Getting Benefits and Services

How to Apply (File a Claim)

You can submit your claim for VA Pension benefits through the traditional claims process, or use the new Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program.

With the traditional claims process, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for getting relevant records from any federal agency that you adequately identify. The VA will also make every reasonable effort to get relevant records from other sources (like a private doctor or hospital, state or local governments, or current or former employers), if you clearly identify the source and you authorize the VA to get those records. The VA will provide a medical examination for you or get a medical opinion (at no cost to you) if they need it to make a decision on your claim.

Fully Developed Claims (FDC) is an optional program that gives veterans and survivors faster decisions from the VA on pension, compensation, and survivor benefits claims. You submit all the relevant records that you have, plus any records that are easy to get, like private medical records, at the time that you make your claim.

You must certify that you have no more evidence to submit, and then the VA makes a decision on your application without asking for more information. An FDC gives you more control, the process is typically faster than a standard claim, and it’s risk-free: If the VA decides it needs more nonfederal records to process your claim, the VA will simply remove your claim from the FDC program and process it as a standard claim.

Learn more about the Fully Developed Claims program.

Whichever you file, a traditional claim or an FDC, the VA lists the information you will need to apply and explains the application process.

Don’t wait to apply

The longer you wait to apply, the later your effective date of your claim (the date when your claim starts). A later effective date of claim could mean you miss out on benefits that are due to you. You don’t have to submit every bit of information when you first apply; you can always do that later. An accredited claims agent or service officer can help you decide what’s important to submit.

It’s easy to apply online.

Getting Help with VA Benefits

Applying for VA benefits can be difficult: 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 help from a qualified and trained service officer, claims agent, or attorney.

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

However, if you find the VA’s rules and programs confusing, you should consider a few other options:

  • Accredited Service Officers are 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 are non-attorneys who have been authorized by the VA to represent claimants. Claims agents may charge you a fee for some services.
  • Accredited Attorneys are 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 of 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.