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WHEN DO VA RATINGS BECOME PERMANENT?

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RATINGS BECOME PERM

 

The VA offers protections for disability ratings that have been in effect for certain periods of time. Until these regulatory protections kick in or your ratings become permanent, VA may severe or reduce a Veteran’s disability rating based on specific findings.

WHEN CAN THE VA SEVER SERVICE CONNECTION?

Severance is when the VA tries to revoke a finding of service connection. If the VA tries to sever service connection, it will notify the Veteran of the proposed action and give him or her 60 days to submit evidence to show that service connection should not be severed and 30 days to request a hearing. If the Veteran does not submit evidence within that 60-day window or request a hearing within 30 days, the VA will issue a final decision.

In cases of severance, Veterans are given added protection if they have been service-connected for the condition for 10 years or more. Under 38 C.F.R. 3.957 in the VA code of regulations, a Veteran’s service-connected disability that has been in effect for ten years or more “will not be severed except upon a showing that the original grant was based on fraud or it is clearly shown from military records that the person concerned did not have the requisite service or character of discharge.” The ten-year period is calculated from the effective date of the award for service connection. For example, if a Veteran was granted service connection for a low back injury effective October 20, 1980 and the VA issued a decision dated August 29, 2018 attempting to sever service connection, the VA would have to abide by the ten-year rule above.

WHEN CAN THE VA REDUCE MY DISABILITY RATING?

Veterans with disabilities that are not considered permanent may be sent for future VA examinations in order for the VA to evaluate the severity of those disabilities and rate them appropriately. If the VA finds that a Veteran’s condition has improved, it can reduce a Veteran’s disability rating.

The VA is required to follow the same process for reductions as they are for severances. This means that if the VA wishes to reduce a disability rating, they must issue notice of the proposed reduction and give the Veteran 60 days to submit evidence and 30 days to request a hearing. However, there is one major difference between the process of a reduction and severance. When the reduction would not change the actual amount of compensation that a Veteran is receiving, the VA does not have to issue notice of the reduction.

WHEN DOES MY VA RATING BECOME PERMANENT?

An easy way to tell if your VA disability ratings are permanent is if the VA has deemed you to be totally and permanently disabled. This means that the VA does not see a reasonable chance of your conditions improving. However, if you are not “permanent and total,” the VA has regulatory protections for reductions of service-connected disabilities.

Under 38 C.F.R. 3.951 (b), the VA cannot reduce a rating that has been “continuously rated at or above any evaluation of disability for 20 or more years” unless it is shown that the rating was based on fraud. So, for example, if you are rated at 20% for a right knee disability from January 1994 and the VA proposes to reduce your right knee rating to 0% in March 2017, they can only do so if they find that your initial 20% rating was based on fraud. If they cannot show that, they cannot reduce your 20% rating. This rule protects disabilities that have been increased over the span of 20 years or more as well. For example, the Veteran who receives 20% for his right knee disability from January 1994 was increased to 30% in 2006. In March 2017, the VA proposes to reduce his 30% to 0%. Although the rating for the right knee condition changed between the initial grant and the proposed reduction, he is still protected under the 20-year rule.

WHAT IF I HAVE TDIU?

For Veterans that have been granted entitlement to Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (“TDIU”), the VA can only reduce that rating if “actual employability is established by clear and convincing evidence” (38 C.F.R. 3.3.43(c)). What that means is the VA can only sever your TDIU if you have been found to be employable. For Veterans with TDIU, the VA will send out a yearly employment questionnaire to see if a Veteran participated in substantially gainful employment during that year. In order for the employment to be substantially gainful, a Veteran would have had to be employed for 12 months or more and would have had to earn over the federal poverty threshold.

Check out our video on Permanent and Total disability HERE.

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RATING REDUCTIONS: WHAT VA CAN AND CANNOT DO

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Rating Reductions

 

Under certain conditions, VA may reduce your disability rating. Legally, VA is entitled to rating reductions but there are rules they must follow when doing so. But unfortunately, mistakes are still made and VA often does not get rating reductions quite right. So, in this post, we’ll discuss what VA can and cannot do when reducing your rating and what you should do if VA sends notice that your rating may be adjusted.

WHY DOES VA REDUCE RATINGS?

The idea is that some service-connected conditions will improve over time or with treatment and VA wants to make sure they are compensating each Veteran according to their present level of disability. For example, if you had service-connected cancer and but it goes into remission, VA would propose a rating reduction because, presumably, your cancer is less disabling – i.e. has less of an impact on your ability to function in life and at work.

VA normally starts the process of reducing a rating under two circumstances:

  • Scheduled re-examinations. Usually, VA will evaluate (after you are granted service-connection) whether your disability should be scheduled for a future re-examination (a C&P exam) to determine if your benefits need to be adjusted. VA usually makes this determination if they believe your disability can be expected to improve. Typically, the first re-exam will be scheduled 2-5 years from the date of your first Rating Decision.
  • Evidence of change in condition. VA can also order a re-examination at any time if there is new, relevant medical evidence that your disability has improved.

But disabilities, as you likely know, are complicated. Symptoms of a disability may temporarily decrease but resume at baseline level soon after. Or, for example, symptoms may improve but not enough to significantly (or, as VA would say, materially) improve your ability to function under the ordinary stressors of life or work. So VA has strict rules guiding the process of rating reductions. But, those guidelines are not always applied correctly, so it can help to have an idea of what VA is required to do.

GENERAL RULES VA MUST FOLLOW FOR RATING REDUCTIONS

There are a number of things VA must do when reducing ratings under any circumstances:

  • A proposed rating (as well as a final decision) must be based on a review of the Veteran’s entire medical history
  • VA must show that there has been an actual change in the disability since the last rating decision
  • VA must show that change in the disability reflects material improvement in the Veteran’s ability to function under the ordinary conditions and stressors of life and work
  • Examination reports must be based on thorough examinations

Additionally, the procedural manual (M21) that VA adjudicators use to process claims states that VA must outline the time period during which your condition is said to have (materially) improved.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET NOTICE OF A POTENTIAL RATING REDUCTION

VA is required to send a letter proposing the reduction of your benefits, if the decrease will affect the amount of monthly compensation you receive. The letter is not a final VA decision and so cannot be appealed, but VA gives you the opportunity to respond to the proposal by submitting evidence and/or attending a hearing.

From the date of the letter, you have 60 days to submit evidence if you believe the reduction is not warranted. Within the first 30 days of the 60-day period, you have the option to request a hearing to be conducted by VA personnel unrelated to the proposed reduction. VA must consider evidence you submit during this period (including the transcript of the hearing, if you choose to attend one) and all previous evidence and medical records associated with your file.

What are some types of evidence you might submit? You do not need to submit treatment records from your VA Medical Center as VA already has access to those documents. But it can be helpful to submit a medical opinion from an outside, independent doctor if your Compensation and Pension exam was not favorable. Additionally, you may want to submit statements from family, friends, or employers who have observed your ability to function in daily life and/or at work. If you choose not to submit evidence within the 60-day period, VA will issue a final decision reducing your rating.

If, after 60 days or the review of your submitted evidence, VA sends a final decision that reduces your rating, you can file an appeal with a Notice of Disagreement form.

SPECIAL CASES

For certain special cases, there are rules in place that protect Veterans from rating reductions or severance of their disability benefits.

Stabilized Ratings: 5 Years or more

Any rating that has remained at the same level for 5 years or longer is considered “stabilized.” In addition to the general rating reduction rules that VA must follow (see above), VA must show sustained improvement in your condition.

What does sustained improvement mean? Essentially it means one of two things: Either 1) VA cannot use just one re-examination (C&P exam) to show ‘sustained’ improvement, rather they must show through medical records as well as a C&P re-exam that you are not just temporarily experiencing improvement. Or, 2) VA must show that the evidence in your file predominantly demonstrates ‘sustained.’

VA must provide an explanation of why they are reasonably certain your condition will continue to show ‘sustained’ improvement.

100% (Total) Ratings

VA can reduce a total rating (that is, a rating of 100%) only if there is material improvement in the Veteran’s condition. In addition to the general rating reduction rules, VA must provide evidence that your condition has improved such that there has been an observable change in your ability to function under the conditions of daily life.

Continuous Ratings: 20 years or more

Conditions that have been rated at or above a certain rating level for 20 years or longer are considered “continuous.” VA cannot reduce a continuous rating below the original rating level (unless they determine the rating was based on fraud). For example, if a Veteran’s service-connected PTSD was originally rated 30% disabling and fluctuated between 30% and 70% over the next 20 years (without dipping below 30%), VA could not reduce the rating to below 30 percent.

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Student Veterans looking for missing GI Bill payments

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Missing GI Pmts

 

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) -- Some Veterans aren't getting their education and housing benefits and Congress wants to know why. A House committee says it will hold a hearing, after the election, and Veterans’ advocates say the VA needs to be held accountable.

The American Legion says some student Veterans are facing eviction because the VA is behind on GI Bill payments.

”Over 200,000 Vets with late payments.”

John Kamin with the American Legion says some monthly housing payments for student Veterans have been delayed up to 90 days.

“Left moving back in with their parents or couch surfing because the VA was not able to honor these Veterans and their service,” said Kamin.

On top of that, he says some schools won't let Veterans graduate or register for classes, because their tuition is late.

The VA acknowledges it's behind on the payments. In a statement, a spokesperson told us VA employees are working overtime to process the claims, and it has brought on 200 additional people to speed up the process.

“It's not enough. Absolutely not. We're beyond the point where we can take their word for it. we need to see executive action. Why has the secretary not spoken up about this?” asked Kamin.

The VA faced similar problems in 2009 but issued emergency payments to Veterans.

Congressman Jim Banks, serves on the Veterans Affairs committee. He says the VA needs a technology overhaul to keep up with the payments and other services.

“We'll get to the bottom of the matter. We'll do everything we can to see that it's fixed,” said Banks.

Kamin argues the VA knew its technology needed an update.

“The VA did not take it to be a serious problem and that's why we're where we are…Vets are left trying to figure out how to live their lives,” said Kamin.

Banks vows to hold the VA accountable but Kamin is skeptical, and already worried about payments for the upcoming spring semester.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing looking into the issue is set for Nov. 14.

The VA says Veterans who aren't receiving their payments and need help to call its customer service number: 888-442-4551.

The American Legion also urges Veterans who are struggling to contact their offices.

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VA's Changes to Pension and DIC Rules May Make Getting Benefits Easier

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Pension and DIC Rules

 

The VA has made changes to regulations governing VA pension and Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, which are need-based programs.  

According to the VA, these changes will ensure that only those with a genuine need receive these benefits.

There were four major changes to the qualifications for these benefits:

  1. Establishment of a clear net-worth limit for income and assets
  2. Establishment of a 36-month look-back period to review asset transfers at less than fair market value that may reduce net worth
  3. Establishment of up to a five-year penalty period to be calculated based on the portion of the covered assets that would have made net worth excessive, and
  4. Updates to medical expense definitions for consistency with VA internal guidelines.

Establishment Of A Clear Net-Worth Limit

Previously, the VA used a complicated formula to compute net worth. The new regulations create an arbitrary amount. VA says this will make computation easier, faster, and fairer.

Under the new regulations, the net worth limit for 2019 is $123,600. This limit will be increased by the same percentage as the annual social security COLA increase, if there is one. A primary residence does not count as part of net worth, also a mortgage does not count as a liability.

Establishment Of A 36-Month Look-Back Period

This rule should keep people from hiding money in order to qualify for benefits. Some bad actors would sell stocks or other assets at a loss in order to qualify for pension benefits, others would "gift" money to a friend or family member in order to bring their net worth down to the qualifying limits.

The new rule requires VA to look at an applicant's finances for the 36 months prior to the application for pension to determine if there are any financial irregularities.

Establishment Of Up To A Five-Year Penalty Period

This rule is related to the 36-month look-back period.

If an applicant transfers money to a non-qualified source as determined above, the VA will withhold the pension based on the amount of money transferred. So, if an applicant transferred $12,000 to an uncle in order to qualify for pension and their monthly pension amount is $2,000, the VA will withhold 6 months of pension ($2,000 x 6=$12,000). This new rule allows the VA to withhold pension for up to 5 years in such cases.

Updates To Medical Expense Definitions

Medical costs have long been used in computing net-worth for pension benefits, however there has been much argument as to what really constitutes a "medical cost".

Previously, the VA didn't include some medical care such as custodial care, assistance with getting around in one's home, and in-home supervision. While this type of care isn't "medical" by definition, it is related to an underlying medical condition, therefore the VA has added it as a cost.

These new rules add these and other types of types of care as qualifying expenses.

Veteran's Pension

Veteran's pension is a monthly payment to certain Veterans with income below levels. The Veteran must have served at least one day during a wartime period and be:

  • 65 years or older, or
  • permanently and totally disabled, or
  • in a nursing home, or
  • receiving social security disability, or
  • receiving supplemental security income

See our Veterans Pension page for more details.

Survivor's Pension

Survivor's pension, also known as the "death pension", is paid monthly payment to low-income, un-remarried surviving spouses and certain children of deceased wartime Veterans.

See our Survivor's Pension page for more details.

Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Parents' DIC is a tax-free income-based monthly benefit for the parents, or parent, of a military service member or Veteran who has died from:

  • A disease or injury incurred or aggravated while on active duty or active duty for training, OR
  • An injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty while on inactive duty for training, OR
  • A service-connected disability.

“The amended regulations bring consistency to the pension process and ensure benefits are available for Veterans and survivors with financial need,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “They will help maintain the integrity of and provide clarity to our needs-based pension program.”

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VA Announces Amended Regulations on Pensions

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Regs on Pensions

 

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it has amended its regulations governing entitlements to VA pension and Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. The changes are meant to ensure that only Veterans that legitimately need the benefits receive them.

VA’s pension program provides monthly benefit payments to eligible wartime Veterans and their survivors with financial need.

The pension regulations, which were updated Oct. 18, cover the following:

  • Establish a clear net-worth limit for income and assets for Veterans to qualify for pension,
  • Establish a 36-month look-back period to review asset transfers at less than fair market value that reduce net worth and create pension entitlement,
  • Establish up to a five-year penalty period to be calculated based on the portion of the covered assets that would have made net worth excessive, and
  • Updates medical expense definitions for consistency with VA internal guidelines.

According to the VA’s pension website, the pension “helps Veterans and their families cope with financial challenges by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension benefit programs.”

Eligibility requirements are defined as follows as of the time of this writing:

  • Veterans must have at least 90 days of active duty, including one day during a wartime period. If the active duty occurred after September 7, 1980, the Veteran must have served at least 24 months or the full period that he or she was called up (with some exceptions).

Eligible Veterans must also be:

  • Age 65 or older with limited or no income OR
  • Totally and permanently disabled, OR
  • A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
  • Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
  • Receiving Supplemental Security Income

“The amended regulations bring consistency to the pension process and ensure benefits are available for Veterans and survivors with financial need,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “They will help maintain the integrity of and provide clarity to our needs-based pension program.”

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VA to fast-track benefits appeals for hurricane victims

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Appeals for Hurricane

 

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials will accelerate appeals claim processing for individuals affected by the recent hurricanes that lashed the southeastern United States, calling it another way to help those Veterans in need.

The move will affect any Veterans in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia who live in counties declared disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. VA officials did not say how many of the more than 300,000 pending appeals currently in the system will be included in the new push.

In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said speeding up the claims process “for those Veterans and their families affected by hurricanes Florence and Michael is the right thing to do.”

At least 53 people were killed as Hurricane Florence hit the eastern seaboard in early September. A month later, Hurricane Michael made landfall and resulted in at least 50 deaths across several states.

VA health and benefits services in those areas were temporarily disrupted by the powerful storms, but officials have largely returned to normal operations in the weeks since. At the height of the hurricanes, some infirm Veterans were evacuated to facilities in different states while VA contracted with local doctors and pharmacies to handle other critical needs.

Veterans eligible for the faster appeals processing will not have to take any action to accelerate their claims. Board of Veterans’ Appeals officials said they will move ahead any cases with addresses in the affected region, and continue to fast-track those claims for the next six months.

The backlog of appeals claims has been a recurring complaint from lawmakers and Veterans advocates in recent years. Cases typically take several years to wind through the system, with some topping five years or more.

After congressional intervention, VA officials introduced a new Rapid Appeals Modernization Program with wait times under three months for case completion. But many Veterans have been slow to embrace that option, leaving their cases to wind through the traditional process.

A list of counties affected by the new announcement is available at the Board of Veterans Appeals’ web site.

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Rating Knee Disabilities – Knee Replacements

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Knee Replacement

 

Of all the disabilities listed on the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities, the ratings involving the knee are one of the most difficult for Veterans to understand – and for the VA to get right. Much of the confusion stems from the fact that a Veteran may be able to receive multiple ratings for the same knee, depending on the severity of his or her condition. In previous posts, we discussed ratings for limitation of flexion and extension, instability, and meniscus injuries. Today we are going to discuss the ratings available for knee replacements.

Why Multiple Ratings?

Before we get into knee replacements specifically, it is important to understand why exactly it is that multiple ratings are allowed for the knee. As explained in the previous posts in this series, the “Rule against Pyramiding” and the rule that the VA must maximize benefits for a Veteran work together. This means that separate disability ratings may be assigned to different conditions where none of the symptomatology for the separately rated conditions is duplicative or overlapping. This is particularly important for the knee, where one injury may cause many different issues, and these separate manifestations of that injury may all be entitled to separate ratings.

Knee Replacements

Total knee replacements are rated under DC 5055. A Veteran will receive a 100 percent rating for a service-connected total knee replacement for 1 year following the implantation of the prosthesis. A 60 percent rating is warranted for chronic residuals consisting of severe painful motion or weakness in the affected extremity. Intermediate degrees of residual weakness, pain, or limitation of motion should be rated by analogy under DCs 5256, 5261, or 5262. The minimum rating for a knee condition status post-knee replacement is 30 percent.

Convalescence ratings (also known as temporary 100% ratings) are an important part of the discussion of total knee replacements. Convalescence is defined as the act of regaining or returning to a normal or healthy state after a surgical operation or injury. The 1 year period for the 100 percent rating under DC 5055 begins after the expiration of any convalescence ratings. For example, a Veteran enters the hospital on 5/20/17 for a total knee replacement and is released on 6/2/17. His convalescence rating will expire on 6/30/17 and his 100 percent rating under DC 5055 will begin on 7/1/17. It is important to note that a Veteran may be eligible for a longer convalescence rating depending on his or her recovery from the surgery. There is no requirement that the Veteran must be confined to his or her home, but there does need to be medical evidence that a longer convalescence is required. The best evidence for this is a note from the Veteran’s doctor. In fact, a Veteran undergoing any surgery for a knee condition should always ask his or her doctor for a note regarding the applicable period of convalescence and be sure to get notes regarding any extensions for that convalescence period. A Veteran can receive extensions for his or her convalescent rating for a total duration of up to 6 months, in increments of 1, 2, or 3 months. After the initial 6 months, a Veteran can receive additional extensions of 1 to 6 months for “severe postoperative residuals” or if he or she has a “major joint immobilized by a cast.” This means that a Veteran can technically have up to 1 year of convalescence ratings.

Once the Veteran’s convalescence period is up, and his 1-year 100 percent rating under DC 5055 is up, the VA will reevaluate the Veteran’s knee and rate the Veteran for any postoperative residuals. Typically, the Veteran will be scheduled for a C&P examination for this purpose. If a Veteran has chronic residuals consisting of severe painful motion or weakness in the affected extremity, he or she should be awarded a 60 percent rating. Unsurprisingly, the term “severe” is not defined in the regulation. Therefore, it is the best practice to always argue that residuals are severe. A Veteran is competent to comment on his or her observable symptoms, so the Veteran should submit a statement detailing the day-to-day residuals and how they affect functioning. As noted in past posts regarding rating knee conditions, a Veteran should submit any lay statements he or she can from people who have witnessed these severe postoperative residuals. A Veteran may also want to have an examination with a private doctor who can comment on the severity of his or her residuals, especially if the C&P examination is not favorable.

As noted above, the minimum rating for a knee condition status post knee replacement is 30 percent. If a Veteran has intermediate degrees of residual weakness, pain, or limitation of motion, the condition should be rated analogously under DC 5256, 5261, or 5262. The symptoms do not need to be exact, just “closely analogous.” It is important to note that the VA cannot require additional criteria when determining the proper rating under DC 5055. For example, they cannot state that a certain limitation of motion or gait alteration is required.

One last important thing to remember is that as of July 16, 2015, DC 5055 applies only to total knee replacements. The previous version of the regulation also applied to partial knee replacements. If a Veteran has a claim for a partial knee replacement that was filed prior to July 16, 2015, DC 5055 will still be applied. For Veterans whose claims were filed after July 16, 2015, they should still argue that a partial knee replacement should be evaluated analogously under DC 5055.

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Senate stalls on a bill to help student Vets, even as GI Bill processing delays spike

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Senate stalls on GI Bill

Many student Veterans have been waiting longer than normal for their GI Bill benefits this semester, as the Veterans Affairs Department works through a backlog of claims affecting thousands of students.

Meanwhile, legislation that could have helped these students is stalled in the Senate, and Veteran education advocates, along with some members of Congress, are calling for action.

“There is significant concern about the delayed Forever GI Bill benefit payments,” said Ashlynne Haycock, deputy director of policy and legislation for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, one of the organizations that helped push the legislation through the House of Representatives last spring. “We all knew there would be a wait, but clearly this extended delay points to the fact that we must get the Senate to move on the SIT-REP Bill … to protect students and Veterans.”

The legislation, which passed the House unanimously in May, would require schools to adopt a policy stating they will not deny access to classes or facilities, impose late fees, or make students pay out-of-pocket because of unpaid balances, as long as the student has provided a certificate of eligibility for VA benefits.

This would ensure that no GI Bill users are punished by their schools because of VA processing delays. But since the legislation hasn’t passed, some organizations say their members are being charged late fees or barred from registering for next semester’s classes.

REBOOTCAMP RECOMMENDATIONS

The bill, which has also garnered the support of Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, was referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in late May, but there has been no movement on it since. A staffer for Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said their office has reached out to Veterans’ groups and schools impacted by these policies and is currently working through the legislation.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he urges his Senate colleagues to quickly pass the bill and President Trump to sign it into law.

“This legislation is critical to protecting our student Veterans from situations like the one we (currently) face,” Roe said in an email.

As of Wednesday, the VA has 120,000 education claims pending, most of which are for Post-9/11 GI Bill payments, a spokesman for the agency said in an email. Approximately 1,200 claims have been pending for 60 days or more.

Original claims for first-time GI Bill users are taking an average of 33 days to process, and supplement claims are averaging 23 days, which is higher than the VA’s goal to process these types of claims in 28 and 14 days, respectively. One reason for the backlog is that the VA is still working to get its technology systems up to date with the new Forever GI Bill law, which was supposed to change how housing stipends are calculated for GI Bill users starting Aug. 1.

“VA education benefit claims processing employees are working mandatory overtime, and VA has augmented its processing workforce by 202 people to help reduce processing times," the spokesman said. "With these measures in place we are processing an average of more than 16,000 claims per day.”

He said the VA expects to get the overall number of outstanding education claims under 100,000 in early November.

It’s difficult to determine just how common it is for schools to penalize students whose VA payments don’t come in by their deadlines. In a recent Military Times survey of around 500 colleges and universities, the vast majority of colleges said they have special policies for students whose VA or Defense Department education benefits are delayed. In many cases, these policies protect students from incurring late fees or being dropped from classes for nonpayment.

In a letter to schools last week, VA Director of Education Service Robert Worley asked that campuses not penalize students if they have not received tuition and fee payments from the VA.

“Late payments are likely due to VA processing delays and certainly are not the fault of the student. We ask for your patience as we work to resolve the ongoing challenges," he wrote. “If your school is waiting for tuition and fee payments for GI Bill students, we respectfully urge you to continue to work with the students so they may continue their academic pursuits.”

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Study on VA Burial and Memorial Services

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Casket 001

 

The results of a recent VA customer survey indicates Veterans and their families continue to experience high customer satisfaction in burial and memorial services for Veterans and families from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA). 98.2 percent of all respondents saying they were satisfied with their experience at the national cemetery. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service. For more information, visit the National Cemetery Administration website.

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Fully Developed Claims

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Claims Process

 

What Is a Fully Developed Claim?

The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program is an optional initiative that offers Veterans and survivors faster decisions from VA on compensation, pension, and survivor benefit claims.

Veterans and survivors simply submit all relevant records in their possession, and those records which are easily obtainable, such as private medical records, at the time they make their claim and certify that they have no further evidence to submit. VA can then review and process the claim more quickly.

Many Types of Claims

There are many types of claims for disability compensation. For example, if you're filing a VA claim for the very first time, you have an original claim. A reopened claim means you have new and material evidence and you want VA to reconsider a claim it once denied. There are also new claims, secondary claims, and special claims.

To learn more about which type of claim you may have and the evidence and forms you need with your submission, view the Claims and Evidence page. Your claim must meet all the applicable requirements listed to be considered for the FDC program.

Who Can File an FDC?

Veterans may file an FDC for disability compensation for the following reasons:

  • An injury, disability, or condition believed to have occurred or been aggravated by military service.
  • A condition caused or aggravated by an existing service-related condition.

Veterans and their families and survivors may also file pension or dependency and indemnity compensation (survivor) claims at these pages:

Why Use the FDC Process?

FDC puts you in control, and it's faster and risk-free.

By filing an FDC, Veterans and survivors take charge of their claim by providing all the evidence at once. By then certifying that there is no more evidence, VA can issue a decision faster.

File an FDC without risk. Participation will not affect the attention your claim receives from qualified VA rating staff or the benefits to which you're entitled. If VA determines other non-federal records exist and are required to decide a claim, VA will simply remove the claim from the FDC program and process it through the traditional claims process. Once you initiate your FDC, you'll have up to one year to complete it. Should VA approve your claim, you'll be paid back to the day you initiated your claim.

What's the Best Way to File an FDC?

  • The best way to file an FDC is electronically at eBenefits.va.gov. Once you log on to your account, VA recommends you appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer to help you initiate your claim, gather the required medical records and evidence, and submit your claim. If you don't yet have an eBenefits.va.gov account, register today.
  • If you prefer to file your FDC by paper, complete VA Form 21-526EZ and visit your local regional office. You can appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer to help you prepare and submit your claim. You can also appoint your accredited Veterans Service Officer online at eBenefits.va.gov.

How Should I Prepare My FDC?

  • Register for an eBenefits.va.gov account.
  • Next, appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer who can provide free, expert assistance.
  • Gather relevant documents, such as private medical records. While VA will obtain Federal records on your behalf, such as your DD-214 or service medical records, submitting them, if you have them will save time. If you believe there is not a notation in your service record describing your disability, submit letters from friends or those you served with that tell us about the facts of your claim ("buddy statements").
  • Initiate your claim at eBenefits.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000 for assistance.

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