Skip to Content

PDF documents

On this page:

About PDF documents

Some content on the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) website is provided in PDF (portable document format).

PDF files are used for electronic distribution because they preserve the look and feel of the original document, complete with fonts, colours, images, and layout. They can also be used across many different types of computers and browsers and are a good format for downloading and printing.

Modern web browsers have PDF reading software built-in but they do not support the full implementation of the PDF standard. For example, some modern web browsers restrict users from filling in PDF forms.

To fill in a PDF form electronically, first save the form to your computer and then open the PDF file with Adobe Reader or an alternative PDF reader.

Free PDF readers can be downloaded from the Internet. Type “free PDF reader” into your favourite Internet search engine to find out more about the available products.


DVA does not endorse or offer warranties as to the suitability or safety of any PDF reader products. The information on this page is provided solely for the information of those unfamiliar with PDF files and who might benefit from some assistance in obtaining the free PDF readers available.

Back to top

Accessibility of PDFs

PDF file standards have improved over the years and have become more accessible through technologies like screen readers, keyboard navigation and enhanced screen viewing. The Adobe site provides information on how best to use these features. Note: You might come across earlier versions of PDF files which are not so accessible.

See: Using accessible PDF documents with Adobe Reader 7.0 or later: a guide for people with disabilities (PDF 10.5 MB)

Back to top

Using Adobe Reader

Select or click on a link that points to a PDF file. Depending on your computer settings, the browser will:

  • go straight to the PDF document, which opens in the browser window and can be browsed online or printed, OR
  • open a 'dialogue box' that gives you the option of opening the PDF file from its present location for immediate viewing, or saving the file to your hard disk.

If you save the file to your hard disk, it can be viewed any time without having to return to the website. Open Adobe Reader and choose 'File - Open...' then proceed as you would when opening any other type of document. Alternatively, you can double-click on the document to open it.

You can browse through the document onscreen, or print it so you have a paper copy. Alternatively, you might wish to print only a part of the document. Further information about printing PDF documents is below.

Configuring your browser

Modern web browsers have PDF reading software built-in but they do not support the full implementation of the PDF standard. For example, some web browsers restrict users from filling in PDF forms.

Furthermore, the Adobe plug-ins are less supported in modern web browsers. The Adobe website has information about the change in support for Acrobat and Reader plug-ins in modern web browsers.

You can configure some web browsers to open PDF files either within the browser window or in a separate Adobe Reader window. There are detailed instructions on the Adobe website on how to do so for different browsers: Display PDF in browser | Acrobat DC, Acrobat Reader DC

Back to top

Printing PDF documents

To print a PDF document, choose one of:

  • the Printer button on toolbar of your PDF reader
  • the Printer button on your web browser toolbar
  • 'File - Print ...' from the standard menu bar.

Proceed as you would when printing any other type of document.

Beware large documents!

IMPORTANT: Before printing, take a note of the number of pages in the document as some PDF documents can be quite large. There is a page counter at the top or bottom of the Reader window (depending on the version) which tells you what page you're on and the total number of pages (e.g. 1 of 20).

Print settings

You can print all or part of a PDF document. After choosing one of the print methods referred to above, a 'dialogue box' titled 'Print or something similar will open on the screen. This gives you a number of printing options that will differ depending on your system configuration. Choose the print settings you wish.

At the least, there will be the option of printing the whole document, the current page or a selection of pages (e.g. pages from 4-10). You should also be able to select print quality. Note that if you have difficulty printing the document, try reducing the print quality (i.e. dots per inch or dpi), but note that this could affect the quality of any graphics in the document.

The dialogue box should also allow you to select the number of copies you want to print (default is usually 1), and whether to print to a new file on your hard drive, and/or shrink the contents of the screen document to fit the paper size in your printer. There may be other options available. If in doubt, try the online help in Reader by choosing the 'Help' (or 'Window' depending on version) drop-down menu on the Reader toolbar, or using the F1 key on your keyboard.

Back to top

Searching PDFs

In an open PDF document, type your search term in the white search box in the Reader toolbar. The 'search engine' will look through the document for the word or phrase you have entered. If the word or phrase exists, each occurrence will be highlighted. Choose the forward (or back) arrows on the page icons next to the search box to move to the next (or previous) occurrence of your term.

Back to top

Mac Help 

Changing your default PDF viewer 

With Mac OSX an application called "Preview" is the default viewer for PDF documents. Unfortunately while "Preview" can do a lot it does not fully support the PDF standard and you will not be able to edit documents (which means you will not be able to fill in DVA forms on your Mac using "Preview").

To change your default PDF viewing software to another program follow the steps below.

Note: You should install an alternative application such as Adobe Acrobat Reader before following these steps.

  1. Download a PDF or find a PDF file on your Mac.
  2. Right click (or hold down "Control" and then left click) on the PDF to bring up the menu below. 
    The Mac contextual menu. Select 'Get Info' from this menu.
  3. Select "Get Info" from the menu. A new menu will open showing the file details.
  4. On the file Info menu find the heading "Open With:".
  5. Click the Drop down menu under "Open With" to show a list of installed programs you can use to open PDF files.
    A new menu will open - this menu lists your current default program under the heading 'Open With'
  6.  Select your preferred PDF viewing program (in this case we are using Acrobat Reader) from the list.
    List of programs that can open your chosen file type.
  7. If your preferred program does not appear in the list click "Other..." (it will always be at the bottom of the list) and find the program you want to use in the "Applications" menu.
    Browse the application menu for your preferred viewer if it does not appear in the list by default
    When you find your program click on it once to select it and then click the "Add" button.
  8. Click the "Change All" button to set this program as your new default.
    The 'Change All' button is located under the options drop down list on the 'Open With' tab.
  9. When asked to confirm the change click "Continue".
    Confirm that you would like to make the change.
  10. Congratulations, you have updated your default PDF viewer. To change the default to another program (including changing it back to "Preview") just work through steps 2 to 9 again.

Back to top

Average: 1.5 (13 votes)