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VA Disability Back Pay: Do You Qualify And How Does It Work?

Legally reviewed by Brendan Garcia , Owner and Lead Attorney

If you sustained a military-related injury or sickness, the Department of Veterans Affairs may approve you for disability pay and other benefits. The process takes time, but you may also qualify for back pay after they approve your claim. The VA calculates VA disability back pay based on your disability effective date, not on your application or approval date. You may also receive back pay if the VA approves your previously denied claim after a review or an appeal.

Veteran’s disability payments are tax-free and follow statutory guidelines established under Title 38 Chapter 1, Part 4 of the U.S. Federal Code. Disability pay isn’t an automatic entitlement. You must navigate the VA claim process and wait for a decision. If you are currently on active duty, you may submit a Pre-Discharge Claim which should speed up the process. Otherwise, you must follow VA’s submission procedure for Standard claims.

The VA’s Disability Claim Process

The VA’s disability claims process is similar to an insurance claim investigation. It’s a comprehensive procedure; so it usually takes time to accomplish. You initiate the process by submitting an application. You may file your application online or visit a local VA office. You may also download VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, and mail it in.

After you submit your claim, you must wait for VA to work through these steps:

  • Receive your claim
  • Perform an initial review
  • Request evidence
  • Decide your eligibility and disability rating

When the VA receives the information they need, they conduct a final review, decide your eligibility, and send you a notification packet. If you qualify for benefits, they also assign a disability effective date.

Determining Your Disability Effective Date

Your disability effective date establishes your entitlement to VA disability back pay. It considers these factors:

  • The date you initiated your claim
  • The date of your “entitlement” (when you first became ill or injured)

Of course, it’s not exactly that simple. Other factors can change your effective date:

  • Does your injury have a presumptive service connection?
  • Is it a reopened claim?
  • Did the VA commit an error in making the original decision?

The VA Disability Compensation Effective Dates page has additional information.

Backlogs Will Affect Claim Processing Times

When you submit a claim, your application becomes one of the hundreds of thousands of veteran’s applications waiting for a disability or pension determination. As of September 2020, the VA estimates that it takes an average of 131.5 days to complete its multi-step review and approval process. This backlog affects your claim’s progress because it means that your claim is simply on hold for one reason or another.

The VA is transparent about its backlog numbers. Their Reports Page provides detailed claim data and Workload Reports each Monday morning. Here are the backlog statistics as of October 3, 2020:

  • Claim Inventory: 475,290 pending claims requiring rating, development, or a decision
  • Claim Backlog: 230,837 cases pending 125 days or longer that require rating decisions

Do I Qualify for Military Disability Pay?

The timing of each disability benefits claim depends on the type of claim filed, the injury complexity, and the amount of time it takes to collect the necessary evidence to make a decision. Throughout the process, you must follow their step-by-step instructions, and comply with each request.

Determine Your Eligibility

Before you submit your disability claim application, the VA recommends that you take a few minutes to determine if you are eligible. To qualify for disability pay, you must currently have an illness or injury that affects your body or mind. You must also have:

  • Served on active duty, active duty training, or inactive duty training, and
  • Have a disability rating for your service-related condition

Your claim must also fall within one of these circumstances:

  • An Inservice Disability Claim: You can connect your current condition to a time when you became sick or injured while in the military, or
  • A Preservice Disability Claim: You had an illness or injury when you entered the military and service made it worse, or
  • A Postservice Disability Claim: Your disability relates to your service but it didn’t appear until after you separated from the military.

Presumed disabilities

You may also qualify for disability payments if you have a presumed disability. These include:

Your Disability Rating

The VA uses your disability rating to determine your payment amount. They calculate your rating by reviewing your medical records and determining your injury severity. They may also talk to relevant military personnel and interview you. If you have two or more disability ratings, they determine a combined rating. The VA stresses that establishing a combined rating is more complicated than simply adding your separate ratings together.

Submitting A Fully Developed Claim

When you submit a Fully Developed Disability claim, it reduces VA processing time. You must mail in your VA Form 21-526EZ with all the available evidence and supporting documents. To use this process you must certify that:

  • The VA needs no additional records to review your claim, and
  • You will submit to a medical exam if necessary.

The VA notifies you if they need any additional information to process your fully developed claim.

Contact a Veteran’s Benefits Attorney

You may be entitled to receive VA disability pay and back pay, but the application process is complex and sometimes the regulations change. A VA benefits attorney can assist you at any stage along the way. Attorneys help you prepare and submit your initial application for benefits. They review your medical records and documentation before submission, and they help you comply with VA evidence requests. If the VA previously denied your disability claim, your attorney can help you resubmit your claim for an appeal or a decision review.

Contact us right away for a free case review.