Applying for VA disability compensation benefits can be a long process, resulting in delayed benefits for veterans. The VA has created the Fully Developed Claim process to drastically reduce processing time so veterans can receive their benefits more quickly.
- Military Medical Records
- Military Personnel Records
- Private Medical Records
- Federal Records the VA Can Request
The VA introduced the FDC program in 2010 to reduce the backlog of claims that were stalling the system. It is a fast-track method of getting claims through the process by putting all the responsibility on the claimant for gathering and submitting evidence related to their claim.
There is more work required on the front end by the claimant, but claims are processed faster, and veterans get compensation quicker. However, if the packet isn’t thoroughly put together and documents are missing that prove service connection, the probability of claim denial is greater.
Veterans should educate themselves in the pros and cons of the fully developed claim process to determine if this route is best for their individual VA claim. Consulting a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) to help assemble and review the claim can also help your odds of getting your claim approved.
You can submit your VA claim in one of two ways: the standard VA claim or fully developed claim route. There are a few differences between the two. It takes the VA less time to decide on a fully developed claim. Results can come in 30 days. The faster process makes this an attractive option to many veterans.
The reason for faster claims processing is that you must do all the research and evidence gathering on your end before submitting the claim. The VA will only assist in getting documents from Federal sources, such as military records and VA medical records.
If you have medical evidence from civilian doctors or witness letters to submit, you must submit everything together when you file your fully developed claim. Essentially, you are telling the VA that you have submitted everything they need to review your claim, and you won’t be submitting anything else.
The VA will treat your fully developed claim with as much attention as the standard claim. If they feel further evidence is needed, they will switch your fully developed claim to a standard claim, and you’ll have up to a year to provide the suggested documentation.
Even though the VA will carefully review your fully developed claim, the chances of claim denial are greater going the fully developed route since there isn’t an opportunity to submit more evidence as you get it.
You should consider the complexity of your case before choosing between the fully developed claim or standard claim processing. If your medical condition is still changing, you won’t be able to add new evidence that may be key in getting your claim approved.
What Is a Standard VA Claim?
A standard VA claim is a claim for VA disability benefits that follows the traditional route. The process takes much longer than a fully developed claim, however, the VA can help you gather evidence.
To file a standard claim, veterans must submit VA Form 210526EZ. Applications are completed online, in person at your VA regional office, or through the mail.
You have up to a year from the application date to submit evidence. Examples of evidence are military orders, medical records, witness letters, or other documents connecting your condition with your time in service.
The VA can request federal records for you, such as military records, VA treatment records, or documents from the Social Security Administration. If you have these documents, you can submit them to save time. The VA can also request documents from non-federal agencies, such as civilian doctors and employers, but you must provide authorization to do so.
As of October 2021, the average length of time to process a standard claim for disability compensation is 144.4 days.
What Is a Fully Developed Claim?
A fully developed claim contains all the evidence necessary for the VA to decide on a VA disability claim. Like the standard claim, you can apply online, in person, or through the mail. You can begin working on the application, save it, and return to it later to complete it. Once you start the claim, you have a year to complete it.
When completing the application, you will need to attach all required evidence when you apply. Common types of evidence are active duty orders, medical treatment records, and service member statements. Once you certify that the claim is complete, you won’t be able to submit any further evidence.
Who can submit a fully developed claim?
A service member who has a condition caused or aggravated by military service or has a condition caused or aggravated by another disability that the VA has already approved is eligible to submit a fully developed claim.
Since the claimant provides all the evidence upfront, a fully developed claim takes less time to process than a standard claim. If the claim is approved, the effective date for VA compensation will be the application start date.
To improve the chances of your fully developed claim, you should submit the following types of evidence and documentation:
Attach all military medical records related to the condition you are claiming. Presenting all available documentation will help to support your claim. Include documents such as sick call notes, treatment records, military profiles, military hospital records, X-rays, and test results. Also include annual, pre-deployment, or post-deployment physicals that may address the condition.
Military personnel records are a vital part of linking a service connection to your condition. Submit documents like mobilization orders, temporary duty orders, or PCS orders. Also, include any performance evaluations or counseling statements that may address any limitations you experienced due to injury or illness. If you need help finding these documents, contact previous units or ask the VA to help.
Include any records you have from private medical treatment. Obtain copies of treatment notes, test results, emergency room visits, or other documentation related to the condition. If you no longer live near these private medical facilities, you can contact the medical records department for help in obtaining copies of these files.
Federal Records the VA Can Request
The VA can help you to collect records relating to your claim from federal sources. If you need help getting a copy of military orders or your DD214, the VA can request a copy for you. They can also obtain medical records from VA medical clinics. If you are receiving Social Security disability, the VA can get copies of documents that would be helpful to your disability claim. You’ll need to let the VA know what records are required and provide authorization for them to request documents on your behalf.
Filing a fully developed claim is relatively simple once you have gathered all your supporting documentation. To begin the application, you’ll need to create an account or log in to your existing account on VA.gov. Click on the button to apply for benefits.
Before beginning your application, you will have the opportunity to add a VA representative to act on your behalf if you need assistance from someone like a Veteran Service Office (VSO). VSOs provide free support to help veterans access their benefits.
The application starts by giving you a privacy act notice, an overall explanation of the Fully Developed Claim Program, and important dates to follow. You have one year from the date you begin the claim to complete it, upload all the necessary evidence, and submit it. In this section, you will also add your contact information and account information used for disability compensation payments should your claim be approved.
In the next section, you’ll enter your military service history according to the dates on your DD214 or other military personnel records that you have. To accurately prove the service connection, the dates you enter must be accurate. Service periods that the VA has already verified will already appear in the application. These fields are not able to be edited. If you feel there is an error, contact the VA to request a correction.
You can either enter a new disability, request an increase to an existing disability, or add a secondary disability from this screen. After selecting the disability type, you’ll choose your condition from a drop-down list of disability conditions.
The application will ask if you have received treatment for this condition at a VA Medical Center. If you answer yes, you’ll enter specific information about your treatment. Answer no, and you’ll move to the next section.
You may be entitled to other compensation benefits in conjunction with this claim. In this section of the application, you’ll receive information about benefits for veterans that may apply to your case. You’ll have the option to select any benefits you may be entitled to in this section.
This next important step allows you to upload all supporting evidence you want the VA to review so that they can decide on your disability claim. Be sure to upload all evidence before submitting it because there will not be an opportunity to upload more documents after the final submission. Files are uploaded from your computer and attached to the application for processing.
You will have the opportunity to review your application along with all attachments and certify that there is no other evidence before submitting the completed application. The VA includes a step where claimants can enroll in VA health care if they have not done so already. After the final application submission, you will receive a confirmation number.
Fully Developed Claim for VA Pension Benefits
The fully developed claim process is an option when applying for VA pension benefits. All supporting documents must be submitted along with the application, just like the disability claim process.
Submit a fully developed claim for VA pension benefits by filling out the application, VA Form 21P-527EZ, either online, in person, or through the mail. Include all necessary evidence with your application at the time of submission. Evidence that is required:
- Income and net worth information
- Related private medical records
- Information about any documents you need to include from federal agencies
Other evidence may be required depending on any special circumstances of your case.
Examples of special circumstances are:
- Housebound or Aid and Attendance – doctor examination and nursing home information (VA Form 21-2680 and 21-0779)
- Claiming a minor aged 18-23 that is in school – school attendance authorization (VA Form 21-674)
- Filing a claim for a severely disabled child – private medical records
All supporting documents will be fully completed and submitted at the time of application.
Disabled veterans who plan to file a VA disability claim can choose to file either a standard claim or a fully developed claim. Before selecting a claim process, veterans should familiarize themselves with the benefits and risks of filing a fully developed claim.
The fully developed claim process leads to faster results because claimants gather all evidence before applying for benefits and certify that no further evidence will be submitted. Since the VA does not need to obtain supporting documents, the fully developed claim process is faster. The VA will still assist with getting federal records from agencies such as the military, VA medical clinics, and SSA.
Applicants have one year from opening the application to complete the form, gather all relevant records, and submit the final application. If the claim is approved and the veteran is awarded disability benefits, they will be paid back to the date the application was started. In other words, the veteran gets retroactive benefits back to the time the process began.
Although it is not required to enlist the help of a Veterans Service Organization to file a claim, VA officials recommend using their services. Experienced VSOs can help compile the necessary evidence to connect disabilities to military service and reduce the need for VA disability appeals.
In addition to filing for disability compensation, the FDC program can also be used to apply for VA pension benefits. Thanks to faster claims processing times, veterans needing this benefit for homecare, aid and attendance, or disability compensation can get the help they deserve.