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Informal Claims / Intent to File for Veterans Pensions and Other VA Benefits

Page Reviewed / Updated - February 25, 2010

 As of March 2015, the VA changed the rules for filing informal claims and consequently some of the associated language has changed.  Informal Claims are now referred to as an Intent to File a Claim.

What is an Informal Claim for VA Benefits?

An Informal Claim / Intent to File a Claim is a way to tell the Veterans Benefits Administration that you intend to file a claim for benefits and to establish a date back to which those benefits should be paid. One might be familiar with the terminology, Informal Claim or Inferred Claim, rather than an Intent to File a Claim. This is because prior to March of 2015, an Intent to File a Claim was known as an Informal Claim or an Inferred Claim.

To clarify, there is often a long wait to receive an approval / denial decision on veterans benefits claims. To be fair to applicants, once an application has been approved, the VA will retroactively pay any benefits back to the "effective date" of the application (the date it was received). By filing an Intent to File a Claim, the applicant is establishing the effective date without having to submit a completed application and all the supporting documentation. By allowing this, applicants are not put in the position where they rush a partially completed application solely to establish an effective date. Rushed or partially completed applications are a major factor in the massive VA claims processing backlog, so discouraging these will help the VA to eliminate the claims processing backlog.

The option to file an Intent to File a Claim not only eliminates the pressure to submit a poorly supported claim, but it also allows veterans the option to use the fast-track, Fully Developed Claim approach. Fully Developed Claims receive approval decisions within approximately 3 months instead of the typical 12-18 months that a regular claim takes. The combination of an Intent to File a Claim followed by a Fully Developed Claim is a very good option for most veterans and their family members who are applying for veterans benefits.

Applicants have one year following the submission of an Intent to File a Claim to submit their completed claim for benefits. 


When an Intent to File a Claim Must Be Received

After a claim is approved, retroactive benefits are paid back to the first day of the month following the month in which the Intent to File a Claim was received. For example, if your claim was received May 24th and then your claim was approved 9 months later, you will be back paid to June 1st. This is also the case if your claim was received May 1st or May 31st. Consequently, each month towards the end of the month, there is a rush to get an Intent to File a Claim in since one month's benefits can equal thousands of dollars.

"Getting an Intent to File a Claim in" is determined by the time stamp of the Veterans Service Representative at the Regional Claims Office. The postmark date or certified mail delivery date is not valid as evidence of when the claim was submitted. However, if a claim is filed over the Internet, other methods are used.


Which Types of VA Benefits Can Use an Intent to File Claims

The Intent to File a Claim form is to be used for new, first time claims, not for revisions to existing claims.

An Intent to File a Claim is most relevant when filing Fully Developed Claims. With regular claims, one can submit a partially supported (incomplete) application and get a date stamp so that benefits are retroactive to that date. This is not the case with Fully Developed Claims.

Intent to File a Claim can be used for Pension (Aid and Attendance or Housebound), Death Pension (Survivor's Benefits), Compensation, and DIC (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation) claims.


When Not to File an Intent to File a Claim

Applicants have one full year following the filing of an Intent to File a Claim to file their "formal claim" or completed claim with all the necessary supporting evidence. If an applicant is uncertain whether they can gather all the evidence required within one year, they should not file an Intent to File a Claim. However, in most cases, a year is sufficient time to gather all the needed documents to support a claim.


How to File an Intent to File a Claim?

One must fill out the following form: VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/ or Pension, Survivors Pension, or Other Benefits.

There are four ways to submit this form: Online, over the phone by calling 1-800-827-1000, fax to 1-844-655-1604, or download it and mail it. The VA now uses a centralized processing center, and all application materials, including Intent to File a Claim, should be mailed to the appropriate P.O. Box in Janesville, WI. To find the appropriate region to mail the application materials, click here.

Make note, expert VA planners find the best practice of submitting an application to be either by fax or by mail.



There are no costs associated with filing an Intent to File a claim.


Assistance Options

Completing and submitting the Intent to File a Claim form is not a difficult or necessarily confusing process.  Most veterans or their family members can complete this process with little difficulty.   However, if one is choosing to work with a veterans planning professional to file the complete claim (and there are many reasons to do so), it is advisable that they work with that same individual on the Intent to File a Claim process as well. 

One can read more about veterans planning professional here or to be connected with one here.