How to File for a VA Disability Increase
Opportunities for Increased VA Disability Pay
When you retire or separate from military service and have an illness or injury you believe was caused or aggravated by military service, you may be entitled to VA compensation for those medical issues. A VA claims briefing is a typical part of final out-processing appointments and and is meant to help start or file claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs for service-connected medical issues.
Depending on circumstances, the initial application for compensation might require a follow claim, especially if the condition is getting worse.
You may also need to file an additional claim if other medical issues arise in conjunction with the initial problem. Some veterans find they must apply for an increase in their disability rating and/or compensation from the VA, and there’s a specific process for that.
What does it mean to ask the VA to consider increasing your disability benefits and what forms do you need to do so? We explore the details below. One important issue to remember? This article is not meant to help you initiate a brand new claim for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. This article is for those who have already filed and are now interested in asking the VA to review their claim for an increase in compensation.
How to File For Increased VA Disability Compensation or a Higher Percentage
If you use the search tool on the VA official site, you’ll find a page at VA.gov in the search results under “File for increased disability compensation,” and using this page and its associated form is “Equal to VA Form 21-526EZ (Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits).”
The process begins once you sign into your VA.gov account and start the application process. Your application form may be partially pre-filled with your account information, and once you begin filling out VA Form 21-526EZ, you have a full year to complete the process.
VA.gov urges veterans to sign in before filling out any application paperwork; those who start the form without signing in cannot save their work.
Preparing Your VA Claim
When you are filling out VA Form 21-526EZ to claim increased disability pay, you must provide supporting documentation and evidence along with your claim. Simply asking the VA to pay more is not likely to work; you should plan to submit medical records from both military and civilian care providers where applicable, etc.
You need documentation that shows your service-related medical issues have gotten worse, and that can include letters from family and friends attesting to the worsening condition. In cases where you need to claim a dependent or apply for Aid and Attendance benefits, you may need to submit additional paperwork for each program you apply for.
Processing Your Claim
What to know when you submit a medical claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Once you complete your application and submit it to the VA for review, it may take several weeks or even months to process. Don’t expect the system to work for you overnight.
- If you claim a new medical issue, you may be assigned a VA rating for that condition if warranted.
- If you have already gotten a VA rating for a condition, if the VA finds an increase in compensation is warranted, you may find your condition has been given a higher disability percentage, typically resulting in a higher payment.
- When you submit an initial claim or a request for an increase in your VA disability percentage, the Department of Veterans Affairs sends your application to a claims reviewer who will examine the medical data and other evidence you have submitted. The VA maintains a large list of medical conditions it may provide compensation for, under what conditions those issues may be compensated, and a rating system for the severity of the condition(s).
Some medical conditions have a maximum VA rating. Tinnitus, for example, has traditionally been capped at 10%. Under the rules capping tinnitus at 10% you cannot receive a higher VA disability rating for that condition.
Making these determinations often requires the VA to request you undergo a medical exam. Skipping the exam means the VA won’t rate you for that condition, so attending all VA-scheduled appointments is crucial when filing a claim.
Here is a rough outline of the steps in the process for your request for increased VA compensation:
- Apply for the increase: This is the stage where you fill out the forms as mentioned above. There is a reason why your application remains open for as long as one year before you must submit it–gathering the forms and submitting them can take time. Try to gather as much of your supporting evidence ahead of time as possible.
- Submit and wait for VA review: The Department of Veterans Affairs processes applications on a first-come, first-served basis. The time to process your claim may depend in part on how complex it is. The VA may need to do its own evidence-gathering as part of this process.
- The VA makes a decision: Once the VA has processed your claim, it will decide and notify you by mail.
In some cases, the VA may decide in your favor. In others, they may decide not to approve an increase. If you disagree with the decision of the VA you have the right to appeal that decision using one of three review options:
- VA Supplemental Claim
- Higher-Level Review
- VA Board Appeal
These options are available if your VA decision was received on or after February 19 2019
When you log in and begin the application process, the Department of Veterans Affairs considers this a declaration of intent–your “intent to file” date is the same date you begin the application.
The VA uses this date to determine when you could begin getting paid should your request be approved. If you need assistance completing this process, you can contact VA Benefits and Services at 800-827-1000 or via TTY at 711.
Get Help Filing Or Appealing A VA Decision
You do not have to navigate the VA claims process alone.
Did you know you can get help filing a claim or appealing a VA decision on your claim? Veteran Service Organizations and Veteran Service Officers can help. The VA official site describes Veteran Service Officers as those trained to work specifically on behalf of veterans filing claims with the VA.
These services are typically free; the VA official site says, “In general, no individual or organization may charge you a fee to help you file your initial application for benefits” but you may be charged for “unusual expenses”.
VA rules state you may only be charged for such services “only after we’ve made a decision about your original claim”. Be sure to ask ahead of time what potential costs you may incur when using the services of a VSO. The VA has a list of VSOs you can explore using its online search tool.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.