A Fully Developed Claim (FDC), also called a Fast Track Claim, is a type of application for VA benefits. This type of application greatly reduces the time required to receive an approval / denial decision. Therefore, for those who are approved, it means they will begin receiving financial assistance much sooner. Instead of taking 12 – 18 months to reach a decision, the VA decides on Fully Developed Claims in approximately three months.
The alternative to a Fully Developed Claim has no official title. It is simply referred to as a “standard” or “regular” or “normal” claim process.
When an individual files a regular claim, the VA has a “duty to assist” them in making sure they file it correctly. The VA helps in acquiring all of the necessary supporting documents (service and health records, marriage and death certificates, etc.). This assistance, though helpful, is time-consuming. When one files a FDC, the applicant is basically telling the VA, “I don’t need your assistance. I’m taking responsibility for my claim. I’ve got everything you need. Now make a decision.“
Fully Developed Claims are important to elderly veterans or families caring for elderly veterans for two major reasons.
Reduction in Time to Receive Benefits – Since a FDC receives an approval / denial decision within approximately 90 days, instead of up to 18 months, families can begin receiving financial assistance to pay for elderly care sooner than if they file a standard claim. Both FDC and regular claims are paid retroactively upon approval, allowing the claimant to receive benefits back to the month of the effective date of the application or informal claim / intent to file form. So with either type of claim a veteran will receive the same amount of money, but with a Fully Developed Claim, they will receive it sooner. This means a family can start using the VA pension earlier to pay for assisted living or home care, rather than waiting up to 18 months.
This is especially important when elderly individuals have limited life expectancies. Should an applicant die during the 18 month wait for a decision, an eligible beneficiary could receive the claimant’s accrued benefits. However, they would have to begin a new application process and wait several more months for approval.
Responsibility for the Collection of Supporting Documents – With a standard claim, the VA will assist the applicant in the collection of certain documents (duty to assist). Unfortunately, due to it’s backlog of claims, the VA can be very slow to respond (and in some cases, according to expert VA planners, unreliable). So the claimant might suffer an endless back and forth in communication using their assistive service.
By filing an FDC, the applicant is waiving their right to the VA’s duty to assist and is taking responsibility for collecting all of the needed supporting documents that the VA may require to make a decision. This is important because it puts both the responsibility and the control in the hands of the applicant. That being said, the VA will assist applicants filing a FDC in obtaining documents held by a Federal facility, but they will not assist in obtaining documents held by state agencies, private doctors, or local agencies. However, experienced VA planners do not advice having the VA assist in obtaining Federal documents, as it can significantly hold up the process.
Should the applicant fail to file correctly or to provide the needed supporting evidence, the Fully Developed Claim will revert to the “regular” or “standard” claim processing time. Meaning, the claim will move from the fast lane to the slow lane. Therefore, it is critical that when one files a FDC, they do so correctly.
Not every type of veterans claim application can currently use the Fully Developed Claim approach. However, the most common and relevant types of assistance available to elderly veterans and their spouses can utilize it. As of 2017, the following types of claims can be treated as a fully developed claim.
|Pros & Cons of VA Fully Developed Claims vs. Regular VA Claims|
|Fully Developed Claim||Regular Claim|
|Processing Time||3 months||9 – 18 months|
|Benefit Amounts||No Difference||No Difference|
|Time to Receive Benefits||If approved, approx. 3 months||If approved, 9 – 18 months|
|Application Assistance||Not provided by VA. ||Provided by the VA|
There are situations when a family should choose not to file a Fully Developed Claim. There are two difficult aspects to filing a Fully Developed Claim. First, one must make certain they complete the often confusing paperwork correctly. Remember that a FDC does not rely on the VA to build a case for you. If the VA receives insufficient or unclear information then it can hold up the process considerably.
Second, one must gather, organize, and provide the supporting evidence (documents). Since collecting evidence can be a confusing, time-consuming, bureaucratic challenge (or some may say “nightmare”), the applicant must have sufficient time, persistence, and patience during this process. If one does not feel confident in their ability to overcome these challenges, they should not file a Fully Developed Claim or they should seek outside assistance to help them file correctly.
Additionally, in the case of elderly veterans, perhaps with failing cognitive skills, the task of collecting evidence may prove to be too difficult. In cases where the applicant’s adult children have taken on the role of helping collect all of the information, it may also prove to be a too time consuming challenge.
A Fully Developed Claim puts the responsibility of gathering sufficient evidence to support the claim on the claimant (the individual or their family members who are making the claim). The one exception is that the VA will assist with gathering documents from Federal facilities, such as VA medical centers. Applicants are also responsible for completing the application correctly. With Fully Developed Claims, the VA does not provide assistance (they do not have a “duty to assist”). Therefore, it is essential that the applicant does this correctly or it is likely their claim will be moved to the slow track. Fortunately, assistance from outside the VA is available.
Veterans Service Officers (VSO) – Most of the time, VSO’s assisting with Fully Developed Claims are part of a veterans group, such as the VFW or the American Legion. These individuals provide assistance free of charge, and their focus is on the process. Applicants who are very confident they are eligible for the claim they are making may be better suited to work with a VSO.
Veterans Planners – These individuals also provide assistance with the Fully Developed Claim application process, but their focus is on eligibility, planning, and reducing the time to receive benefits. They help families to understand the rules, conform to eligibility requirements, and receive the maximum benefit amount in which they are due. They do all this while working to minimize the time to receive benefits. Veterans planners charge for their planning assistance. Persons uncertain about their eligibility and those for whom time to receive benefits is of importance, may be better suited to work with a professional veterans planner. Read more or find a planner here.
There is no cost to file a Fully Developed Claim, nor is there a cost to file a regular claim.
Some professional veterans benefits advisors charge for their planning services but do not charge for application assistance. Admittedly, there is some gray area surrounding these fees. Read more about VA planners and the services they offer.
Sometimes there are also fees, in the tens of dollars range, charged by doctors’ offices to copy one’s medical records. This is also a gray legal area. However, in the interest of timely evidence collection for one’s application, it may be better to simply pay these fees out-of-pocket.
Fully Developed Claims can be filed by mail by sending to the VA Pension Management Center for your state. To locate the appropriate PMC for your claim click here. In order to file by mail, the veteran must fill out VA Form 21-527EZ, and the surviving spouse must complete VA Form 21-534EZ.