How to Apply

There are different ways to apply for benefits and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including VA Disability Compensation. The ways you can apply depend on if you are currently on active duty or if you are already discharged.

Note: Claims filed before discharge are usually handled faster than those filed than after discharge.

Applying for VA Disability Compensation Before Military Discharge

If you are a member of the armed forces serving on active duty or fulltime National Guard duty, you can apply for benefits through the VA’s Pre-Discharge Program. As part of the Pre-Discharge Program, the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) rates your fitness for duty. If you are rated medically unfit for duty, the IDES gives you a proposed VA disability rating before you leave the service.

You can start the Pre-Discharge Program by filing for Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD):

The VA offers complete application information for BDD.

All service members on full-time, active duty, including members of the Coast Guard and the National Guard and Reserves, can start the BDD program at military installations nationwide or at the VA's Detroit Regional Benefit Office. If you are on a military installation, contact your local Transition Assistance Office or ACAP Center (Army only) to attend VA benefits briefings and learn how to file your claim.

Two overseas military installations also accept BDD claims: Germany and South Korea. Learn more about the BDD Overseas Intake Sites.

The Pre-Discharge Program lets you apply for VA Disability Compensation and other VA benefits, such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E), education, and home loans. VA Benefits in Brief has short descriptions of VA benefits, contact phone numbers, and locations.

Learn more about the Pre-Discharge Program.

Visit the VA Returning Service Members (OEF/OIF website for more information, like resources for family members and outreach activities for veterans.

Applying for VA Disability Compensation After Military Discharge

If you have already left military service, there are several ways to apply for VA disability benefits. You can:

Learn about evidence requirements so you know exactly what you need. Turn in copies, not your original documents, evidence, or records, and make sure to keep your own copy of everything you submit. If you mail anything to the VA, pay extra to get a tracking number and a record of when it was delivered.

If you have the following documents, attach copies of them to your application:

  • Discharge or separation papers (DD-214 or equivalent)
  • Dependency records (marriage/divorce and children's birth certificates)
  • Military and civilian medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports)
Two options: The standard claims process and the Fully Developed Claims program

You can file your claim for VA compensation disability through the standard claims process, or use the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program.

With a standard claim: The VA must get needed records from any federal agency that you clearly identify, and make every effort to get other records from other sources (like a private doctor or hospital, state or local governments, or current or former employers) if you clearly and correctly name the source and give the VA written permission to get those records. If it’s needed to make a decision on your claim, the VA gives you a medical examination or get a medical opinion, at no cost to you.

With Fully Developed Claims: Veterans and survivors get faster decisions from the VA on Disability Compensation, VA Pension, and survivor benefit claims. With an FDC, when you file your claim you must include all relevant records that you have, plus any that are easy to get, like private medical records. You must also certify that you have no more evidence to submit. To make sure your Fully Developed Claim is right the first time, follow this checklist.

An FDC gives you more control, the process is usually faster than a standard claim, and it’s risk-free: If the VA decides it needs more records to process your claim, it takes your claim out of the FDC program and handle it as a standard claim.

Learn more about Fully Developed Claims.

Getting Help with Your Application and Claim

Applying for VA benefits can be hard: You need to know about the benefits the VA offers; understand the laws, regulations, and policies that govern them; and know what evidence you need to send in with your application. Even if the VA approves your application, you still need to figure out if the VA has granted you everything you should be getting. This article is not a substitute for getting qualified and trained help.

Many veterans have successfully applied for and gotten the benefits they claimed on their own. To do this, they spent time learning everything about how the VA works. If you have the time and education needed to understand the VA, this is an option.

However, if you find the VA’s rules and programs confusing, you can get help from:

  • Accredited Service Officers, employees of a recognized veterans service organization or a state or county department of veterans affairs who have been trained and are accredited and authorized by the VA to represent claimants (people applying for veterans benefits). Service officers do not charge for their services.
  • Accredited Claims Agents, non-attorneys who have been authorized by the VA to represent claimants. Claims agents may charge you a fee for some services.
  • Accredited Attorneys, attorneys authorized by the VA to represent you. They typically charge fees.

You can search the VA website for accredited representatives, claims agents, and attorneys.

No matter who helps you or represents you, make sure it’s a person you trust who knows what they’re doing. Ask other veterans in your area if they know good accredited service officers, claims agents, or attorneys. Do not settle for a substandard representative. If you get a representative you are not happy with, you can change your representative at any time.