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If you are waiting for a veteran’s disability decision, it could take quite a while before you learn whether the Veterans Administration (VA) will approve your benefits. While you should apply as soon as you can, you will still be eligible for benefits even if it has been several years since you served. These are just a few of the things you will need to keep in mind when filling out your application.
Important Information to Include on Your Application
Although you will not need to have all your documentation ready when you first submit your VA disability application, you will want to include information such as your medical conditions as well as your medical records. It will be vitally important to list all injuries or illnesses for which you are trying to obtain disability compensation. You want to be specific as you can and also provide your best guess as to the date you started having symptoms.
If you only list the disabilities for which you have either received a doctor’s diagnosis or experienced symptoms, this could help speed your claim. The more disabilities you list, the longer it will take the VA to process your claim.
The VA will also require you to provide evidence to support your claim of disability, so make sure you submit as many of your medical records as you can. If you do not have them all handy, however, that will not be a problem. The VA can request them for you.
Every Claim Is Different
There is no single veterans disability application timeline because every VA claim is different. According to the VA’s website, the initial claims decision currently takes about 102.5 days, but realistically that is only if everything goes exceedingly smoothly.
That is, however, only the initial claim. It is not unusual for the VA to deny your claim, saying that your disability is not service-connected, or for the VA to make a mistake and forget to include all your impairments when deciding your disability rating, crediting you for a disability that you do not have or even sending you the wrong letter. In these cases, you will need to make a series of appeals that can extend the decision time to a year or longer. In some cases, it can be as long as several years.
What Factors Affect the Length of Time It Takes for the VA to Decide Your Claim
Several important factors can affect the length of time it takes for the VA to decide on your claim:
1. The Type of Claim You File
There are several different types of disability claims that you can file with the VA, and each one has a different timeframe for the VA to reach a decision. An original or a standard claim can take anywhere from a few months to a year. A Fully Developed Claim (FDC) can reduce the process to a few months. The newer Decision Ready Claim (DRC) program promises only to take 30 days, but you cannot use this program unless you have already filed an initial claim and the VA has sent you a disability rating.
2. Your Service-Connected Disability
The VA bases its decisions, and the percentage of disability rating for your claim, on the medical evidence and documentation it receives about your disability. More complex disabilities, such as PTSD, or claiming more than one disability may result in a delayed decision.
3. Documentation and Evidence
It is critical that you present as much medical evidence as possible when you file a VA disability benefits claim. While the VA will assist you in gathering this information, this can significantly slow down the decision-making process. Both the Fully Developed Claim program and the Decision Ready Claim program emphasize that the veteran should gather as much of this information as possible before they submit a claim. The VA also encourages you to work with an accredited representative, such as a VA-accredited attorney, or a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to help you with this process.
4. Where You Live
The truth of the matter is your location can play a major role in the amount of time it takes for the VA to decide your claim. Some regional offices may be able to make decisions faster than other offices that continually receive many benefits claims.
Submitting a Fully Developed Claim
One way that you can speed up the VA’s decision-making process is to submit a Fully Developed Claim. When you submit a standard initial claim, you can ask the VA to help you gather the medical evidence that is needed to document your claim. The VA will collect documentation from any federal agency or private institution that you identify in your application and grant the VA authorization to access this information. This can add weeks, even months to the decision-making process.
The FDC process began in 2010 to move solidly developed applications through the VA system faster. With the FDC program, you gather all the needed information. This includes all relevant medical information from your private physician and any federal treatment as well as any statements from your doctor or your family on how your disabilities are affecting your life. You then certify in the FDC that there is no more evidence to submit.
The FDC process works in the following way:
1. Notify the VA
Notifying the VA that you wish to use the FDC process sets the date of your claim.
2. Gather Information
The VA will then inform you of all the information and evidence it needs to process your claim. It is your responsibility to gather all this needed information and documentation and submit it with your claim. This can cut as much as half a year off the amount of time that the VA would take to gather this information. At this stage, it is a good idea to either work with a VSO or with a VA-certified attorney to help you gather this information. This will speed up the process on your end and can be of great assistance if you are dealing with serious disabilities.
3. Claim Processing
Once you have submitted all the requested documentation and evidence, the VA can begin processing your claim immediately rather than holding it for a mandatory waiting period. The FDC appears to be working as intended. In 2015, the VA reported that veterans who submitted FDCs had their cases decided 49 percent faster on average than people who submitted standard claims.
There is also an option in the FDC to ask for reconsideration after a decision, and you will have a chance to submit more evidence before you move on to the appeal stage. You can leave the FDC process at any time and have your claim reviewed using regular processing procedures. Currently, you can only use the FDC process for initial applications or secondary or increased disability service claims.
Decision Ready Claim
While an FDC can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for the VA to decide your claim, it can still be several months before you are notified of a decision. To provide an even better timeframe for these decisions, the government created the Decision Ready Claims initiative for the VA in 2013.
To apply for the DRC program, you need to have previously filed a claim with the VA and received a rating decision. You must work with a VSO or an accredited representative to help you prepare and file the proper paperwork. You also need to have taken your claim exam with a VA doctor before you submit your claim.
The VSO will then submit your claim electronically to a VA rating specialist. This bypasses the waiting line that can develop at your local VA office. The main difference between an FDC and a DRC is that if you submit a DRC, you need to work with a VSO, and you need to visit a VA doctor who can certify your disability before you file your claim.
If you decide to use the DRC, the VA says that you can have a decision on your claim within 30 days.
These are claims for disabilities that developed during your time in the military or were the result of an incident during your service.
2. Presumptive Service Connection Claims
These are claims for disabilities that you presumed were caused by an event during your service, regardless of whether there is specific evidence that shows a connection between your disability and your time in the service in your service records. These types of claims include any disabilities that are related to exposure to Agent Orange, for instance, or for disabilities that are connected to any service during the Gulf War such as fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome.
3. Secondary Service Connection Claims
These are claims for medical problems that were directly caused or aggravated by a disability suffered while you were serving. For instance, if you injured your leg during your service and in dealing with this injury, you injured your back, your back injury is a secondary service connection claim.
4. Increased Disability Claims
If you have a service-connected disability and it has gotten worse, you can provide the VA with medical evidence that shows the deterioration of your condition.
5. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Claims
These are claims made by surviving spouses if a service-related injury or disease caused your death or if you have been rated 100 percent disabled as a result of a service-connected disability for a decade before your death.
6. Pre-Discharge Claims
If you have 90 days or less before you leave military service, you can file a pre-discharge claim for disability compensation.
There are some situations where you are ineligible to file a DRC. You cannot file a DRC if:
If the VA has already denied your disability claim.
As a claim to receive pension benefits.
You are already appealing a decision for the disability that you want to use a DRC to file for.
Your disability already has a 100 percent rating.
You are incarcerated in a state or federal prison.
The VA is hoping to increase the kinds of claims that can be made using the DRC. So you should regularly check the VA’s website or contact a VSO to learn of any further developments.
Do You Want It Done Fast or Done Right?
While filing an FDC or a DRC can greatly speed up the decision-making process, remember that both programs require you to do all the work up front. It is also natural for any veteran to feel annoyed at the length of time that it takes for the VA to make a decision about their claim. This frustration can be compounded if the VA denies your claim or makes a mistake like some of the ones listed above – ignoring your disabilities when giving you a rating or even sending you a rating letter that was meant for someone else.
It is important in these situations to remain calm. The crucial thing is to make sure that your decision is made as quickly as possible. Writing a complaint letter to the VA or sending them redundant information because you believe they have overlooked it only delays the decision-making process. Every time you send this kind of letter or information to the VA, they must add it to your file and take it into consideration when making a decision.
All veterans want to be able to receive their benefits as soon as possible. This is why focusing on the information needed for new programs like FDCs or DRCs are a much better use of your time. Working with a VA-certified attorney or a VSO to help you file claims using these programs is the best way to ensure that the VA will decide on your claim as soon as possible.
Let KBG Injury Law Help You With Your Claim
While it could take months or even years to receive your veteran’s disability decision, there are some things you might be able to do to speed the process. An attorney with KBG Injury Law can help with your application, making sure everything is in order so you can receive your decision in the fastest time frame possible.
We offer a free consultation where we can talk with you about your claim. You can call us at 1-800-509-1011 or visit our contact us page where you can leave us your contact information and tell us about your situation. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.
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During this challenging time, our attorneys are advocating more than ever. While our physical offices are closed, we are all working remotely to ensure you still get the Results You Deserve. To all of our current clients, you can connect with us the same way you always do via email, phone, fax or text. To all of our prospective clients, the best way to get in touch with us is by using our contact form or by calling (800) 509-1011