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VA offering retro benefits to encourage use of 'developed' claims

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 2, 2013

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs is rolling out cash incentives potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars to persuade veterans to use their new Fully Developed Claims process, in an effort to fight the claims backlog.

Starting next week, any veteran who submits a new disability claim through the FDC process will be eligible for a year’s worth of retroactive benefits, once their case is completed.

Typically, the clock on veterans benefits starts the day a claim is filed. Once raters have reviewed and approved the claim — a process that has taken a year or more for many veterans in recent years — they receive a check covering their payouts starting from the filing day.

But last year, Congress approved new legislation allowing VA officials to award one-year retroactive benefits from the filing date, as an incentive for veterans to use the FDC process.

Fully Developed Claims, touted by department officials as “the fastest way for veterans to receive a decision,” require veterans to provide all relevant documentation, such as medical records and personnel records, before handing their case to the VA for review.

They are usually done with the help of a veterans service organization. VA officials say compiling those documents is the lengthiest part of the ratings process, and that FDCs average well below the department’s goal of 125 days to finish cases.

The department has taken harsh criticism throughout 2013 for its disability claims backlog. As of last week, more than 500,000 cases were pending for over four months.

That’s down more than 100,000 cases since March, but still more than double what the backlogged case load was three years ago.

The new FDC incentive only applies to first-time claims from veterans, and not any supplemental cases or appeals. VA officials said the incentive will be available for any FDCs filed starting Aug. 6, 2013, and lasting through Aug. 6, 2015.

More information on the FDCs is available at the department’s electronic benefits website, www.ebenefits.va.gov.

shane.leo@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeoShane