Before you leave active duty, or separate, you may be able to apply for VA benefits during your service. If you’ve suffered any illnesses or injuries during your service, or noticed that they’ve become worse while serving, you may be able to receive disability benefits after separation.
It’s a good idea to document your condition and understand your options now, before you separate, so that you can get your disability benefits sooner.
In this blog, attorney Michael Hartup discusses what service members can do to receive benefits after separation. If you need assistance understanding your disability benefits options, The Law Offices of Michael Hartup can help. Call our Jackson, Tennessee office at 731-424-5559 or fill out an online form to get started.
Don’t Wait to Get Treated
One of the most important parts of a veterans disability benefits application is medical documentation and information. In your application, you must have a diagnosed disability as well as medical records and evidence to confirm and support your condition.
If you lack a diagnosis or evidence, your application may be denied. In fact, incomplete or inadequate medical documentation is one of the most common reasons for denied veterans disability claims.
Don’t wait to seek treatment if you become ill or injured during your service. Not only is it important to take care of your health, but seeking medical attention during your service will also provide you with official medical records and documentation of your visit.
As this U.S. Army article explains, medical documentation is an essential component to a soldier’s disability case, and the best time to obtain this documentation is while still on active duty. Retroactively attempting to get documentation can be challenging and can slow down the benefits process.
Use the Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program
Under the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program, or BDD, you can file a claim for disability benefits 180 to 90 days before you leave the military. This program allows the VA to review your records, evaluate your application, and schedule necessary exams to make a decision. It can also help you get your benefits sooner and speed up the claim decision process.
Eligibility for the BDD program
The VA states that you must meet all of the following requirements to be eligible for the BDD program:
- You’re a service member on full-time active duty (including a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Coast Guard), and
- You have a known separation date, and
- Your separation date is in the next 180 to 90 days.
If your separation date is less than 90 days away, you can’t file a BDD claim. However, you can begin the process of filing a standard VA claim for disability compensation.
You also may not be able to use the BDD program if your claim requires special handling, even if you have more than 90 days left of service and you’re on full-time active duty.
Examples of reasons you cannot use the BDD program include:
- You are waiting to be discharged while being treated at a VA hospital or other military treatment facility
- You are terminally ill
- You have suffered the loss of a body part
- You are pregnant
The VA’s full list of reasons can be found here.
How to file for VA benefits
To file for benefits through the BDD program, you can submit your application online through the VA disability claim portal. You may also file it by mail or in person. If you’re stationed overseas, you can file a claim at a local BDD office.
To complete the claim process through the BDD program, you’ll need to:
- Provide service treatment records along with your application, and
- Be available for 45 days from the date your claim is submitted for a VA medical exam, and
- Finish all phases of the VA/DoD medical separation examination process before your release from the military.
You should also include the following information and documentation in your claim to speed along the process:
- Any records of your injuries, illnesses, or events that contributed to or worsened your disability
- A copy of your service treatment records from the current period of service
- Dental records and mental health records, if applicable
- Birth certificate and birth certificates for spouse and dependents, if applicable
- Marriage certificate and/or divorce decrees for self and spouse, if applicable
- Direct deposit information
- DD Form 214 Member-4 or Service-2 Copy, for all periods of service
- Buddy statements, if applicable
Remember that the BDD program is time-sensitive. It’s designed to help the VA process your application faster, and to help you receive benefits more quickly. You must submit your claim 180 to 90 days prior to your release from active duty.
When using the BDD program, most claimants receive their decision the day after leaving active duty. Considering the fact that the VA disability claims backlog is a persistent problem for the VA— fluctuating between tens of thousands of cases to millions —it’s in your best interest to file your claim through the BDD program while you still can.
How a Disability Lawyer Can Help You Receive VA Benefits
You don’t legally need to have a disability lawyer file for disability benefits on your behalf. However, having an experienced attorney at your disposal has its advantages. A lawyer can help you understand the claims process, your options and what will happen after your separation.
In the event that you have to file a standard VA claim for benefits after separation, or appeal a denied claim, a disability lawyer can work with you on your application and/or successfully appeal your case.
The Law Offices of Michael Hartup is proud to serve veterans and their families in the greater Jackson, Tennessee, area. For more information or to arrange a free consultation, call our office at 731-424-5559. You can also fill out an online form to get started and like our Facebook page for more disability resources.