Last March, the Department of Veterans Affairs began requiring that all claims to the agency be filed on standardized VA forms, ending the VA’s longtime practice of informally initiating veterans’ disability claims. This new process has helped the VA make significant progress in reducing its backlog, but more progress can be made with the improved use of one of the most underutilized documents the VA provides: VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC.

Though not required to formally start the claims process, an Intent to File allows veterans to informally establish a forthcoming claim. Once the Intent to File is received by the VA, veterans have 12 months to gather evidence and formally file, essentially bookmarking their intentions and the effective date for the subsequent formal claim. Submitting the form simply advises the VA of forthcoming actions.

Securing an effective date for a benefits claim should be top priority, even before assembling the evidence needed to support the claim. Establishing this official starting point with VA Form 21-0966 ensures veterans will receive the compensation they earned retroactively if their claim is granted, regardless of how long it takes to adjudicate the claim.

The form takes roughly 15 minutes to complete, though often less, and requires information necessary to identify and support compensation, pension and other benefit claims. Additionally, a standardized Notice of Disagreement form (VA Form 21-0958) is required if a claimant wishes to initiate an appeal of a VA decision. These forms can be submitted electronically through eBenefits, over the phone by contacting a DAV national service officer or by mailing a paper copy to a DAV national service office.

Learn More Online

Contact information for those offices can be found online at and standardized VA forms can be found at