The VA is finally getting around to implementing something that makes sense. Actually, back when I worked in a Regional Office, we used to follow what the VA found might help speed-up the claims process.
The process, the VA suddenly discovered, deals with a ”fully developed claim.” Back in my day, we called it a “perfected claim.” Regardless of the term, when a veteran submits a claim AND has all the required supporting evidence, that claim should be handled in an expedited manner.
Wait a second. Can the VA actually speed up the claim process if they have everything they need to make a decision? They certainly can. This process is being tested, piloted, at certain Regional Offices. Here is a link to the website information, http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2364, or you can read the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 7, 2012
VA, Veteran Representatives Partner in Fully Developed Claims Process
Filing Fully Developed Claims Reduces Processing Times to 110 days
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs hosted an event July 31 for 10 Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) to collaborate in VA’s effort to eliminate the claims backlog.
The main focus of the workshop was VA’s emphasis on the shared goal of better serving Veterans and positive impact of filing Fully Developed Claims (FDC). Participation in the FDC Program is completely optional, and allows for faster claims processing, while preserving a Veteran’s right to appeal a decision.
“VA prides itself on our ongoing partnership with organizations that represent Veterans throughout the VA claims process,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “They are at the frontlines and have a major role in our ability to transform our claims process, starting with fully-developed claims.”
An FDC is a claim where a Veteran submits certain types of evidence, like private treatment records and notice of Federal treatment records, to VA at the time he or she first files a formal claim and certifies they have no more evidence to submit. VA gathers all federal records the Veteran identifies, like those from VA Medical Centers and the Social Security Administration. VA will also send the Veteran to a VA examination should it determine one is needed. The early submittal of evidence and certification by the Veteran allows VA to start processing the claim immediately without holding it for mandatory wait periods, or while VA seeks additional information.
As a result, the Veteran and his or her representative do much of the development that typically takes VA 175 days to gather. Currently, FDC claims take an average of 110 days to decide compared to 254 days through the traditional claims method.
Part of the workshop featured a discussion led by Chicago Regional Office Director Duane Honeycutt on how VA’s regional offices and VSO field staff can work together to increase the numbers of FDCs Veterans file. The Chicago Regional Office is one example of recent successes in reducing the time it takes to process a claim by working with Veteran representatives to increase FDC claims. Currently, FDC make up 10 percent of the RO’s claims, compared to just 3 percent nationwide.
“VA, Veterans representatives and Veterans all have a stake in the claims process,” Honeycutt said. “We continue to operate under the mantra, ‘Grant if you can, deny if you must,’ but more often than not, the challenge is to obtain certain evidence that allows us to grant the claim. That is why partnering with the VSO’s to increase the number of fully developed claims that are submitted is so important. ”
Honeycutt said FDC involves Veterans in the process and allows them more control over their claims. Their reward is a claim that is finished in substantially less time.
“DAV has National Service Officers located in every regional office,” said Jim Marszalak, Assistant Service Director with Disabled American Veterans. “Our NSOs in the Chicago Regional Office started using the FDC program and have seen a dramatic amount of time shaved off waiting times. It has also minimized the amount of appeals we file on our Veterans’ behalf.”
Honeycutt agreed there is a direct correlation between filing an FDC and less of a need to file an appeal versus a traditionally filed claim. Honeycutt believes that since Veterans and their representative submit more evidence necessary to support the claim there are more favorable decisions – and in the case where VA must deny, the Veteran and the representative work to obtain the needed evidence and ask for reconsideration as an FDC.
“Because the FDC program is faster to process, a Veteran can literally get two bites of the apple in less time than a traditional claim gets processed,” Marszalak said.
Using VA Form 21-526EZ, Veterans can file FDC for disability compensation. VA Form 21-527EZ allows Veterans to file for a non-service connected pension. The FDC forms, found at http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf and http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-527EZ-ARE.pdf include information on what evidence is VA’s responsibility and what evidence is the Veteran’s responsibility.
For more information on the Fully Developed Claims program, visit http://benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/.