There's no statute of limitations to apply for veterans disability compensation, but there is a deadline for filing an appeal if you're denied benefits. While you can apply for VA disability benefits years after service, you should file an application for benefits as soon as you're disabled. A VA appeal can take a long time, and you may be waiting for months—or even years—before your VA disability claim is approved.
Fortunately, if your VA appeal is granted, you'll get paid benefits going back to the date of your original application. You'll receive those benefits in the form of a lump sum payment from the VA to cover the period of time between when you filed for benefits and when the VA approved your claim.
You have one year from the date of the denial letter the VA sent you to file an appeal. You can't request an extension of this deadline, so if you don't agree with the VA's decision, it's best to appeal sooner rather than later.
Common reasons why veterans appeal a denial include:
Keep in mind that if you applied for VA benefits on the basis of multiple disabilities, the VA might not make a decision about all of your disabilities at once. You may receive additional denial letters, and you have one year to appeal for each letter you receive.
When you appeal your denial, the VA will ask how you'd like your claim to be reviewed. You can choose from the following methods:
The best type of appeal for you depends mainly on whether you have new and "material" evidence that the VA hasn't seen yet. For more information, see our article on how to appeal a veterans disability denial.
Note that if you've had a service-connected disability that's been rated at the same percentage for 20 years or more, the VA can't reduce your disability below that rating. This is sometimes called a "continuous" or "protected" disability, or, more informally, the "20-year rule."
Setting a definitive timeline is tricky because each veteran's case is different, but generally speaking, you can estimate how long it will take based on the type of appeal you file:
If you don't like the decision you received using one method, you can usually try again with another method if you have new and relevant evidence. And if you've been denied after a board appeal, you can request a review from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
The CAVC is a special court just for veterans claims, designed to make sure the VA decisions comply with the law. If you want the CAVC to review your denial, you have 120 days to file a Notice of Appeal.
The Notice of Appeal doesn't need to be on any special form—you can simply write a letter to the court asking for an appeal. But make sure to include all of the required information listed in Rule 3(c) of the Court's Rules of Practice and Procedure. (If you haven't yet gotten an attorney at this stage, now's the time.)
If you miss an appeal deadline, your claim is considered to be closed and your denial "final." But you might be able to ask the VA to reopen your claim and reconsider it. You can request reopening at any time, but the VA will only grant your request if you have new and material evidence—meaning evidence that wasn't available at the time of the original decision and would have likely changed the outcome of that decision.
You can also file a request for revision of a previous final decision based on "clear and unmistakable error" at any time. But this is a very high standard to meet and you can only do it once, so you'll need the assistance of a veterans disability attorney to determine whether this is the right course of action for you.
Not only is there no statute of limitations for applying for VA benefits, there is also no limit to the number of times you can apply for benefits. At every level of appeal, if you're denied benefits, you can start all over again with a brand new application. But be smart about when you apply for VA benefits—having too many claims or appeals can clog up your case and cause further delays.
For more information on benefits for disabled veterans, see our articles on filing for VA disability compensation and what veterans should know about filing for Social Security disability.
Updated August 2, 2023