The Claims Process

What the VA Does After It Gets Your Claim

There are eight steps for most claims for benefits from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The time each step takes depends on how complex your claim is, how much evidence is needed, and the type of evidence. Providing as much evidence as possible with your claim can affect how long it takes.

The eight steps are:

  1. Claim Received: If you apply online, you get an online receipt within an hour; if you apply by U.S. mail, it takes standard mailing time plus one week for the VA to process and record your claim.
  2. Under Review: Your claim is assigned to a VA representative who looks at it and decides if more evidence is needed. (If no more evidence is needed, your claim moves to Step 5, Preparation for Decision.)
  3. Gathering Evidence: For a standard claim, the VA representative asks for evidence — from you, a medical professional, a government agency, or another source. For the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) process, you give the VA all the relevant records that you have when you file your claim, and then certify that you have no more evidence to give them. Learn more about VA evidence requirements.
  4. Review of Evidence: The VA representative looks at all the evidence; if more evidence is needed, your claim goes back to Step 3, and if no more evidence is needed, your claim moves to Step 5.
  5. Preparation for Decision: The VA representative makes a decision on your claim, and creates documents explaining that decision. (While creating the documents, the representative may decide even more evidence is needed, and your claim moves back to Step 3.)
  6. Pending Decision Approval: The VA representative’s decision is reviewed, and a final award approval is made. (During the approval process, it might be decided that more evidence is needed, and your claim moves back to Step 3.)
  7. Preparation for Notification: You entire claim decision packet is prepared for mailing.
  8. Complete: The VA sends you a decision packet by U.S. Mail (allow for standard delivery times). The packet includes all the details of the decision or award.

You can track the status of your claim using eBenefits.

VA Medical Exams During the Claims Process

As part of the evidence gathering process, the VA representative may order a medical exam, which is done at no cost to you. This exam is called a VA claim exam or a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam.

Not everyone who files a claim goes to a VA claim exam. Or, if you are asking for benefits based on more than one disability, you might go to more than one claim exam.

The VA claim exam is different from a regular medical appointment because the person doing the exam won’t prescribe any medicine or treat you for your disability. The goal of this exam is to help the VA decide if your disability is service connected, the level of your disability, or if your disability rating should go up because your condition is getting worse.

Each exam is different. The person doing the exam may ask you questions, observe your behavior, do a limited physical exam, or simply review your file with you. The exam could be short or last an hour or more; a mental-health evaluation typically lasts two to four hours.

The VA has a Compensation & Pension exam overview, including:

Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs)

To speed up the claims process, the VA has Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) that help with evidence gathering. These downloadable forms make it easier to document medical conditions. They make sure the VA has exactly the information needed to process your claim.

You can choose to visit a primary care provider in your community to complete your DBQ at your own expense, or you can go to a VA facility for free.

There are more than 70 DBQs for different conditions. The VA has charts of DBQs by medical conditions and symptoms or DBQs by form name; as well as a list of frequently asked questions about DBQs.

Appealing a Denied Claim

If the VA denies your claim, you don’t agree with them, and you think they made a mistake, you can appeal their decision. An appeal can have many levels, up to and including the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and even the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are different types and levels of appeals, with different deadlines. The rules are complicated and if you appeal, you must get help right away from an accredited service officer, accredited claims agent, or an accredited attorney to make sure you do your appeal right. If you don’t, you might not be able to appeal and you may lose out on benefits that should be yours.

During the appeal process, your representative plays a key role. You can search for accredited veterans service organization representatives, agents, or attorneys on the VA website.

And you might be able to get a free attorney through the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, a nonprofit veterans organization.

Learn more about the appeals process.