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Applying for Veterans Administration (VA) benefits can be complex, as you probably already know all too well. One of the many confusing aspects of VA benefits is a matter known as the VA effective date. This is typically the date your application was received by the VA. This seems straightforward on the surface, but it can often lead to confusion and frustration.
How the VA Effective Date Typically Works
Let us say you are a veteran who applied for benefits on September 22, 2015, but you were not awarded benefits until February 1, 2016. You would be due benefits stretching back to October 1, 2015. The reason is that it can take the VA an extremely long time to decide on an application. The process usually takes months but can sometimes stretch for years.
The VA effective date can get even more confusing. Generally, if you are a first-time applicant for service-related disability compensation, the effective date will usually be the date you were either entitled to the benefit or when the VA received your application, whichever is later. The entitlement date is the day the VA determined you satisfied all the requirements needed to qualify for disability compensation. It is usually the first date there was medical evidence of your disability.
In some instances, the VA will fail to render a decision on an application. If this happens to you and you refile, there is a chance your VA effective date could be the date you originally applied.
Why Does the Effective Date Go to the Latest Date for First-Time Applicants?
If you are a veteran applying for first-time benefits, the general rule is that your effective date will be either the date for which you can demonstrate medical evidence that your disability began or the date that the VA received your application for benefits, whichever date is later. In most cases, this means that the application date will be the one used most often since veterans tend not to apply for benefits until they have medical evidence that they need them.
But there are exceptions to the rule:
1. Recently Discharged From the Service
If you have recently left the service, and your application for benefits is approved, your effective date will be the date you left the service, not the date the VA received your application.
For instance, if you ended your service on July 1, 2017, with a hearing disability and you then applied for disability benefits on February 15, 2018, since you filed your application within a year of leaving the service, your effective date will be July 2, 2017 — the day after you left service. So the VA would owe you several months of back pay.
Now imagine the same scenario, only you apply for disability benefits for the same hearing condition on July 15, 2018, and the VA received your application on July 18, 2018. Since you waited to apply for longer than a year after you left the service, your effective date would be July 18, 2018 — the day the VA received your application.
2. Presumptive Service Connection
Let us say you decided to leave the service on January 1, 2018. Then on May 10, 2018, you suffered a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that led to a pulmonary embolism (PE). You are required to take medication and treatment for the rest of your life. If you apply for benefits on September 1, 2018, and the military believed that your DVT was caused by or related to your time in active service — perhaps you worked in an administrative position that required you to sit behind a desk eight hours a day, which can be one of the leading causes of blood clots — then your effective date will be May 10, 2018 — the day that your disability first manifested itself.
However, if you suffer a DVT and a PE on May 10, 2018, but you do not apply for benefits until March 15, 2019 — more than a year after leaving the service — your effective date will be the day that the VA received your claim.
3. Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange
Under the Nehmer Effective Date Rules, which affect Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during active service in Vietnam and later developed Agent Orange-related diseases, the effective date will be the date that the VA recognized the diseases as Agent Orange-related. So if you did not apply for disability benefits until sometime in 2017 but the VA had recognized your disability as Agent Orange-related at some point in the past, your effective date would be that date in the past when the VA recognized the disability.
4. Clear and Unmistakable Errors
If the VA discovers that it has made a “clear and unmistakable error” in a previous decision, the effective date for the new correct decision will be the date from which your benefits would have started if they had not made a mistake in the first place.
So if the VA received your application for benefits on March 15, 2016, and denied your claim or gave you incorrect rating, and then realized it had made it a clear and unmistakable error on November 1, 2018, your effective date would be April 1, 2016 — the day that you would have started receiving benefits if the VA had not made a mistake.
5. Newly Discovered Medical Evidence
Let us suppose that you left the service on January 1, 1990, and applied for benefits. The VA, however, denied your claim. You did not appeal. Ten years later, however, military service records or military medical records were rediscovered, and you found out that there was evidence of your disability, so you decided to file a new claim on March 1, 2015.
If the VA agreed that this new medical evidence justified reopening your case, and you were awarded disability benefits this time, your effective date would be the first time you applied on January 1, 1990, and not when you filed your appeal.
You can see the importance of filing as soon as possible for disability benefits when you are either still serving or within a year after you have left the service. If you miss this filing deadline by even one day, it could cost you several months of disability benefits.
If you have any questions about your effective date in the situations above, contact a VA-accredited attorney. While Volunteer Service Organizations (VSO) can help in many situations that vets face, figuring out effective dates for VA benefits is probably better done by a VA-accredited attorney.
Should I Refile for VA Benefits If I Failed to Get a Decision on My First Application?
If for some reason the VA fails to issue you a decision on your original application, and at a later date you file a new application which is approved, you may be able to receive benefits back to the date of your original application.
You will need to prove, however, that your entitlement date — which is the date when your disability first appeared — had taken place before your first application, and that you had applied earlier, but there had been no communication or notice from the VA that could have been identified as a denial letter to your claim.
So if you know all of these things above to be true, then, by all means, do reapply and you will receive benefits that date back to when the VA received your original application.
If I Am Not a First-Time Applicant, Will My Effective Date Be the Date I Was Entitled?
When you are not a first-time applicant, much depends upon the kind of claim that you are filing or appealing.
1. Increase in Disability Rating Appeal
This type of appeal has different results based on when you appeal.
If you can demonstrate an increase in your disability, and you file the claim within one year of that increase, your effective date will be when the increase in disability appeared. For example, if you had an ulcer that was service-connected, and it was rated at 30 percent, but on May 20, 2018, your doctor told you that your ulcer had gotten much worse, and you decided to appeal for an increase in your disability rating on September 1, 2018, your effective date would be May 20, 2018, if the rating were approved,
If the VA does not receive an appeal for a new ratings claim until July 1, 2019, and your appeal is approved, your effective date will be July 1 because more than one year will have passed between when the disability appeared or worsened and when you appealed.
2. Reopened Claim
A reopened claim is somewhat like a first claim in that your effective date will be either the date the claim is reopened or the date your injury or illness first manifested itself. In almost every case like this, the effective date will be the date the claim is reopened.
3. A Difference of Opinion
The effective date of the decision based on a difference of opinion will be the date when the original decision was made if that decision had been favorable.
4. A Drastic Change in the Law
If a VA regulation or the law changes and allows the VA to pay disability compensation in some way that it was previously not allowed, your effective date once again depends upon when you file.
If the VA receives your claim within a year of a change in the law or regulation, your effective date may be the date of the change.
If you request a review of your claim, based on the new law or regulation changing, more than a year after the change, your effective date will be when the VA received a request for review.
How Do I Get an Early Filing Date?
You can get an early filing date by getting a little ahead of the game. The way you do this is by letting the VA know as soon as possible that you intend to file an application. This is one way to ensure that your effective date is the earliest one possible. When you file this “informal claim” before you file an official application, you will give yourself the most back pay possible if the VA decides to award you benefits.
You do this either by submitting a form known as the Statement in Support of Claim or writing to the VA about your intent to submit a disability claim. Make sure you include your Social Security number, the dates that you served in the military and your full name.
The VA will then send you a disability benefits application form. You must, however, submit this application form to the VA within one year of receiving it or else you will lose the effective date you had gained by notifying them of your intent to submit. In that case, your effective date becomes when the VA receives your application.
What If I Did Not Know That I Could Apply for Benefits?
The VA is always required to let all veterans know that they can apply for benefits. If they fail to do so, however, for whatever reason, it does not grant you the right to an earlier effective date. There have been attempts in the past by veterans to argue that if they had known they could apply they would have done so sooner, but to this point in time, those arguments have not been effective. Therefore in most of these cases, the effective date will be the date when the VA receives the veteran’s application for benefits, even if the veteran could have applied for benefits sooner but did not know it.
Death and Indemnity Compensation
If a veteran dies while they are still in service — for instance, on National Guard duty — the effective date that their survivors can receive death benefits is the first day of the month of the veteran’s death, or if they are missing, the first day that they were presumed to have perished. Survivors need to file this claim within one year that the veteran is reported to have died or presumed dead to have the effective date work in this way.
If a family waits to file a claim more than a year after the veteran’s death or presumed death, the effective date will be the date that the VA receives their application.
If the veteran died when they were not in active service, and their survivors file a claim within a year of the veteran’s death, the first day of the month that the veteran died will be the effective date. So if the veteran died on September 28, 2017, and the family files a claim for death benefits on January 1, 2018, the effective date will be September 1, 2017.
If the family waits longer than a year to apply, normal procedures apply and the effective date becomes the day the VA receives the application.
Are There Certain Circumstances Where the Application Process Could Take Years?
In many cases, the application process can take years. The VA is regularly overwhelmed with disability claims from veterans. Although in recent years they have tried to add programs that attempt to speed up the process, such as the Fully Completed Claims program, backlogs can happen for a variety of reasons including government shutdowns, a sudden influx of applications or even a change in the law. Sometimes applications just get lost.
If your initial disability application is denied or if you receive a rating that you believe is too low, an appeal can take months or years to resolve.
Depending upon your type of claim, the best way to speed up this process is to either work with a VSO or a VA-accredited attorney. This is especially the case if you are still dealing with the effects of your disability that may make it difficult to travel or to organize an appeal. Trying to figure out the difference between an effective date and an entitlement date can be confusing at the best of times. It becomes even more confusing when you are also dealing with the effects of the disability.
When You Need Help With Your Veterans Disability Claim, Contact KGB Injury Law
The information above just scratches the surface of the complexities that can be associated with the VA effective date. If you have questions or you are having trouble obtaining the benefits you believe you are entitled to, KBG Injury Law might be able to help.
We offer a free consultation. You can call us at 1-800-509-1011 or contact us online, where you can leave us your contact information and some details about your claim. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.
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