The 4 Key Things That Must Be Proven In Every VA Benefits Claim

Veterans Benefits
Department of Veterans Affairs photo

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Veterans Law Blog, the largest and longest running blog on veterans benefits, written by VA-accredited attorney Chris Attig.


This is going to sound strange coming from an attorney who represents veterans, but not every veteran needs to hire an attorney or veteran service organization to represent them. There are many of you out there who are perfectly capable of handling your own VA claim or appeal.

I encourage veterans who want to take charge of their own claim to work through these eight steps to improve your own VA claim. I developed the eight-step approach, and use it in my firm’s claims and appeals cases, after years of studying how the VA does, and does not, handle claims and appeals.

The first step in this approach is to admit that we, veterans, see the problem in our VA claims and are ready to do something about it.

The problem isn’t the VA. The problem isn’t Congress. Okay, they are the problem. But you can’t fix that problem. The VA has been a soup sandwich for 100 years and will continue to be one.

The problem — the one that we can fix — is that we have the ability to take back the power in our own VA claims and appeals.

There are four key things that need to be proved in just about any VA benefits claim — what I call the four pillars. These are:

You will notice in that each of these four pillars rests on evidence from your VA claims file.

If you don’t have a copy of your VA claims file, then you have found one of the five reasons that the VA keeps screwing up your claim.

Get your C-file; if you don’t know what’s in it, it may be hurting your claim. What is, and what is not, in it is the reason your claim has been held up for so long.

Fight battles in your VA benefit claim in that order.

What I really like about the four pillars approach is that you can streamline your VA claim or appeal for the VA regional office employee by focusing on the issues in just that order.

In other words, stop arguing with the VA over effective dates until you have a condition service-connected and an impairment rating assigned.

Arguments about impairment ratings are largely going to be ignored by the VA until you can build pillar number two: service connection.

Focus your written submissions on the four pillars of a VA benefit claim.

Every document you file with the VA should have some so-called “CYA” (Cover Your Ass) language in it. After that, organize your submission by giving each of the four pillars a separate heading. Here’s how that might look.

I want you to focus on the structure and organization of the argument below, not the actual words. For example, if you use the phrase “Pillar 1,” the VA won’t have a clue what you are talking about — that’s a term meant to help give you help seeing how the four pillars can build your VA benefit claim arguments for you.

As you read the sample format below, think about whether this kind of organization might help a VA rater more easily understand your claim and issue a quicker decision.

Condition: Diabetes

Pillar 1: Eligibility as a veteran

I have shown that I am an eligible veteran. Explain the details of how you became eligible, and cite to the page in your VA C-file that has the evidence proving that you are eligible.

Pillar 2: Service connection

I have shown that I am entitled to service connection of my diabetes because I showed evidence of my high blood sugar in service, have provided a medical statement from the VA Medical Center showing that I have was diagnosed with diabetes after my discharge, and have an expert medical opinion explaining how my diabetes is at least as likely as not related to my military service.

Again, be sure to cite to the page in your VA C-file that has the evidence proving that you are eligible. It doesn’t matter whether you think you have proven service connection. What does matter is that you provide evidence that you did prove each element.

Pillar 3: Impairment rating

I have attached a Disability Benefits Questionnaire from my VA medical center doctor that shows the current state of my diabetes, and in comparison with 38 CFR Table 4 (Diagnostic Code 7913) I believe I am entitled to a 40% rating for my diabetes.

Pillar 4: Effective date

It is my opinion that I am entitled to an effective date of [Choose the earliest date you think the law will support]. However, I will reserve my arguments about effective dates until after the VA ratings decision granting service connection and a 40% impairment rating is issued.

More articles from The Veterans Law Blog:

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less