Advocate Toolkit: VA Disability Compensation Claim

Whether you are handling your first VA claim - or you are just trying to sharpen your skills and knowledge in this area of law - here are links to useful resources we have found. 

Basic Legal Resources

VA Accreditation
To prepare documents or advocate for individuals on specific VA claims, you must be accredited by the VA. This is required even if you are a lawyer in good standing in your state bar.

Source law
38 US Code Chapter 11 Compensation for Service-Connected Disability or Death
38 CFR 3, Subpart A  Pension, Compensation, and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
38 CFR 4 Schedule for Rating Disabilities
M21-1MR VA Adjudications Procedure Manual posted on the Web Automated Reference Material System (WARMS)  - guidance used by VA staff in adjudicating claims

VA Disability Compensation Eligibility: Screening Tool
Newcomers may find this guided interview helpful - to screen a potential client who may qualify.   This could also be a useful tool for volunteer advocates in the context of "legal clinics."

VA Disability Compensation for Agent Orange Exposure: Screening Tool
If a veteran served during the Vietnam era, s/he should be screened for "presumptive" exposer to Agent Orange.  Numerous medical conditions may have arisen from this exposure. 

How to File a Claim for VA Disability Compensation
This is Stateside's basic how-to manual for pro se claimants, based on veteran advocate Jim Strickland's work, but may be a good place to start - especially if you are new to this substantive area of law.

NEW! Extra disability pay promised for vets who use the "Fully Developed Claim" process 8/13
Your client can now get an extra year of retroactive benefits by using the this "fast track" process. It requires more work on the part of the veteran and the advocate. But the VA hopes that by providing this incentive, more veterans will choose this option.  The VA also claims that this will speed up the process, both for your client and for the system as a whole. More details in the "fast letter" to VARO's here.

Automated Application for VA Disability Compensation
An interactive form which makes completing the initial application for benefits much easier.

VA Pension: Screening Tool
If you find that a low-income elderly or disabled veteran cannot establish a "service-related connection," s/he may still qualify for a VA pension.  Use this interview to screen for VA Pension eligibility.

Veteran Advocacy Training: Interviews and Review of the VA Claims Process (videos)
If you like to learn by video, try out these training videos produced by the Veterans Hour series on 

More legal resources in our general VA Advocacy Toolkit here

Advanced Legal Resources

Overview of the Appeal Process for Veterans' Claims
A comprehensive review of VA appeals processes, authored by Legislative Attorney Daniel T. Shedd for the Congressional Research Services (April 2013)

Practice Before the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
Links to the basic tools you'll need.

National Veterans Legal Services Program
This organization spearheads two major programs:  1) Training advocates to handle VA appeals, and 2) “Lawyers Serving Warriors” – providing pro bono support for initial VA claims.  They offer an array of high-quality reasonably-priced training materials for advocates.

Jim's Mailbag
Seasoned veteran advocate Jim Strickland has contributed hundreds of Q and A's with veteran claimants.  Use our site search to find relevant Mailbag submissions.  For example, searching for "IHD" returns 9 Mailbag discussions about Ischemic Heart Disease. (Look for the letter icon letter to the left of the search return).

Specific disabling conditions
We also post general information specific to certain disabling conditions, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury.  Use our search function to find these resources. 


August 2013