VA Form 526 is used to initiate a new claim. Use this form if you wish to file a new claim for disability or pension benefits. VA Form 526b is also used to file claims for increased ratings or to reopen a previously denied claim. Be sure to follow the directions closely. Claims for VA benefits are initially made in writing to your VA Regional Office (“RO”). You can contact your local RO to obtain forms for filing your claim by calling 1-800-827-1000. After developing your case, the RO will send you a decision, called a “rating decision.”
The following information is provided as a general guideline. Providing the information listed below is not a guarantee that you will win your case, however, if VA doesn’t have this evidence, it is likely that your claim will be denied.
Service connection: In order to have the best chance of getting a claim for service connection granted, you should make sure VA has the following evidence: (1) medical evidence (in writing from a doctor) saying what your current disability is, (2) evidence (from yourself or your service records) showing that you had some sort of injury in service, or medical evidence that you contracted a disease or that your condition got permanently worse in service, and (3) evidence in writing from a doctor that the condition you now have began in service, or, if it began before service, that it was permanently aggravated during service.
If you are applying for service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a veteran will now be able to establish the occurrence of an in-service stressor through his or her own testimony, provided that: (1) the Veteran is diagnosed with PTSD; (2) a VA psychiatrist or psychologist, or a psychiatrist or psychologist with whom VA has contracted confirms that the claimed stressor is adequate to support a PTSD diagnosis; (3) the Veteran’s symptoms are related to the claimed stressor; and (4) the claimed stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the Veteran’s service and the record provides no clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
Reopening a claim: If you have made a claim for service connection for a disability and the claim was denied, but not appealed, the law requires that you “reopen” your claim before VA will consider it again. In order to reopen the claim, you must first submit “new and material” evidence. Basically, this means you must look at the reasons the VA denied the claim the first time, and submit some new evidence that fixes the problem. For example, if your claim was denied the first time because you had no evidence that your current condition was related to service, you will need to submit some evidence that does link your condition to service.
Increased rating: If your claim is for entitlement to an increased rating, you can learn what criteria will be used to assign your rating, by looking at 38 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 4. (This should be available at your local library or courthouse). If you look at a rating decision, there will be a four-digit code listed next to each condition. These codes, called “Diagnostic Codes” are listed in the CFR. You can see there what you need to show in order to get a higher rating for your condition. The best thing to do to prove your case is to document (preferably through medical evidence) that you have the symptoms listed for the higher rating.
Total disability due to individual unemployability: To receive unemployment benefits from VA, you must have evidence that your service-connected disabilities, by themselves, make it so that you can’t work or that even if you can work a bit, you can’t do so in such a way as to make income to meet the poverty line. The best way to document this is to have your doctor explain that you can’t work as a result of your service-connected disabilities by themselves. Just showing that you can’t work or that you can’t find work is not enough to receive this benefit.
Brenda Keener is a paralegal with Goodman Allen & Filetti.