Can a Fully Developed Claim Really Help Me Get My Disability Benefits Faster?
When you’re in the business of helping veterans secure disability benefits, you inevitably field the following question: Why is the VA is taking so long to process my claim?
There are many factors that affect processing time, including the current backlog, but sometimes the delay is beyond the VA’s control. When a veteran files a standard disability claim it is the VA’s responsibility, under the Duty to Assist doctrine, to gather all the evidence that could help prove your claim, including medical records from private (non-VA) healthcare providers. Sometimes delays are the result of a private doctor taking a while to respond to the VA’s request for medical records. One solution the VA introduced to try to address delays like these is the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) program, an alternative to the standard claim process.
What’s the Difference Between a Fully Developed Claim and a Standard Claim?
When you file a standard claim, the VA is responsible for gathering the medical and service records you have identified as pertinent to your claim. The FDC, on the other hand, lets you gather all of the evidence you need to support your claim, which you attach and submit along with your application. The VA doesn’t have to develop the claim by going through service or medical records and they don’t have to wait for private treating physicians to respond to requests for records because you’ve already attached everything.
The prospect of getting a quick decision on a claim and receiving monetary compensation as soon as possible is the reason why many veterans check the fully developed claim box on their VA Form 21-526EZ. The VA’s target for making a decision on FDCs is 125 days, which they have been hitting or exceeding since the option was introduced. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of the FDC process, then we’ll return to the question of whether or not it speeds up the process.
The Fully Developed Claim Process
As designed, the FDC process puts the burden on the veteran to gather all of the evidence together to make your case. When you submit a fully developed claim you’re saying to the VA, “I’ve done all the legwork and everything I need to support my claim is contained in this application. There isn’t anything else, and I want you to proceed on this basis.”
For some veterans the FDC option is attractive because it gives you a little more control over the evidence-gathering part of the claims process. In order to streamline the preparation of an FDC, the VA has provided Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) for veterans to give to their providers to fill out. These forms cover different types of illnesses and conditions. If your illness or condition is not considered eligible for presumptive benefits (see this Presumptive Benefits Fact Sheet), you will also need a letter from a doctor stating that, in their professional medical opinion, your illness is service-connected with supporting analysis, meaning it began or got worse during your time in active service.
An FDC Without Enough Evidence Becomes a Standard Claim
When anything is missing from your claim, or you have to reschedule your C&P exam, your claim is automatically excluded from the FDC process and is handled as a standard claim. In some cases the VA may send a “development letter” to the veteran asking for specific additional information to process an FDC claim, but missing evidence will usually result in your claim getting switched over to a standard claim. When this happens, it’s not the end of the world. The VA gathers the rest of the evidence it needs to be able to make a decision on your claim.
How Do I Make Sure My Claim Will Be Processed as an FDC?
If you are still intent on filing an FDC, there are several things you can do to ensure your claim is approved as an FDC:
- Register for an eBenefits account to bypass snail mail and paper document handling
- Get help from a VSO: they know the process and have the training to make sure all your documentation is in order and can be provided with your application
- Gather all the relevant documents, including private medical records pertaining to the claim, service medical records (the VA will still obtain your service records, but including them will save time), and buddy statements.
- Highlight or mark specific records that describe or mention the specific disabilities or illnesses you are claiming if they are in records that refer to multiple conditions.
- File your claim through eBenefits or call 1-800-827-1000.
Does the FDC Really Speed up the process?
The answer, according to the latest VA data as of this writing, is NO. Data as of June 5, 2021 indicates that the FDC average days to complete is 116 days, where a non-FDC is 113 days. Thus, it is currently slower to file a FDC.
Why You’d Want to File a Standard Claim From the Beginning
One reason you’d want to file a standard claim is because it’s not any slower than the FDC process–at the moment it is slightly faster–and the VA handles most of the legwork. Generally speaking, given how easily an FDC claim can get switched over to a standard claim, you may want to save yourself the time and effort by filing a standard claim from the beginning. Remember, the VA is required by law (“Duty to Assist”) to obtain all of the relevant records on your behalf.
Whichever claim process you choose, the time it takes for the VA to make a ruling on your disability claim is well worth the wait. The monthly compensation a 100% disabled veteran receives is over $3,000 a month, while the average processing time for all types of claims was 115 days as of June 2021, according to the VA.
My Claim Was Denied. Now What?
Whether you filed an FDC claim or a standard claim, if you received an unfavorable decision from the VA, not to worry. You still have options. The Rep for Vets can help you appeal the decision. Unfortunately, we’ve handled countless claims where the VA made processing errors or did not offer evidence that could have helped the veteran win their claim.
A veterans’ service organization (VSO) can offer some support in developing a claim, but we believe it is imperative to seek professional assistance from a VA-accredited claims agent when appealing an unfavorable decision or denial. We can help gather any additional evidence and check for VA errors or filing oversights on your part. We can also help increase your rating if you believe your rating is lower than you deserve. Staffed by compassionate veterans who understand the ins and outs of the claims process, we feel it is our duty to help out in any way we can. Call us at 1-888-573-7838 for a free case evaluation or fill out the free evaluation form to get started.