VA Disability - Step 1: File your claim
When should I file my Claim?
File your claim as soon as possible after you decide that you might qualify for benefits. You must use the right forms to start your VA Claim. You will also need to send any supporting statements along with the right forms. This page will discuss the two ways to submit your claim. The next page has information about the forms specific to start claims.
NOTE: You can always search the VA's form library to find the form to file for a specific purpose.
How do I file my claim?
- You can complete and submit your claim online, OR
- You can complete your claim by printing the right forms and sending them by mail or by fax.
How do I file online?
The VA prefers that you file your claim for benefits online on their E-Benefits website. First, E-Benefits requires you to register for the website. If you need help with that step, you can watch this short VA video.
Once you have created an account by registering on E-Benefits, you then can submit a claim. The online claims process will walk you through the questions. Your answers are used to fill out the appropriate VA claim form. The VA has created this 3-part video series to walk you through the claims process.
How do I file by mail or fax?
Filing online walks you through the questions, helping you to fill out the first forms you need to file. But if you prefer, you can submit your claim by paper application. To do this, you will need to download, print and fill out the forms by hand.
After completing your claim forms, mail them to the VA's Claims Intake Center. The VA allows you to send claims to the Claims Intake Center by fax or by mail. If you submit documents this way, make sure to keep copies for yourself.
If you mail the VA forms or supporting documentation, make sure to use certified mail, return receipt requested.
If you fax the form, keep a copy of the fax confirmation page.
Below is the VA's Claims Intake Center address.
Mail all documents to:
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
CLAIMS INTAKE CENTER
PO BOX 4444
JANESVILLE, WI 53547-4444
If you want to fax your documents, fax them to:
1 (844) 531-7818
Use (248) 524-4260 only if you are a Foreign Claimant
NOTE: Papers get lost. Make sure that you keep a file with copies of everything you send in. Taking the time to do this now could save you a lot of time in the long run if things go wrong.
What forms do I file?
You can start a claim with an Intent to File Form, VA Form 21-0966. The date the VA receives this form will be the start date for your award.
VA Form 21-0966 will start your claim. Then you will have up to a year to follow up, by submitting a completed claim under the "Fully Developed Claim" process. Go here to learn more about the Fully Developed Claim Process.
NOTE: You can no longer submit a letter to let the VA to let them know you plan to file a claim. You must use the form.
After you submit an Intent to File form, you must submit an application form with your evidence. This application Form is VA Form 21-526EZ.
You must submit all the supporting civilian medical and non-medical evidence you have with the VA Form 21-526EZ. The VA will get copies of your VA medical records and any service medical records. The VA makes faster decisions on claims that are submitted with all the evidence. This type of claim is called a "Fully Developed Claim." Since this page only discusses the basics of filing, go here for more specific information on the Fully Developed Claims process.
What if I cannot get copies of medical records from my community-based medical providers?
The VA can request copies of medical records from community medical providers. But you must send medical releases to the VA if you are asking them to do this. Complete a VA Form 21-4142a for each community doctor or hospital you want the VA to get records from.
Although the VA can request these records, this will take your claims out of the Fully Developed Claims process. This means that it will take longer for the VA to decide your claim. Many VA advocates believe it is best to submit these records yourself.
Where do I mail the complete application form?
Once you've completed and signed the form, and gathered all of your supporting evidence, it's time to mail it in. The VA doesn't want all those instructions so you may keep those for your records. Also, be sure you keep a good copy of the completed form for yourself.
Mail it to the VA Regional Office (VARO) in the state where you live. If your state has more than one, mail to the closest VARO in your state.
Use Certified Mail with Return Receipt requested. We strongly recommend that you always use this method for mailing forms and evidence to the VARO. We do not recommend using a fax machine, any sort of email or even hand delivery. Certified mail will provide you with signed evidence of delivery just in case a document goes missing.
Updated March 2015, 2020