Injured Active-Duty Service Members Shouldn’t Wait to File VA Claims
If you were injured during service, you don’t have to wait to get out of the military to file a disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Service members who are separating and plan to file for disability compensation can file their claim before separation through the VA’s Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program – and the Benefits Services team at Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) can help.
The BDD program allows service members to apply for VA disability compensation benefits between 180 to 90 days prior to separation. This timeframe allows VA to review service treatment records, schedule needed exams, and evaluate the claim before separation.
“It’s really important for service members to own their benefits journey at the soonest possible time to be able to positively impact their future health care,” said Michael Snook, WWP senior national service officer. “Before you're even a veteran, you can start getting the benefits that you've earned.”
Biggest Benefits of BDD
There are a lot of advantages to filing a BDD claim, one of which is that it speeds up the process. BDD claims can be completed within one to three months post-discharge/retirement, versus regular claims that can take six to 12 months after discharge, if not longer in some instances.
One of the things veterans often struggle with when transitioning to civilian life is the loss of income after they leave the service. Getting an early start on VA claims can help service members plan ahead for their future after the military.
Through BDD, service members may get a proposed rating decision before leaving the military, providing them a window into their eventual VA disability compensation and how much. It also means they’ll begin receiving compensation sooner.
“Before they even transition out and potentially lose that military paycheck, BDD provides a softer landing because now you're only looking at up to a few months post-discharge before you start getting paid VA benefits,” Snook said. “That’s the biggest gain of taking part in BDD.”
Another benefit is the opportunity to establish a service connection early on. VA benefits are dependent on connecting an injury or illness to military service. Service members should keep track of medical records and document any injuries or illnesses.
“Even if you've never complained about something before, simply doing the BDD claim while you're on active duty is considered complaining about it on active duty,” Snook said.
If a claim is approved, VA will assign a percentage rating between 0 and 100, determining how much compensation a veteran receives. You’ve at least established a service connection even if you get a 0% or even a 10% rating. That could help when it comes to getting a VA home loan, employment preferences, and possibly ancillary VA benefits. If the condition worsens over time, a service connection has already been established and veterans can file for an increase.
“It helps you to establish a baseline while you're still on active duty, and then you can work with VA-accredited national service officers in the future if things get worse or if other things manifest down the road,” Snook said.
When to File and What to Expect After
It is important to remember a BDD claim needs to be filed 180 to 90 days prior to the actual separation date.
“If you miss that window, then it will be viewed as just a regular pre-discharge claim, but VA won't start anything until you get your DD214, so it's not any different than just waiting until you get out,” Snook said.
VA will also set up compensation and pension (C&P) exams with contracted companies that service members must attend within 45 days from the claim’s submission date. Service members must make themselves available for those exams. If they miss an exam, it will delay the process.
“It’s also good to keep in mind if you’re taking terminal leave shortly after filing for BDD, put the address of where you’re going to be rather than where you’re stationed so that scheduled exams will be in closer proximity to your location,” Snook said.
Another thing to keep in mind when filing a BDD claim is that VA will require a Separation Health Assessment (SHA) self-assessment that all transitioning service members need to fill out. It’s in-depth and several pages long, but a requirement to even be considered for the BDD program. It can be downloaded from the VA’s website.
The WWP Benefits Services team can help lead service members through the steps to find, print, and fill out the form so that it can be submitted with their claims packet.
“The goal is to have it all done before they even get out, so all they have to do is turn in their DD214, and VA can authorize their benefits,” Snook said.
BDD Claim Exclusions
There are reasons an active-duty service member is ineligible to file BDD claims. These include:
- Service members who do not meet eligibility requirements (i.e., separation date window, SHA, ability to attend exams).
- Service members who are seriously ill or injured, have lost a body part, or are terminally ill.
- Service members who require a VA exam in a foreign country (some exceptions in Germany and Korea).
- Service members awaiting discharge while hospitalized.
- Service members who require a character of discharge determination.
- It’s never too early to prepare for your transition. Start seeing a doctor now and get your disabilities documented, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
- Only work with a VA-accredited national service officer and never pay for services as part of the BDD process.
- Don’t miss examinations after they are scheduled. Ensure your command is willing to allow you to attend any and all examinations required under the VA’s BDD program.
- Do not attempt to use this program if you’re going through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) as part of the medical retirement process. You can’t do both.
Get Help Through the Process
When it comes to filing for VA benefits, whether on active duty, recently discharged, well into civilian life, or retired, WWP can help.
The WWP Benefits Services team is comprised of VA-accredited national service officers who can assist in filing initial claims, increased compensation claims, appeals, and more. They can also explain the claims process and monitor developments along the way.
By planning ahead and asking for help when needed, navigating the VA benefits process doesn’t have to be such a daunting task.
“You're making life easier for yourself, and you're making life easier for the people who are there to help you,” Snook said.
Find out more about WWP’s Benefits Services.
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.