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VA Benefits for Disabilities Appearing Within a Year After Discharge

VA disability compensation

When you prepare to retire or separate from military service, you are given a checklist of things to accomplish ahead of your final out-processing appointments. One of those is starting the claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs for any service-connected medical issues for which you might be entitled to VA compensation.

But some experience medical issues after retiring or separating from the military; they may develop symptoms after returning to civilian life and many wonder if they have any options to apply for VA compensation for those issues, too.

And in some cases, the answer to that question may be “yes”. If you have signs of an illness within a year of leaving uniformed service you may be able to apply for compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Who Qualifies for VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans may qualify for added consideration for VA disability benefits, ‘if you have an illness that’s at least 10% disabling’ appearing within one year of retirement or separation. You must not have a Dishonorable discharge, and the medical issue must be on the VA list of “Diseases Subject to Presumptive Service Connection”.

What Is Presumptive Service Connection?

A presumptive service connection is what the VA uses to determine your eligibility for VA disability pay in certain cases. “Presumptive” basically means that the VA assumes certain medical issues are directly related to military service. Qualifying medical issues may include but are definitely not limited to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Peptic ulcers

If you have such issues within a year of leaving the military, the VA will assume they are service-related even if you did not have symptoms while serving.

The VA maintains a long list of such conditions, one too long to reproduce here. If you wonder if you may qualify, don’t assume you won’t have your claim approved–let the Department of Veterans Affairs make the determination instead.

Benefits Available

If your claim is approved by the VA, you may qualify for VA health care as well as VA disability compensation.

How to File a Claim

You must file a formal claim for VA disability compensation and you’ll need to submit supporting documentation, medical records, and any other evidence you can provide to support your application. Your supporting evidence must include how disabling the condition is (it must be at least 10%) and it must have appeared one year after discharge or sooner.

When filing your claim, you will need to submit your proof of military discharge (DD Form 214 or its equivalent) plus you will need to give permission to the VA to review your medical records.

The VA official site reminds us that for those who do have a qualifying medical condition on the VA Presumptive Conditions list (as found in Title 38, Code of Federal Regulation, 3.309(a)) you will not need to prove that the problem started during and/or was aggravated because of military service.

According to the VA, “This is because we believe that certain diseases that appear within one year of your discharge are related to your service.”

Exceptions to the One-Year Rule

Some medical issues are covered regardless of whether they appear within a year of discharge or not, but some exceptions do still have time limits:

  • Hansen’s disease, which is an infection that affects your skin, nerves, and mucous membranes, may appear within 3 years after discharge.
  • Tuberculosis may appear within 3 years after discharge.
  • Multiple sclerosis, which is a long-lasting illness that can cause numbness, weakness, and other issues, may appear within 7 years after discharge.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease which is a condition affecting muscle control, may appear any time after discharge.

What to Know About Applying for VA Compensation

For ANY claim, you should be prepared to submit a package to the Department of Veterans Affairs that includes your military medical records, any civilian medical records that might apply, plus letters from out-of-network or civilian medical providers that can help support your claim. You can also submit “buddy letters” from people you know who can attest to how your medical issues have affected your ability to work, enjoy life, pursue hobbies, travel, etc.

It is a good idea to take plenty of time preparing your application; don’t omit crucial data or paperwork no matter how time-consuming submitting them might be. You will need to provide as much supporting documentation as possible to make a strong case to the VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has the final say in these decisions, but don’t forget that you have the ability to appeal a VA decision; expect to act quickly to do so as you may have a limited window of time to file an appeal.