VA Claims Information


What is a claim?

In order for the VA to acknowledge a service-connected disability, a claim must be filed. Only a FORMAL claim can be acknowledged and worked up. However, an INFORMAL claim is possible to get the process noted for date of claim and to get the ball rolling.

Informal Claim

According to the VA, you may file an informal claim as long as you file a FORMAL claim within their time limits. If you fail to file a FORMAL claim within that time frame, the informal claim will not be addressed.

According to the M21-1MR, Part III, Subpart ii, Chapter 2, Section D (see Additional Links, this website for the actual document)-

Characteristics of an Informal Claim:

    Any communication or action that shows an intent to apply for benefits under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

    An original claim not filed on the prescribed form

    An unsigned application (Except via VONAPP)

    Evidence of examination or hospitalization in a VA or uniformed services health care facility, or

    Any communication regarding the death of the appellant in an appeal

    - submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), and

    - furnished to VA by CAVC.

    An original claim made by telephone

NOTE: There are some instances where an informal claim is not acknowledged.

Formal Claim

To file the formal claim, you have three choices:

  • Call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000

    • Request a 21-526 VETERAN'S APPLICATION FOR COMPENSATION AND/OR PENSION form as well as information about how to file.

  • Go online and download.
    Form 21-526

  • OR
  • Use the VONAPP site (Veterans Online Application) when you are prepared to do so. (See OPTION 4: VONAPP)

NOTE: If you call the VA, also request a pamphlet known as the Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents (P94663). You can also download it from the VA Website. (This booklet will not be used in the claim, but if you don't request it, it won't automatically be sent to you.)

Military Records:

Military records can be difficult to get if you write your branch of service direct. You also might not get everything available in your file.

  • Unless you already have military papers you can submit with your claim, I would suggest that you file your claim without getting these records.
  • Here's the reason:

  • The VA, after receiving your claim, will assign a claim number. They can then request the necessary military information from the correct sources, which could be very varied. Because it is the VA, they have a better chance of getting faster service and more complete records.
  • After your claim is filed and you know the VA has received your military papers, you can then request under the Freedom of Information Act, copies of those papers for your own records.

(See Step 6, Online Research, Miscellaneous, Finding Records for links to some helpful sites.)

(Also, a topic link found in Additional Information that offers information for Active Military Personnel might be of use.)


    There are steps you can take while still active that should help when filing a claim with the VA. See Additional Information, this website, for more.

    If you file a claim while still in the service, the service will send that application and the service medical records to the VA. However, the VA can take no action to process until the first day following the separation from your active military service.