Provisions of a federal law that went into effect Aug. 6 now entitles eligible veterans who submit fully developed claims (FDCs) for the first time to retroactive, service-connected disability benefits for up to one year. These provisions remain in effect until Aug. 5, 2015.
The retroactive benefits, to be awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, are a result of a comprehensive legislative package (Public Law 112-154) enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 6, 2012.
“Veterans have an even better reason to submit fully developed claims for their disabilities,” said James E. Koutz, national commander of The American Legion. “Not only do these FDCs move through VA’s adjudication system much faster, but veterans who submit them may qualify for retroactive benefits. This should make the FDC option even more attractive to our veterans, and help VA reduce its claims backlog at the same time.”
Koutz said The American Legion’s 2,700-plus accredited representatives nationwide are available to help any veteran from any war era with his or her disability claim. “Largely due to the training provided by our Department Service Officers School last February, the number of FDCs the Legion is submitting to VA has been going up substantially,” Koutz said.
Last December, The American Legion was invited by the White House to work with VA in generating more FDCs. Since then, teams of Legion experts have worked with several VA regional offices (VAROs), identifying best practices for creating and processing FDCs, and providing more training to its service officers.
FDCs require no further documentation from veterans submitting the claims. As a result, decisions are made on them much faster than for traditional claims that need more development. While the current average processing time for traditional claims to be decided is about 260 days (which contributes to the backlog), the average for FDCs is about 114 days (keeping them below the 125-day threshold that puts a claim into backlog status).
The percentage of FDCs being submitted by American Legion service officers has increased at all eight VAROs the Legion teams visited: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Nashville, Indianapolis, Denver, Oakland, Calif.; Reno, Nev.; and Togus, Maine. Several increases show substantial improvement from fiscal 2013’s first quarter to the end of its third quarter in June.
For example, in the second quarter of fiscal 2013, Legion service officers at the Oakland VARO submitted 5,598 claims; 1,262 of them, or about 22 percent, were FDCs. In the third quarter, the percentage of FDCs increased to 2,475 out of 5,519 total claims – nearly 45 percent.
During the same time period, Legion-submitted FDCs increased from 2.6 percent to 36 percent at the Pittsburgh VARO, and from 30 percent to almost 41 percent in Denver.
VA’s under secretary for benefits, Allison Hickey, said the department “strongly encourages veterans to work with veterans service organizations to file fully developed claims and participate in this initiative, since it means more money in eligible veterans’ pockets simply by providing VA the information it needs up front. At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process.”
FDCs can be filed digitally through the joint VA-Department of Defense online portal, eBenefits. VA encourages veterans who cannot file online to work with an accredited veterans service organization that can file claims digitally on behalf of veterans. While submitting an FDC provides a faster decision for any compensation or pension claim, only veterans who are submitting their very first compensation claim as an FDC are potentially eligible for up to one year of retroactive disability benefits under the newly implemented law.
Veterans can learn more about the FDC program by going to http://www.benefits.va.gov/fdc/.