Applying for Benefits 101

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Applying for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can seem like a daunting task at first glance, but it’s actually easier than you might think. Oftentimes there are multiple ways to apply for each benefit, allowing you to decide which process is most convenient for you.

One of the easiest ways to apply for benefits is to do so online at the VA’s benefits website, eBenefits.va.gov, and submit the proper application and documents electronically.

Another option is to visit your local VA regional office and apply for your benefits in person. This is a great option for those who may not feel as comfortable with technology or would like the assistance of a VA employee when applying. You can also mail your claim to the nearest VA regional office if that is more convenient.

One thing you need to be aware of, though, is that many of these benefits require you to submit evidence of qualification. You can go about submitting this evidence in one of two ways.

The first way is to submit a fully developed claim. To submit a fully developed claim, all you have to do is gather the required records and documentation and submit them at the time you make your claim while certifying that you have no further evidence. The VA will evaluate your evidence and the claim usually moves along more quickly.

The second way to submit evidence is to make a standard claim. When submitting a standard claim, you give the VA permission to obtain all relevant records from any federal agency you identify. It is then the VAs responsibility to make an effort to gather these records to support your claim.

Different benefits have different application requirements. The requirements for each benefit are as follows:

Disability Compensation – You must have a current physical or mental disability. The disability must be service connected. You must provide discharge/separation papers, service treatment records and private medical/hospital records.  The VA recommends veterans find an accredited attorney, claims agent or Veterans Service Officer to help you prepare and submit your claim.

Health Care – You must have served in the active military, naval or air service and separated under any conditions except dishonorable. If you enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980 or entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, you must have served 24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty. The application requires proof of discharge papers, any additional health insurance information and wage/financial information.

Memorial Benefits – You must provide discharge papers to establish eligibility. Fax your DD-214 form or other discharge papers to 1-866-900-6417. Follow up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117.

Education and Training – You must provide copies of your discharge or separation papers.  Determine which program(s) you qualify for and pick the one you’d like to apply for. This decision is final and cannot be changed.

Home Loans – Suitable credit and sufficient income is required. You also need to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility. Veterans usually only have to submit their DD-214 form, but be sure to check with the VA to see if additional evidence is necessarily. Once you have a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), you can contact mortgage lenders who participate in the VA program and decide which one you’d like to work with based on which one will offer you the most favorable terms. Many lenders are willing to assist you in obtaining a COE, so you don’t necessarily have to obtain one before comparing lenders. You will also need to obtain certification that you will occupy the home in order to qualify.

Housing-Related Assistance – You must be rated by the VA as medically eligible for specially adapted housing benefits. You must also submit evidence that it is medically feasible for you to live in the housing unit and locality, demonstrate a proper relationship between the proposed housing and your current/future income and expenses, show the suitability of the dwelling to your needs, provide proof of ownership and demonstrate that the property can be adapted.

Pension – Must provide proof of income and net worth, private medical treatment records and where to find any relevant treatment records that may be held at a federal facility.

Employment Services – Submit application for benefits you are seeking. If you are applying for vocational rehabilitation, you must have separated under any conditions other than dishonorable, obtained a VA service-connected disability rating of 10 percent or more and have an established handicap resulting from a service-connected disability.

Life Insurance – Service members are automatically covered under SGLI. Veterans may convert this to VGLI upon separation from service. You have one year and 120 days from your date of separation to apply. You do not have to provide proof of good health if you apply within 240 days if you were discharged on or after Nov. 1, 2012 or within 120 days if you were discharged before Nov. 1, 2012.

Don’t let feelings of discouragement keep you from applying for the benefits you deserve. It’s important to stay cool and focused when gathering evidence and filling out applications. If you run into any problems while submitting a claim, remember – help is available, all you have to do is ask.

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