In order to substantiate your claim for compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs is going to need several pieces of evidence (an application, service treatment records, current medical records, disability benefits questionnaires, and a VA medical examiner’s opinion to name just a few). Essentially, this is where you prove your case, and the case can be as long and drawn-out as you want it to be, or you can expedite your claim by making sure everything the VA needs is there on day one. We’re here to help you get everything together so you don’t have to wait months or years for a decision.
In this post we’re going to go in depth on the VA Form 21-526EZ so that all the information the VA needs will be provided there.
VA Form 21-526(EZ)
The first thing you MUST have on your first claim for VA Compensation is the VA Form 21-526. We recommend you complete the VA Form 21-526EZ (http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf), as this is a much shorter form, only addresses the required information, and puts you in line for the FDC (Fully Developed Claim) process, which is the fastest route the VA currently has to getting your claim finalized. Please note: just because you have completed a VA Form 21-526EZ does not mean your claim will be expedited – if there is anything the VA has to obtain on your behalf, the entire claim will be slowed down until the VA receives that information, so it is critical that you provide all the information to VA on day one – the more a giant bureaucracy has to do, the more likely you are to get lost in mountains of paperwork, letters that never needed to be sent, and confusion on what records VA already has versus what they still need.
So what is the VA Form 21-526EZ? The form is the original application form that provides VA with enough information about your military service for them to go and find your military records. So you will want to make sure this is completely accurate, but don’t go into detail if you can avoid it. Anything you leave open to interpretation will likely be misinterpreted and delay your claim. Remember the old KISS acronym – Keep It Simple, Stupid (or Keep It Stupidly Simple).
You must complete your full name, your social security number, your date of birth, and your gender (inaccuracies here have delayed claims, so please be sure not to omit the obvious).
Number 5 asks if you have ever filed a claim with VA – this is to identify if you already have a claims folder with VA – sometimes you do if you previously filed for education benefits or home loan benefits or any other type of VA benefit. If you can’t remember, either leave that blank, or check yes and in Number 6 state “I cannot remember.”
Your current mailing address is important. It may seem obvious, but if you don’t tell VA where to send your check, they’re not going to send you a check (or your debit card nowadays). Always keep your mailing address up to date. The VA does not network with the US Postal Service, so when you update your mailing address with USPS, it does not get updated with VA. Additionally, updating your mailing address with the VA Hospital does not update your address with the rest of VA. If you are moving, or going on a trip for a few months, or anything that could potentially result in your mail getting lost, then you need to send in a VA Form 20-572 (http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-20-572-ARE.pdf) and get it into the VA before you leave.
Your telephone number is also important – if there is any problem with your claim, the VA may call you to request clarification or additional information. If they cannot reach you, they cannot process your claim in a timely manner. The email address is not as important yet, since the VA does not have their digital system fully functioning yet; however, once their “VBMS” (Veterans Benefits Management System) is up and running, your email may be the fastest and most secure method of informing you of actions being taken on your claim and actions you need to take to help your claim.
Number 9 is the most complicated section on the entire VA Form 21-526EZ – many veterans want to go into detail about what their conditions are, while others just list the disability name. We’ll go back to KISS here – this is to be considered a bullet list, not a narrative. In our previous post we discussed direct, secondary, presumptive, and 1151 service connection – this is where we’re going to apply that knowledge.
If you are claiming a condition as directly related to your military service, all you need to do is list the name of the disability. For example, if you broke your arm in service, you write “broken left arm” and leave it like that. The details surrounding the broken arm will be in your service treatment records, and they’ll be discussed in detail on the Disability Benefits Questionnaire that either your VA or private doctor will complete.
If you are claiming a condition as secondary to another condition, all you need to do is list the name of the disability and in parenthesis state “secondary to …” and list the disability that has caused this new condition. For example, if you currently suffer from depression as the result of the amputation to your right arm in service, you would write “depression (secondary to right arm amputation)” and leave it like that.
If you are claiming a condition as presumptive to military service, you should indicate the name of the disability and what it is presumptive to in parenthesis. For example, if you currently have lung cancer as the result of your exposure to ionizing radiation during Operation Redwing, you would write “lung cancer (Radiation Exposure Operation Redwing)” and keep it just that simple.
And finally, if you are claiming a condition under the guidelines of 1151 service connection, you will indicate the disability and put the number 1151 in parenthesis.
If you have received any treatment at a VA Medical Center, you should indicate the name of the facility (include the city and state if possible) and the approximate dates of treatment (it’s often better to just put the year range, because if you were seen on June 3, 1983 but the hospital didn’t log that visit until June 6, 1983, then the VA will only look for June 3, 1983 and will determine the record is not available, and never attempt to obtain your record from June 6, 1983).
Number 11 asks if you served under another name – this does not only apply to women, so if you served under a different name, please be sure to include that information or your records may never be located.
Your service dates are a very important piece of information for the VA and many veterans served multiple periods of service. If you served more than one period of service, be sure to submit your full dates of service, even if you need to submit it on a separate piece of paper. If you do submit a separate document with your service dates on it, please format it in the following manner:
And if you have a service number (as opposed to when the military switched to using social security numbers), please also include that information.
*FIRE RELATED VETERANS: In 1973 there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center which destroyed most of the military records for veterans that served in the Army from November 1, 1912 through January 1, 1960 and for veterans that served in the Air Force from September 25, 1947 through January 1, 1964. If you served in those branches during those time frames, you will want to complete an NA Form 13055 and an NA Form 13075 along with the rest of your claim documents. It will also be beneficial for you if you have your service number readily available, as that may be the only way to locate any records which may have survived the fire.
National Guard and Reserve Unit Veterans
The VA does not have any established procedures for obtaining your service treatment records or your personnel records from the National Guard (which is run differently from state to state) and the Reserve (which is run differently depending on branch and unit). To reduce the bureaucracy, it is beneficial if you can tell the VA with certainty as to the location of your service treatment records and military personnel records.
If you list you served in the National Guard back in the 80’s, the VA will attempt to go to the National Guard for your service treatment records, even if those records have been combined with your regular military service records and sent to the National Personnel Records Center or the Records Management Center. The trouble is, every Guard and Reserve unit seem to handle their records retention policies differently. Things are made even more confusing for VA when a unit is currently in deployment – are the records deployed with the unit, or are they stored in a state-side storage facility.
Although it may not always be possible, it may be in your best interest to obtain your service treatment records and military personnel records from your Guard or Reserve unit as soon as you are released so that you will have them in your possession to submit the the VA along with your claim documents.
Section III on the VA Form 21-526EZ is for separation, severance, or retired pay – failure to provide this information up-front does not prevent the VA from discovering it later. Once you are in the VA’s system, the Department of Defense will send information regarding your service pay. If you had failed to supply this information up front, it could mean the temporary withholding of any benefits you are entitled to, or it could result in a debt being called against you, in which case you will have to pay the VA through their Debt Management Center. So it’s best to provide the information if you know the details.
Section IV on the VA Form 21-526EZ is for your direct deposit information. The VA does not write checks anymore, so if you don’t fill out this information, you have to apply for a debit card for VA to deposit the money into. It’s best to just fill out the direct deposit information. If you’re worried about the government, or your spouse, monitoring your money, you may want to consider opening a new account solely for the purpose of maintaining your VA compensation benefits. Remember, VA Compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit, so if you don’t need the money for anything in particular, consider talking with a financial advisor on how to invest the money for your future or for the future of your family.
Finally the end of the VA Form 21-526EZ – your signature and date. Please note the check box directly above the signature block – do not check this box as it will place your claim in the traditional (slow) processing queue.
That concludes our post on the VA Form 21-526EZ; however, that is only the first part of the VA application process, and if you submit your claim with only that form it will likely still take several months before your claim is finalized. Check with us later this week as we’ll go over private treatment records and how to make sure the VA doesn’t waste all year chasing records that don’t exist.
Thank you as always to all who have served. Hopefully you are finding this information helpful. Please remember to share with other veterans you may know as we are hoping to become a comprehensive resource for VA compensation for all veterans.