The welter of rules and complications involved in determining effective dates for veteran's compensation boils down to two points: The effective date is almost always the date that you request disability, and once the Veterans Administration sets the effective date, it's all but impossible to change. You can get retroactive pay, however, in a few cases -- or if you file your claim through the Fully Developed Claims program.
Veteran's compensation is a collection of benefits for injured veterans or veterans' survivors. Disability compensation, the best known of the benefits, is a lifetime annuity paid to veterans who have disabilities, diseases or injuries that were incurred or worsened during military service. The annuity begins after the Veterans Administration approves your disability status, and you get a lump sum payment to account for the time between your effective date and the date your payments began. Getting an earlier effective date means getting a bigger lump sum when the annuity starts.
The effective date of a veteran's disability compensation is usually the date of the first request for disability status. It has long been a common practice for veterans to contact the V.A. to say they intend to file a claim, following up with a more formal request after the V.A. sends the appropriate form. A vet has a year to file the claim after receiving the form. In practice, it may take several rounds of documentation requests by snail mail before the V.A. makes its determination, and a determination can take several months.
There are only three ways you can get retroactive pay, meaning an effective date earlier than your first disability claim. If you file within a year of your discharge, your effective date is usually your discharge date. If your disability is related to the chemical weapon Agent Orange, the effective date, or "date of entitlement," may be the date that the V.A. acknowledged that the disability has a service connection rather than your filing date. Finally, you can get up to a year's retroactive benefits by using the V.A.'s "fast track" program, implemented in December 2012. Formally, it's called the Fully Developed Claims program.
Fully Developed Claims
The gist of the Fully Developed Claims program is that the veteran does more of the documentation legwork. The program is an effort to cut the time required for disability determinations. The fast-track program strongly encourages online filing. When you provide all the evidence at the same time and certify that it's all the evidence you have, the V.A. can make a decision quickly. You have a year to supply the documentation after you file a claim. At the time of this writing, retroactive payments will only be granted until August 2015, although the time limit may change.
Clear and Unmistakable Errors
After the V.A. sets the effective date, your only option for changing it is to find a clear and unmistakable error -- a CUE, as the claim is called -- on the V.A.'s part. The mistake may be, for example, a misinterpretation of facts or a misapplication of regulations, but in any case, CUE claims are hard to win. You should go to a lawyer who specializes in them. Typically, such attorneys work for a contingency fee; their pay is a percentage of the proceeds of a successful claim. Such attorneys only take your case if they think they can win it.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Compensation -- Types of Compensation
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Compensation -- Effective Dates
- Fox News: Vets Groups Slam Obama Administration's Proposed V.A. Disability Filing Rule
- Nolo.com: How V.A. Determines Effective Dates for Disability Compensation -- When Veterans' Back Pay Starts
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Fully Developed Claims
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs -- NASDVA Joins Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice
- Legal Help for Veterans: Frequently Asked Questions -- What Will My Appeal Cost Me?
Sarah Brumley has written extensively on business and health-industry topics since 1995. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from Funk & Wagnall's yearbooks to "Medical Economics," a magazine for physicians. She holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.