By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — An initiative called the Fully Developed Claim Program is “essential” to VA’s goal of completing claims within 125 days at 98% accuracy in 2015, a VA official told a House subcommittee.
“VA is aggressively pursuing the expansion of the FDC program,” Tom Murphy, director of VBA’s Compensation Service, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.
The program, which was introduced to speed up the claims process, is among the initiatives that have helped reduce the backlog by about 25% since March 2013, according to Murphy’s testimony.
Through this initiative, veterans have the option to submit claims to VA that are considered “fully developed” – i.e., a claim that include the available supporting evidence at the time of first filing with certification from the veteran that no additional evidence is outstanding.
With traditionally filed claims, the VA has the responsibility of gathering all of the evidence, an option veterans can still choose when they decide how to file.
As of Aug. 30, Murphy said VA completes processing of FDCs in an average of 123 days, which he said is less than half the time it takes under the traditional process.
“When veterans submit evidence with their claim, it significantly reduces the amount of time that VA spends on it. While some development may still be necessary, such as obtaining federal records or providing examinations, FDCs eliminate the need to search for evidence,” Murphy said.
Veteran service organizations, which have played an instrumental role in promoting the program and helping veterans file FDCs, also said they support the program.
“We are finding that this program can be a great example of what happens when all of the players – the veterans, the VSOs, Congress and the VA – all work together to get things done,” said Verna Jones, who directs the American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.
VSO representatives told lawmakers there are ways to improve the program.
Diane M. Zumatto, AMVETS national legislative director, said that the FDCs achievedproduction synergies “by stripping the veteran’s dependents information from the claim form.” Veterans who file a FDC now must attach a VA Form 686c if they have dependents, she explained.
“The problem now is that the dependents are no longer part of the claim; instead, they have been relegated to an award adjustment action,” according to Zumatto.
Another VSO recommendation was that the VA should do a better job of getting the word out to veterans about the program.
“There are still a lot of veterans in every state that don’t know about the program and even ones who do know about the program they need to be educated about the program,” said Disabled American Veterans Assistant National Service Director Steven Wolf.
Murphy agreed that getting the word out about the program is important. When asked to explain why VA did not support a piece of legislation that would provide veterans with information about length of time for processing claims in different formats and for fully developed claims vs. traditional claims, however, he said aspects of the bill would pose an administrative burden to VA that would “detract from the processing of claims and divert resources from processing claims to do that.”
Rep. Beto O’ Rourke (D-TX), who sponsored the bill, said he did not understand the VA’s lack of support for the legislation.
“It’s going to the floor of the House, and I hope it passes. It is endorsed on a bipartisan basis,” O’Rourke said.