you for correcting which takes valuable time from the successful outcome of your claim.  So, don’t skip a line on the form because you don’t think it’s the VA’s business!  Just bite the bullet and go for it and do it right the first time.

At Southern Utah Vets Aid here in Saint George, Utah we help veterans fill out Form 21-526.  We do this for nothing in return.  The reason for that is we are a volunteer group whose sole purpose in life is to help veterans.  Period.  So, if you want more information about Form 21-526 or if you’ve downloaded this form or procured it from a VA office, or whatever, call us here and we’ll meet to get the form filled out and submitted.  Our phone number is 435-215-3090, and again we’re in St. George, Utah.

When you mail the form with all the documents asked for (like your DD-214, etc., etc.) make note of the date of application.  Keep a copy of your application and all assorted ‘evidence documents’ in a file.  The application date is of utmost importance, because if your claim is successful and compensation for you is ordered by the VA, your first check will include “back-pay” from the date of your initial application, not the date the VA agrees to pay you.  If there is a dispute over that date you will have your records to show when you applied.

You will note in Form 21-526 that the VA asks for your financial state of affairs.  This is a part where a lot of veterans toss in the trash the application and forget about it, simply because they feel the VA doesn’t need to know about their finances.  Well, our experience here at Southern Utah Vets Aid has been that the VA does hold this information in secrecy and that you do not need to be concerned that it will get out onto some public venue.  So, go ahead and be truthful when filling out the form.  It’s for your own good and it won’t be held against you.  In other words, if you have, say, a ligit claim for PTSD that warrants compensation to the tune of $1,000/month, it isn’t going to matter that you are already a millionaire or even a billionaire.  The VA will pay your comp.

Filling out Form 21-526 takes a good half hour if you take your time and do it right.  It might also take you ten minutes to read the instructions on how to fill it out (if you decide to do it yourself).  Our advice is, take the time to read the instructions!  This cannot be stressed enough.  When you are satisfied with your claim be sure to make a copy of everything for yourself and then send the originals in to the VA to the address they give.  The Veterans Administration is divided into Regions, and your claim needs to get to the right one.  Use a large manilla envelope and stamp the packet with enough postage on it to get it your Regional VA office.  Then, sit back and relax, because it may be awhile before you hear back from the VA.

Your waiting period depends on a couple of factors:  How inundated your Regional office is with claims; who the case worker is (you have no control over this); your age (veterans 65 YOA and older have priority in most Regions); and the severity of your disability.  A reasonable wait time to hear back from the VA is 60 days.  If you go past that time and have not gotten a response, call your Regional office and start asking what’s going on with your claim.  Again, if you have trouble with the VA’s response time you can call us at SUVA and we’ll make some suggestions.

When you do hear back you will have some decisions to make regarding the VA’s recommendations.  Any number of scenarios are possible, but most certainly they will want you to see their professionals to confirm your claim for disability.  So, if it’s a PTSD claim for instance, the VA will set up an appointment with a mental health professional for an initial evaluation.  You’ll be directed to the appropriate pro with whatever malady you are claiming.  Make sure you keep this appointment!  If you miss it you stand the chance of having your claim stop right then and there.  You can re apply, but your application date will change to the new date of application and you will miss out on that “back pay” check mentioned earlier in this piece.

After that initial review by the doctor the VA will make a determination as to the severity of your claim and then they’ll assign a compensible ‘rating’ to your case.  Typically, the rating will be low the first time but don’t panic.  You’re going to Appeal their decision if you feel you deserve better.  That’s another really great time to call us at Southern Utah Vets Aid, because we have the expertise to fight the VA and get a better rating for you.  But, let’s cross that bridge when you get to it. 

A very common scenario goes like this:  You file Form VA 21-526 on (let’s say for the sake of ease) January 1st.  You will hear back from the VA one way or the other (meaning they need more information that you left off the Form, or they are setting an appointment for you with the appropriate doctor) by March 1.  You keep your appointment and the doctor submits his or her findings to the VA on your behalf by March 15.  The VA assigns a case worker who gets to your problem by April 1.  A letter is mailed out to you from the VA with their decision (“offer”) by July 1st.  And, this last date could stretch out another few months so don’t be surprised.  Call us if you’re really getting anxious about why you haven’t heard from the VA in awhile.

There you go.  Let’s give you the number for Southern Utah Vets Aid once more — 435-215-3090.  We don’t care what part of the country you live in by the way, as we’ll get you pointed in the right direction no matter what.

Thank you, and good luck on your claim!

 

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