How To Read Your VA Disability LetterUpdated December 3, 2021 Veterans Disability
When the VA has made a decision regarding your claim for disability benefits, you will receive a formal notification. This is your VA disability letter – also known as a VA rating decision letter, VA award letter, and VA benefit summary letter. This letter is an important component of your record with the VA, and it can help you understand the VA’s decision regarding your claim.
7 Common Questions About Your VA Disability Letter
- What is a VA disability letter?
- Why is my VA disability rating so important?
- How long do I have to wait for my VA Disability Letter?
- What does a VA Award Letter look like?
- How do I get a copy of my VA Rating Decision Letter?
- What if I disagree with the VA Award Letter?
- What is a Statement of Case?
For America’s disabled veterans, the VA disability letter is a pivotal point in the VA disability claims process. This important document outlines the first decision the VA issues regarding a disabled veteran’s claim and also opens the door to the appeals process if necessary. This notification will contain important information about the decision regarding your claim, your VA disability rating, and the amount of compensation you can expect.
What is a VA disability letter?
The VA disability letter is the first official notification you will receive from the VA regarding its decision about your VA disability claim. This letter will outline that VA reviewers have completed their initial assessment of your claim and made a decision about whether the medical conditions in question are indeed service-related. If the decision is that your medical condition has a service connection, your VA disability letter also will communicate the disability rating for your condition and the effective date the VA has established for the condition.
The effective date is key since it is the date the VA uses as a starting point for the payment of benefits. It usually corresponds with the date on which your claim was filed, but in some cases may go back further. If you have been determined as eligible for VA disability benefits, your VA award letter also will outline the amount of monthly compensation you will receive.
Why is my VA disability rating so important?
Your assigned VA disability rating is a key factor in determining the amount of VA disability compensation you will receive. VA disability ratings range from 0% to 100% and are calculated in units of 10. A rating of at least 10% entitles a disabled veteran to some level of monthly benefit compensation. Your disability rating is based on how severe your medical condition is and how it affects your overall quality of life, along with your ability to work. The higher your disability rating, the more severe your perceived level of disability, and the higher the monthly compensation amount the VA agrees to pay. The 2022 VA disability pay chart outlines how ratings relate to compensation amounts. In some cases, your VA disability rating also can be a factor when the VA is considering your eligibility for other VA benefits.
Over time, if your medical condition worsens, you may submit a claim for an increased VA disability rating – if approved, this will increase the amount of compensation you receive each month. And if you have new and relevant medical information and disagree with your initial rating, you also are welcome to submit a request for appeal. It’s important to ensure that the VA assigns an appropriate rating for your medical condition(s) so that you get the full compensation amount you deserve.
How long do I have to wait for my VA Disability Letter?
Ultimately, the time you’ll need to wait for a decision regarding your claim will depend on the specific factors of your case, along with how many disabilities you’re claiming. On average, the VA will render a VA disability claim decision in approximately 149.4 days. In general, the more thorough the medical evidence you submit with your claim, the more quickly the VA will be able to make a decision. For especially complex cases or cases that are missing medical documentation, wait times may be longer.
Keep in mind that while your claim is under review, the VA may reach out to you to request additional information or medical evidence – or may request that you participate in a medical exam.
What does a VA Award Letter look like?
Your VA award letter may actually encompass multiple documents. First, you’ll see a cover letter that will explain certain key elements of the VA’s decision about your claim. It will include basic information like your name, your claim number, and a brief history of your years of service. It also should include a brief synopsis of your claim. This cover letter is called a Notice of Action letter.
This is typically followed by your decision letter, which will notify you of the VA’s formal decision regarding your claim. If you submitted multiple medical conditions, each will be listed here, along with a statement indicating whether the condition was approved or denied. It’s important to read this section carefully to ensure that any medical condition you submitted for review is listed in the letter with a related decision.
If your medical condition is approved for VA disability benefits, your award letter will include your disability rating and the effective date associated with that particular condition and rating. Each condition is listed separately. For example, if you submitted a VA disability claim for migraine, the entry for that condition might read, “Service connection for migraine is granted with an evaluation of 20% effective Aug. 3, 2020.” And if your claim for migraine is denied, your letter may read, “Service connection for migraine is denied.”
It's important to review the decision section of your letter carefully. Make sure that your claimed medical conditions are listed with a corresponding decision, and that you agree with the VA’s rating of your condition. If you do not agree with the VA’s rating, you can decide whether you are ready to begin the appeals process.
If you have any dependents, the next portion of your decision letter may include information about whether you can expect to receive any additional compensation for your qualifying dependents. Qualifying dependents generally are defined as children under age 18, children between the ages of 18 and 23 who are still in school, children who became disabled before age 18, a spouse, and a dependent parent.
The next portion of your letter is the evidence section, which will outline all the medical evidence and documentation the VA considered when reviewing your claim. Make sure to review this section carefully to ensure that the VA received and considered all relevant medical information that you provided.
The final portion of the letter will detail the VA’s reasoning and rationale behind the decision it has issued. This section may include a chronological timeline of the steps the VA took while reviewing your case, along with an explanation of any applicable laws or regulations.
How do I get a copy of my VA Rating Decision Letter?
The easiest way to get a copy of your VA rating decision letter is to download it from VA.gov. When you visit the site, you can log in using an existing account or set up a new account. Then you will have the option to download your benefit letters. Once you are able to view your letters, you will select the Benefit Summary and Service Verification Letter. At this point, you will be able to select which portions of the full letter you’d like to include before finally selecting to download the document.
If you don’t have Internet access or are otherwise unable to download your letter, you can also submit a written request for a copy of your VA rating decision letter to the VA regional office nearest you.
What if I disagree with the VA Award Letter?
If you feel the VA has assigned the wrong VA disability rating to your claim, you can request an appeal. As long as your VA award letter was received after Feb. 19, 2019, you may request that the VA review your decision as part of a formal appeals process.
You can file a supplemental claim if you have additional or new medical evidence that you believe will strengthen your claim. With this type of review, you can only add medical documentation the VA did not previously have access to during its first review.
The additional documentation must also be relevant to your claim – meaning, it must be powerful enough to prove or disprove something about your original claim. If this doesn’t sound like the right option for you, you also may appeal a VA decision by asking for a more senior VA reviewer to assess your claim. This option does not allow you to submit additional medical documentation. In this case, the senior reviewer may need to contact you to ask questions about your claim.
Your third option is to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and request that a Veterans Law Judge review your case. With this option, you typically will participate in a video conference hearing hosted at your nearest VA location.
Once you have requested a review, the VA will mail you a decision packet after its additional review is complete. This packet will outline the details of the final decision the VA has reached regarding your claim. If you continue to be unsatisfied with the result of your initial appeal, you may escalate it. For example, if you appeal and provide additional medical information with no change in rating, you may request a review by a senior reviewer or the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
What is a Statement of Case?
A Statement of Case is a high-level summary of the VA’s decision regarding your VA disability benefits claim. It typically is issued in response to a Notice of Disagreement the VA receives from a veteran regarding their VA-assigned disability rating.
How To Read Your VA Disability Letter
Your VA disability letter is an important document that explains your disability rating and the VA’s decision regarding service connection. The document should provide the VA’s justification for the rating it has assigned your claim, along with the effective date of your benefits.
Your VA award letter will also outline the procedures you should follow to begin the appeals process if you are unhappy with the VA’s decision. No matter the outcome, this is a document you should read carefully and treat seriously. Be sure to understand the VA’s decision to ensure you are receiving the compensation you have earned.
If you need help understanding your VA benefits letter, you have several options – you can reach out to a Veterans Service Officer or a VA disability attorney. You can also contact a Veterans Benefits Advisor for a free medical evidence evaluation for your claim.