Category: Veterans Disability Law
VA Fully Developed Claim: Timeline & VA Development Letter
If you were injured or disabled as a result of military service, you may be entitled to compensation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A large number of veterans file for VA disability each year, and the process can be overwhelming. For standard claims, VA is expected to help veterans file their claims by gathering all the required evidence. If you have all the necessary information to file a claim and want to try and reduce potential wait times, you might try submitting a fully developed claim.
What Does Fully Developed Claim Mean?
The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program allows veterans to have a choice in how they choose to file their VA disability claim. This specific program provides you with the opportunity to be fully in charge of the collection and presentation of relevant information. When applying for compensation, pension, survivor benefits, etc. VA typically gathers evidence for your case. When you file a fully developed claim, however, you obtain all the evidence ahead of time and submit it to VA with no requirement for further action. When you specify that no additional information is needed, VA is capable of making a decision sooner rather than later.
Once you have begun the process of filing a VA fully developed claim, you have up to one year to finish it. If VA rules in your favor, you will be paid benefits dating back to when you first began the claim.
When filing a fully developed claim, it is important that you have all of the evidence you want VA to consider. Fully developed claims signal VA that nothing else is needed for claim support. If VA looks at your claim and decides there is necessary evidence missing, it may switch your claim into the Standard Claims program.
What Information Should Be Included in a Fully Developed Claim?
Along with the typical disability claim, some of the information that VA requires in a fully developed claim includes the following:
- Any records of medical treatment received for the condition being claimed during your military service
- Any relevant military personnel records pertaining to the condition being claimed
- All of the private medical records related to the condition being claimed; includes reports, X-rays, or any other test results from your personal doctor or non-VA hospital
- Details about any health records related to your condition that you do not currently have but that VA can request from a VA medical center or clinic on your behalf
You can also submit statements from other people in your life if you don’t believe your service records provide an accurate depiction of your disability. Family, friends, law enforcement, clergy members, and fellow service members are all considered valuable sources of information by the VA.
VA Fully Developed Claim vs. Standard Claim
The difference between a fully developed claim and a standard claim has virtually nothing to do with the review process. Both claims will be decided upon and rated by VA using the same process. The difference between these two claim pathways is in the application and gathering process.
When you file a standard claim, VA has something called a duty to assist. This means that VA has a responsibility to help you find evidence that will support your disability claim. If you prompt them with a claim, they are expected and required to do the rest of the work. The downside of this is how long it might take VA to gather all the necessary information. In the grand scheme of things, this may increase the amount of time you have to wait for your decision.
A fully developed claim is submitted with the necessary information already present—VA is not required to perform any additional claim development. Theoretically, VA could issue a decision faster because there is no added task for them to acquire more evidence.
Who Should File a Fully Developed Claim?
Typically, you want to file a VA fully developed claim if you’re concerned about long wait times. Even if you’re concerned about missing something, you should file a fully developed claim with as much information as possible to reduce the time VA might take to gather the same documentation. You are able to submit additional evidence to support your VA claim, but that will move it to the Standard Claim Process, which could cause delays.
Another factor that can influence whether or not you file a fully developed claim is document accessibility. If you know where all your service records, medical records, and other relevant documents are being held, it might be in your best interest to file a fully developed claim. This way you can gather them quickly and efficiently as opposed to involving VA in the process.
Sometimes it won’t matter if you file a fully developed claim because additional VA-sanctioned medical tests might be required before a final decision can be issued. Certain requirements can also be difficult to meet without the VA’s help or the assistance of an experienced VA disability lawyer.
Benefits of a VA Fully Developed Claim
Filing a fully developed claim gives you full control over the information to include in the evidence-gathering process. You are in charge of communicating with record-holding entities and conveying a comprehensive description of your service-connected disability and how it has affected your life.
On top of having full control over the evidence gathered and submitted, fully developed claims can also lead to a faster decision time. VA can get overwhelmed by other applicants and responsibilities. Sometimes it takes them longer than it should to gather information for your claim and make a final decision. If you know exactly what you need and how to get it, you can present VA decision-ready claims. Then the only step left is for VA to decide on a final rating.
The last benefit detailed by VA is that fully developed claims are essentially risk-free. It can be scary to collect and submit all of your own evidence—what if you forget something? Even if you neglect to include valuable information with a fully developed claim, it will not be voided; the claim will simply be changed into a standard claim. VA will return a notification to the veteran that the fully developed claim must be processed as a normal disability claim and then gather their own evidence to supplement it. While this may increase the wait time a little, the veteran does not miss out on a decision. The standard claim will still include all evidence put together by the veteran.
Drawbacks of a VA Fully Developed Claim
While fully developed claims are flexible, fast, and low-risk, they are not always the best decision. VA has some rules that are confusing and vague, which makes collecting everything on your own quite difficult.
One example of this situation is with different types of medical evidence. VA typically conducts its own examinations to assess the severity of an individual’s disability. These compensation and pension (C&P) exams are conducted by VA-approved professionals and are essential to the final rating decision. Private medical records alone are rarely sufficient for a VA rating. Other evidence can also be difficult to acquire without the help of the VA.
Depending on how quickly you were hoping to have your rating decision, the risk-free benefit can also become a disadvantage. If the VA fully developed claim doesn’t have enough evidence, then VA will just switch it to a standard claim and begin collecting the supplemental information. This can take longer and removes the claim from your control.
What Is a VA Development Letter?
There is a situation in which VA does not switch your fully developed claim to a standard claim. Sometimes VA will send you a letter asking you for additional information if your claim is lacking something specific. If you submit a fully developed claim that is only missing a current diagnosis for your condition, they may inform you that you need to send in a current diagnosis from a medical professional. If this is the case, then you submit this information and things proceed as usual.
However, VA will usually just send you a letter that informs you if your claim has been changed to a standard claim. VA development letters are rare because VA usually requires multiple pieces of information to complete an insufficient fully developed claim.
Can The VA Help Me File My Fully Developed Claim?
VA will still help you file a fully developed claim even though you are primarily in control of gathering evidence. VA will assist you by doing the following things:
- Requesting your military service records
- Requesting any Social Security benefits information that’s relative to the condition being claimed
- Scheduling a VA health exam or diagnostic appointment if it is necessary for your claim
These actions can only be taken with your permission and authorization. You must request that VA do these things for you and also inform certain entities that you have approved VA’s involvement. VA will also gather federal records for you, but advise that you do it yourself to save time if you have access to them.
How Long Does a VA Fully Developed Claim Take?
The length of a fully developed claim will depend on how fast you collect evidence. In a standard claim, the decision time is based on how busy VA is and how much information is required to make a decision on your claim. With a fully developed claim, however, VA will be able to decide upon your evidence relatively quickly, it just depends on how fast you submit all the information.
As of September 11, 2021, VA has indicated that it takes an average of 115.8 days to complete a fully developed claim from the moment people begin collecting evidence. A standard claim currently takes about 115.7 days from the time it’s submitted. These numbers are slightly inflated because VA focuses on the oldest claims first.
While a fully developed claim has the potential to take much shorter amounts of time, there are certain situations in which the complexity can cause it to take longer than a standard claim.
Fully Developed Claim Back Pay
Fully developed claims must be finished within a year of being started. If you receive a favorable ruling, you will be paid from the date you began your fully developed claim. This payment is called back pay, or retroactive benefits. In the case that VA sends you a development letter or alters your claim to a standard claim, the date from which you are paid retroactive benefits should not be affected.
To maintain your effective date—the date you are paid from—you will want to make sure that you meet all VA deadlines when they are assigned to you. If you take too long to file a specific claim, the effective date may be moved to the date on which you filed as opposed to the date on which you began experiencing conditions.
If you can prove that you were suffering from your disability or condition prior to filing a claim, you can sometimes receive back pay dating back to that time as well. For example, if you started experiencing back pain before your military service ended, if you file within a year of your discharge, you can receive back pay all the way back to when medical records showed that you had disabling back pain.
Hiring a Reliable VA Disability Lawyer
If you are considering filing a fully developed claim as opposed to a standard claim, it may be in your best interest to hire a VA disability lawyer. An experienced attorney can help ensure that you have all the information necessary to file a successful claim. On top of collecting information, an attorney can advise you on what documentation you should request VA’s help to obtain.
It’s difficult to file a claim by yourself with no help, but if you want to reduce potential wait times, a VA disability attorney can help you file a VA fully developed claim quickly and effectively.
Contact Tuley Law Office for Guidance on Your VA Fully Developed Claim
The Tuley Law Office has a team of experienced VA disability attorneys with the knowledge and skills to answer any questions you may have in regard to the claims process. Whether you’re just starting out or filing an appeal for an unfavorable decision, we can help you with every step. VA disability benefits are essential for veterans who cannot work the same way they did before as a result of their service-connected condition. Don’t miss out on the compensation you deserve—contact us today to set up an appointment.
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