What Happens After Your VA Disability Claim Has Been Approved

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The Veterans Administration approved my “fully developed” disability claim– in less than three months of processing.

This post stands by itself, but I’m going to skip the beginning of the story. If you want to read the earlier posts in this series then you can click on these links to learn why you should file your VA disability claim, then what happens when you file your claim, and finally what the VA really does with your claim.

I’ve been retired since 2002, but I didn’t appreciate that I had service-connected injuries documented in my medical record. After I retired I knew enough to register with our local VA medical center, because that’s one way they get their fair share of funding. I only qualified for the VA’s lowest priority of benefits, and instead, for the last 14 years, I’ve happily used a local civilian clinic for my healthcare.

Those injuries eventually caught up with me, of course, and life administered a few other lessons to convince me to file my claim. By then my years of benefits negligence had turned a relatively straightforward part of the military retirement process into a gnarly research project. I learned that many veterans are reluctant to file a VA disability claim, and that it was time for me to slog through all that reconstruction while I was still capable of doing it.

I was also fortunate enough to find an outstanding Veteran Services Officer on the first try. If you’re on Oahu then I strongly recommend consulting with Mr. Ryan Burgos in the Disabled American Veterans VSO office at Tripler Army Medical Center. He patiently answered all of my ignorant questions and helped me figure out what parts of the process applied to me. After I’d done my homework to gather all the records for a fully-developed claim (so that the VA didn’t have to), he quickly entered the data with the right format and vocabulary. Better yet, he explained how I should prepare for the compensation & pension exams and he tracked the claim’s progress through the VA bureaucracy.

He kept me safe on the claims path so that I didn’t tap-dance through acres of VA minefields. He’s the real reason that the VA was able to recognize the correct answers when they received the evidence, and his advice is why it only took the VA three months to approve the claim.

My VA Disability Rating

The Veterans Administration considers that I’m 30% disabled. But what does that really mean, and what benefits does that entitle me to use?

Image of my credit union's deposit for my VA disability benefits claim | The-Military-Guide.com

NFCU’s deposit notification.

My knees are the worst of my disability ratings. 10% was assigned to each knee for cartilage damage, torn ligaments, and pain (osteoarthritis). To get a higher rating I would’ve needed to have two joints affected in each leg, or “occasional incapacitation”, or “15-19 degrees of extension limitation”. The VA rating system uses a bilateral “bonus” factor which combines the two knee disability ratings to a total of 21% (20.9%). (Military veteran Ryan Guina has an excellent description of the bilateral factor on his blog The Military Wallet.) After reading what it takes to get to a rating of 20%, I’m happy with 10%.

Another 10% disability rating was assigned for tinnitus. There’s no diagnostic exam or bilateral rating for that condition (although it rings differently in each ear!) and 10% is as high as permitted. This disability condition must be extremely common among veterans who’ve been in a hearing-protection environment.

I received no disability rating for hearing loss– yet. Hearing has to degrade greater than 40 db in a frequency, or else the ears can only detect sounds of at least 26 db, or with a speech recognition accuracy of less than 94%. I’m sure my spouse and daughter are thrilled to learn that my hearing loss is only 30-35 db for the higher-pitched frequencies of their voices, and that I’m hearing them with 96% accuracy. I don’t want to experience what it takes to get a disability rating for hearing loss, but I suspect that I’ll update this part of the claim in 5-10 years.

I received no disability rating for my claim of allergic rhinitis. I’m controlling it with an antihistamine and my nose isn’t obstructed enough. Again, nobody wants to be a member of the rhinitis disability club.

Using the VA compensation tables with 21% for both knees and 10% for the tinnitus gives a combined rating of 29%, which is rounded up to… 30%.

My VA Disability Compensation

None of my disability rating is related to combat (or combat training, or an “instrumentality of war”) so I’m not eligible for combat-related special compensation.

That rating is also far below the 50% threshold for concurrent receipt of both my pension and the disability benefits. Under federal law, this means that military retirees have a choice of receiving the full amount of their military pension or having part of the pension offset by VA compensation. A military pension is fully taxable under federal law (and in some states) but VA compensation is tax-free, so I elected to give up part of my pension.

The compensation amount for a veteran with a 30% rating, a spouse, and no dependent children is $455.75/month. Although my spouse is also a military retiree, that does not affect the amount of the compensation. Our daughter is an adult college graduate with her own Navy career so she no longer counts as our dependent.

When I filed my fully-developed claim, I set up my VA eBenefits account. It let me track the status of my VA claim and see what other information the VA still needed. More importantly, I used that site to enter my financial account data for depositing the disability compensation. When the VA completed my claim and established my disability rating, they immediately set up the electronic funds transfer. Less than a week after I received the notification letter from the VA, the Defense Finance & Accounting Service also notified me that my pension would be reduced by that amount.

Happily, the timing worked out. This month I received a deposit of $455.75 from the VA, and DFAS reduced my pension deposit from $3,566 to $3,110.25. My income didn’t change but my taxable income dropped and my income taxes will drop a little.

I submitted my fully-developed VA claim in February 2016 and the first compensation deposit arrived in June. However, the compensation effectively started in February. The VA and DFAS will sort out that accounting between their systems, and next year I’ll receive an IRS Form 1099-R that (hopefully) shows my taxable pension income is roughly $4,891 lower.

The net effect of the monthly $455.75 tax-free compensation and the offset of my pension means that in the 25% income-tax bracket I’m effectively saving $114/month in federal taxes. Hawaii doesn’t tax military pensions so that’s the only financial change.

What I’m Doing with the Compensation

$114/month may not seem like much for all of the effort that goes into preparing and filing a VA claim. However, the monthly compensation is adjusted for inflation (just like a military pension and Social Security). Over the next 30 years of my life that could compound at 5% APY to nearly $100K in today’s dollars, and the inflation adjustment means that in 30 years it’ll have the same buying power.

This is the classic case of “found money”, so every month I’m transferring $114 to a personal brokerage account. I’ll invest it aggressively in small-cap value stocks and international dividend-paying stocks. 5% APY should be a reasonable (yet volatile) compounding target.

Both my father and his father developed dementia later in life.  My Dad has dealt with Alzheimer’s for eight years and my grandfather lived with dementia for nearly two decades. I’m in my 50s, which is the typical age at which people start pricing long-term care insurance policies. In my experience the claims process is horrible and long-term care insurance policies are not financially sustainable. Instead of buying long-term care insurance, this money will supplement our self-insurance fund.

If I ever use another VA home loan, the mortgage’s funding fee will be waived. It took me over a decade to understand that I should file my disability claim, and we refinanced our mortgage several times during those years. I might have missed out on thousands of dollars of cheaper financing.

Correcting the Errors in My VA Disability Award

The eBenefits account also displays my family data. When I filed my claim at the DAV VSO’s office we completed a dependent verification form with my spouse’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number.

To my chagrin, someone mangled my spouse’s information: the eBenefits account showed the wrong birthdate and a missing letter in our last name.

Luckily, her Social Security number is correct so there was still a valid link to the DEERS dependent eligibility database. However, I could easily imagine that an audit (months or even years later) would somehow decide that the database entry was invalid. Not only would that reduce my compensation, but the VA might try to recoup the earlier payments.

Luckily the solution was straightforward: I filled out the VA form to resubmit the information for my spouse. I sent that with a cover letter to the VSO who put it back into the system. A month later the data on eBenefits is still wrong, but the site also shows that the information has been received. I’ll be able to see the update when it’s been processed.

What’s Next?

From everything I’ve read, this claim was approved very quickly. Part of that might have been using the “fully developed claim” process. Another part of it is all the advice I got from the VSO and the prep work that we did before filing the claim. (We’d already decided what was worth claiming and what was not.) And finally, part of it might be due to filing a claim at a slower time of year.

My last step in the claim process (I hope) will be requesting a copy of the file: my “C-file”. Eventually, I’ll receive a copy of everything the VA has in my file, and if there are any other errors then I can correct or appeal them. Most importantly, if the VA happens to lose any of my records then I’ll be able to provide a copy from my digital archive.

Regrettably, another reason for filing this claim is to establish a disability baseline. Eventually, my knees (or my hips or my ankles) are going to get those joints into the 20% disability rating. My hearing might continue its decline (despite my rigorous use of hearing protection) and raise that disability rating. The “good” news is that I’ve already done the hard work of filing the claim, and if my physical condition deteriorates then it’s easier to update the existing claim with the new information.

Finally, treating the disability condition is an important factor of a claim. (Otherwise, the VA doctor might consider the problem “cured” and no longer disabling.) I can’t magically rebuild my knee cartilage but I’ve recently completed six weeks of physical therapy. I’ve learned better ways to use the muscles around the joints when I walk, stand, and climb steps. I’m using a stability ball and a foam roller to practice new skills and to treat the inevitable soreness.


  • Start your VA disability claim while you’re leaving active duty.
  • Use a VSO. (It’s free!) If necessary, have a spouse or friend accompany you every time you talk to the VSO or the doctor. Ask questions, take notes, and even (with their permission) record the discussions.
  • If possible, use the fully-developed claim process. Track down all of the records yourself so that you don’t have to wait on the VA.
    Read and understand the disability benefits questionnaires so that you know what you should claim and what isn’t considered a disabling condition.
  • Show up for the VA doctor’s compensation & pension exams. Take leave if necessary. Make it easy for them to understand and document your symptoms.
  • Use the eBenefits account as much as possible. Paper applications take longer to process and might not be routed correctly.
  • If you have tinnitus symptoms then claim it.
  • Most importantly, continue your treatment for your disability condition.

Related articles:
How NOT To Do It: Applying For VA Disability Years After Military Separation
Reader post: Lessons I Learned Filing For Disability Benefits
Reader post: Education And The Disabled Veteran
Reader post: Preparing For The Unexpected
Why You File Your Veterans Disability Claim (Not Just How)
What Happens When (Not Just How) You File Your VA Disability Claim
What The VA Really Does With Your Disability Claim

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Bill Hilliard Iam 21 years in the Army Reserve, Guard was infantry now my lower back is giving out lower back pain,get numbness in my fingers and hand,can only stand solong,sit so long ,xray says L4,L5, has a arthritis, carrying Ruck sack,60 to 80 pounds,later in years starts to hurt.Do I have a claim!

    • Bill, the first thing you should do is talk with your doctor and your physical therapist to get as healthy as you can.

      From reading those posts, you already know that you have to show a service connection in your military medical record (and service record) to document the injuries leading to your disability. You also have to show that you need continuing treatment, because if you don’t continue to seek treatment then the VA decides that you’re “cured”.

      If you haven’t already done so, please talk with a Veteran Service Officer. They’ll guide you through the process and keep you updated on the VA’s status of your claim.

  2. Good day,
    I recently sumitted for an increased and new disabilities that i didnt file for originally when leaving service (i was so sick that i really disnt have much input or say on anything, they did it all for me). I wrnt to my C&P one was for increased and i read the exam on ebenefits and the doctor straight up line on some of the info he documented. He left out info thats on my mil records which i provided copies for and he said he had already and. He lied about the last time i was seem (is for tmj…dental) i have not seen a dentist in 3 yrs he wrote i had exam n cleaning last year when i told him i didnt even remember and it was like 3 yrs or more since i cant afford it. The other doctor left out relevant info on questionnaire. They asked how many times i was seen for problem in last year he left it blank and he also said i was using over the counter meds when in actuality i have prescription meds and ive been seen over 5 times. In last year for tge condition …he wrote note as if i have no issue when i told him and i kerp seen doctors for it…its very frustrating and the va docs documentation is even eorse…they keep cutting and pasting same note over and over…im still 38 on some notes when im 40 now and any of my new symptons complaints are not annotated. What can i do about this. The vso told me not to do anything and wait until claim is done then appealed she said cause i told her i wanted to confront the doctors and thheir false documentation. I thought about writting a letter and summitting the proff which is in my va records …any help will be greatly appreciated.


    • Sorry to read about this, Rhode. You’d definitely want to have a new C&P doctor if you had any choice in the matter.

      I think your VSO is giving you good advice. I’m not aware of any way to correct a C&P exam before it’s reviewed by the VA’s rater, although this exam might have so many problems that the VA asks for another one. The VA already has a copy of your records, and hopefully the rater will note the exam’s errors.

      Either way you’ll hear from the VA, and if they don’t give you the appropriate rating then you’ll obtain your claim file and put in an appeal. (That’s the process which the VSO knows very well.) The updated rating will be delayed, but the appeal means that it’ll be paid back to the original date of your new VA disability claim.

  3. How long does it take for your retro paper check to come in the mail?

    • I don’t have an answer for that question, Tiffany. The VA only issues a paper check for situations when direct deposit is not available, and these days a paper check is relatively rare.

      It could take several months once the disability rating is calculated and the award letter is issued.

      The best way to answer your question is to check the status of your claim in eBenefits. (Make sure eBenefits has your banking deposit information as well as the info for your family members.) If eBenefits doesn’t have the estimate of when your retroactive payment should be deposited then I’d check with a Veteran Service Officer in your area.

  4. Once you receive your ratings and are separated from the military, when does your va payments start?

    • Great question, Ann. The VA will assign an effective date to your claim, which is typically the first day that you’re no longer on active duty. If you file your claim after leaving active duty then the effective date is generally the date you submitted the claim.

      The payments start when the VA has processed the rater’s decision and has your banking info for an electronic payment. (If applicable, they’ll also need your family information.) Ideally you entered your banking info (and your family info) into your eBenefits account when you submitted your claim. If that info is correctly processed from your eBenefits account then your payments should start a month or two after you receive your decision letter.

      The amount of the claim will be paid (in arrears) all the way back to the effective date of the claim.

  5. I was granted on appeal TDIU and notified in a SSOC in Oct. 2017 I would later receive a decision letter. Here it is July 2018 and no letter. Ebenefits says my claim is under review for effective date. The estimated completion dates keep getting changed and now is 08/2018 to 03/2019. Can anyone tell me why so long?

    • Tim, it’s hard to tell whether your appeal is still working through the system or whether it’s stuck in a backlog.

      You could discuss it with a local Veteran Service Officer from your VA clinic, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the VFW, or even MOAA. They have the resources to look up your appeal and figure out the next step.

      You could also post your questions to PEBForum.com. It was founded by a JAG and has hundreds of vets whose disability claims have also gone through the appeals process. They might have more suggestions on how to track it down and speed it up.

  6. Hello All
    I have been service connected at 50% for my Migraine attacks ( I was removed from SEAL training for this) and they have told me the PTSD and anxiety are being “deferred” or underway. Heh, I am new to this I was wondering if anyone here might tell me if I am missing filing for anything?? Thx so much to everyone!

    • Thanks, WSPP, VA benefit appeals are a frequent problem. I hope you’re also able to tap into the healthcare that you need to cope with your symptoms.

      First, I’d recommend talking with a Veteran Service Officer from the Disable American Veterans, the American Legion, VFW, or even MOAA. They might uncover additional information in your medical, dental, or service records– or spot errors in the VA’s claim file.

      Next, I’d post more details about your claim at the PEBForum.com. It was founded by a JAG and it’s filled with hundreds of military vets who have had VA problems similar to yours. They’ll be able to tell you more ways to approach the solution.

  7. I am not appealing my soc or filing a form 9. I simply agree with it so what comes next?

    • In that case I’d check your eBenefits account for any information, and to make sure that they have the right bank-account information on file for your deposits.

      You could also ask the VSO for their estimate, or ask them to request a status update through their system.

  8. I got a partial award and it was stated in my SOC. Does anyone know how long after I received my SOC will my decision letter come??

    • Amy, I’m not sure how long it takes to get your decision letter after the Statement of the Case letter. It might depend on the complexity of rating the rest of your disability claim.

      You can check your eBenefits account for updates, but you should absolutely discuss your SOC with your Veteran Service Officer (or a lawyer) to decide on further appeals. The VSO may also have an estimate on when you’d receive the decision letter.

  9. Hello, I retired in June 2017. I did not file until Dec 2017 because I was pulling together documents from a previous service stint (missing DD214). I was notified to have a VA exam on 31 Jan and I completed it. I checked my [VA] e-benefits yesterday and there is a “total combined rating” under disabilities and a medical adjudication for service related connection(s). It says that “…XX is the final degree of disability rating”. Is that my final rating?? That took only took three weeks. How long until they notify me by mail? Thanks for the time and consideration. V/r, Rich

    • It looks like the letter will follow pretty quickly, Rich. More importantly, the benefits are retroactive to the date of your claim.

      As long as your financial & family info is correct in eBenefits, the VA may be able to start compensation by the beginning of April– and back pay to the date of your claim.

  10. File with judge since May 2017 waiting judge decision

  11. I am into my fifth year. Just trying to find my records. That the VA lost before an AO rating exam. Everytime I or my VSO reps send in my paperwork. It seems to vanish. How can I get help.

    • I’m sorry to read about the problem, Billy.

      The best approach is for the VSO to keep asking the VA to confirm receipt of the documents. (If you and your VSO aren’t getting along then I’d suggest trying a new VSO.) In addition, when you go to your C&P exams, take along copies of whatever records you have for the doctor. They can include those records in their report to the VA.

      I’ve read that if the VA receives an inquiry from a member of Congress, then the VA ceases working on the claim until the Congressional inquiry receives a satisfactory response. That may or may not be correct, but I’d try to work through the VSO and the C&P doctor before using a Congressional inquiry.

  12. I finally recieved my VA Benefit letter along with my first Payment Date. Yet it was Not Deposited. When do you Actually get your First benefit payment?

    • We see this question a lot, JC!

      First check your eBenefits account to make sure that the VA has entered the numbers for your financial institution correctly. It’s very easy for them to make data-entry errors on their systems.

      Next I’d ask a Veteran Service Officer to inquire with the VA about your payment, or you could send them an e-mail through eBenefits.

      When the deposit situation is straightened out, the payments will be made retroactive do the effective date of your claim. Even if it’s a month later, you should get everything you’re owed back to the starting date.

      Please let us know how this works out.

  13. In my close to 5 year process to a mutually satisfactory disability award some lessons learned. I filed for stress/PTSD related issues. Mental health claims are tracked and processed far differently than those for physical/orthopedic matters. The fact that was I a mental health professional in the military, which I have continued into my bridge career, gave me a sense of perspective, empathy and resiliency to the system and the process. And hindsight being 20/20 I should have been more forthcoming and open in the initial claim process and related assessment physicals. But even a highly educated person, licensed in his profession, I still had to process the sense of shame, failure and weakness I felt. Sailors looked to me for guidance and help, and I thought I had the answers, but I knew I needed some help. And that’s the 1st lesson. Check your ego and sense of power at the front door. Second, never, never take no for an answer, work the system and process until the final response is yes. It does work. Third, though you have many avenues of help and assistance you are your best advocate in the system, no one will care about your case more than you. And at the end of the day, you will need to push the ball forward. Will the amount or disability rating ever fairly compensate me or anybody else, for their pain, wounds, hurt? For scars, some visible, but many invisible, but still traumatic. Probably not, but again the disability system in the VA is not charity, welfare or a hand out, nor is it some tax advantaged compensation system. It exists as another form of compensation, remuneration for certain conditions of military service. It is and remains a benefit earned.

  14. Thanks, Doug. I am a few years from military retirement myself and these questions are starting to come into play. Better to know the answers now. Now off to read all of the related previous posts. Appreciate you writing for us.

  15. Excellent write-up, Doug. Your claim approval is one of the fastest I’ve heard of, especially for someone who didn’t initiate the process while still on active duty (there is a program that allows retirees to begin the process before their final out-process date – this massively speeds up the process).

    I believe the different time frames stem from which center process the claim. I filed in Dayton, OH, and my claim was resolved fairly quickly (I don’t remember the exact timeline, but I don’t think it was more than 6 months).

    I’ve heard of other veterans waiting over two years without a resolution. Many of these veterans are in geographic locations with larger populations, or may have filed in locations that process larger numbers of veterans. Of course, you also mentioned your VSO helped you trim your claim and proof read it for completeness and accuracy. Not having the VA request additional information or perform further exams saves a lot of time when they evaluate the claim. Claims go back in the processing pile each time the VA requests more information or further exams.

    • Thanks, Ryan! I’m just glad to get it done. My spouse & daughter are also relieved that they’re no longer going to get bagged with handling my claim, either.

      Oahu has a fairly large population of military veterans, or perhaps the fully-developed claims process cuts out a lot of the research. I’ve already agreed that I’ve supplied all of the information that the VA would need to make a decision, so they’re not going to look for additional records.

      I wish there was an easier way to analyze and speed up the process for each veteran, but that’s the whole point: the VA claims process is way too complicated, and for some disabilities it’s impossible to expect the veteran to navigate it on their own. It’s essential for vets to seek the advice & help of a VSO instead of simply uploading a bunch of documents to eBenefits.

      • Like you I retired after 22 years with two service-connected bad knees. Had ACL reconstruction twice on the right and once on the left. I received my 30% disability many years after I retired when the knees got bad enough, and never thought more about it. in 2014 I had total knee replacement on my right knee. Only this year I discovered I was eligible for 13 months of 100% total temporary disability because of the surgery. It is possible you may have a TKR as well, so make sure you file for your temporary 100% and new rating, which will take you to 50% most likely. At 50% you get your full military retirement back. File before your surgery, once you have a date, or as soon after as possible. Good luck.

        • Thanks, Hoya, that’s great advice!

          A year later I’m still practicing the physical therapy techniques and pushing my balancing skills. (I bought a used stand-up paddling board of very challenging dimensions, and it works me hard.) Losing weight always helps, and I’ve made great progress there too. I hope to go the rest of my life without ACL reconstruction or cartilage repairs– let alone total knee replacements– and I’ll add your info to my checklist.

          Ironically, CRDP would pay for most of the expense of any long-term care I’d need. I sure hope that’s never necessary, either!

  16. Thanks for the mention!

    Something that isn’t publicized very well is that vets can also file for military sexual trauma (MST) as part of their disability claim: https://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/serviceconnected/MST.pdf.

    Veterans may also be able to receive VA treatment for MST. From the VA fact sheet: “VA provides free health care for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST. No documentation of the MST experiences or disability compensation rating is required. Some Veterans may be able to receive this free MST-related health care even if they are not eligible for other VA care.”

    For vets who experienced MST, services such as one-on-one and group counseling are available.

    No one, especially a warrior, wants to admit that they were harassed or assaulted, but help is available, and, unfortunately, you are not alone. If you are suffering the effects of MST, please get help.

    • You’re welcome, Crew Dog, you wrote a great post!

      Great point on MST. Sometimes we’re too focused on proving that the condition exists when instead we should be treating the symptoms.

  17. Nords,
    Thanks for the update. 3 months! Wow…that was fast! It took me 15 months after I retired before I got my rating…and the VA didn’t ask for any additional documents, leading me to assume they had everything they needed to make their decision. I don’t know which factor contributed to the fast processing…was it the VSO representative or the ongoing spotlight on the VA to speed things up?

    By the way, will your VA Disability payments be retroactive from 2002? Will you be required to file amended tax returns or will the difference in taxable income (with the VA disability payments tax free) be minimal that it wouldn’t make a difference?

    Oh yeah, were you out at White Plains this morning, with the south swells going since yesterday?

    • Thanks for the comment, Mel!
      1. Yes, very fast. The VSO helped me prune the options to the most realistic claims, and the VA’s doctors confirmed most of that. It also helps to study the disability benefits questionnaires for the claimed conditions so that the C&P exam has all the evidence it needs. I claimed only the issues that were clearly causing problems, and I didn’t claim anything that was too speculative to link to a service-related cause.

      2. The benefits are only retroactive to the date that the claim is initiated– in this case 8 February 2016 (three months before it was approved). I would’ve filed amended tax returns (which are easier than they seem) but since this all happened in 2016 I can just file my usual return next year. Hopefully DFAS and the VA generate the correct 1099-R at the end of this year, but the math is easy to check.

      3. Dude. It was awesomely epic, and I’m goin’ back for more in about 10 hours!

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?