One thing that veterans dread the most about filing a VA disability claim is the long wait time for a decision. As of March 2022, the VA had a staggering 611,696 unprocessed claims to work through with an average number of days to completion rate of 110.5 days. That’s almost four months of compensation you could be receiving while your claim sits in a pile.
To help move the process along faster, the VA established the Fully Developed Claim Program. When you file your VA claim through this program, you certify that the claim is 100% complete. There are no other documents you need to submit and no future medical appointments you need to attend. Essentially you are packaging up your claim with a bow on it and saying, “this is all I’ve got.”
If you’re thinking of submitting a fully developed claim, you should understand a few things that make this path different from filing a standard claim.
Who can file a fully developed claim?
You can file a fully developed claim if you are filing a disability claim for the first time, filing for a disability increase, or filing for a secondary condition (a medical condition that resulted from another service-connected disability).
The following must be true:
- Your condition was caused by or made worse by your active-duty service, or
- Your condition was caused by or made worse by a condition that the VA has already determined a service-connected disability, or
- Your service-connected disability has gotten worse, and you are requesting a review for a rating increase
In addition to disability claims, some survivor and family member benefits can also be processed as a fully developed claim.
How do you file a fully developed claim?
Filing a fully developed claim is a lot like filing a standard VA claim. First, you’ll need to decide how to send your claim to the VA: through the online portal, mail or fax, or in person. If you file online, you won’t need to fill out a paper copy of the application. If you’d rather send your application or deliver it in person, you’ll need to download and complete the VA Form 21-526EZ Application for Disability Compensation or VA Form 20-0995 Supplemental Claim if you are filing for a secondary condition.
Regardless of how you complete the application, you’ll need to gather some important information to complete it. Make sure you have dates of service, duty stations, medical conditions, medical treatment dates, and any other pertinent data to your medical condition or military service. You’ll also need to attach personnel records such as your DD214 and assignment orders. The VA can request them for you if you don’t have them. If you have the documents, go ahead and attach them because the processing time is much quicker.
Along with everything mentioned so far, you’ll need to attach medical evidence. What is medical evidence? Anything that can help connect your medical condition to your military service, such as:
- Medical records from private doctors that treat your condition, including X-rays, lab results, blood work, emergency room treatment notes, etc.
- Military medical records from treatment during active duty from installation medical facilities, military doctors/medics, sick call notes, etc.
- Letters from buddies, supervisors, or other witnesses that give details about accidents, injuries, or conditions that may have caused or aggravated your disability
- A nexus letter from a medical expert connecting your medical condition to service
After completing the application and attaching evidence, you’ll complete a statement that certifies the application is complete, and you will not be submitting any further evidence.
The only thing left to do is attend any VA direct exams, such as a VA compensation and pension (VA C&P) exam.
What’s the difference between a fully developed claim and a standard claim?
Since the process sounds so similar, you may be wondering what the difference is between a fully developed claim and a standard claim.
The main difference is that a fully developed claim is 100% complete when submitted. There is no other evidence that you will attach to the application later. It is signed, sealed, and delivered. Claims processors know that your application is ready to be reviewed and processed.
Submitting a disability claim through the standard claim process gives you time to gather evidence and submit it within one year from starting the application. When claims processors review a standard claim, they know some essential items may be missing. And if things are missing, your claim is placed on hold until it is ready to be reviewed.
Why would you need more time to gather documents? Perhaps you are still attending appointments because your medical condition is changing, and new information might be just the thing that gets your claim approved. Maybe you need time to gather years of military documents and medical notes to put together a solid disability claim. These are examples of circumstances when using the standard claims route might be best.
But if you’ve got everything together and your medical condition is stable at this time, it might be best to fast-track it through the fully developed claim program.
Final Thoughts on the VA Fully Developed Claims Program
Is one method better than the other? Not necessarily. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to file a fully developed or standard claim. On average, fully developed claims are processed 30 days quicker than standard claims. But if you need more time to put together a well-organized disability claim, take the time to do it right the first time.
If you submit a fully developed claim and later discover that more information is needed, the VA simply switches your claim to the standard process.
And no matter which route you choose, you may want to get help from an expert when putting together your claim. You can find an experienced Veteran Service Officer (VSO) who knows the ins and outs of the VA claims process to guide you. Some popular organizations with VSOs are the VFW, DAV, and American Legion.
If you need help proving the link between your disability and your military service, Valor 4 Vet has a team of qualified and experienced medical experts who are ready to provide medical opinions and disability exams.
Reach out for help and get your disability claims process started today!
This article was coauthored by Bethanie Spangenberg.