In December of 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began rolling out a new processing system called the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program. The FDC was developed to help expedite the processing of veterans disability compensation claims and reduce the significant backlog of claims at the VA.
FDC was first rolled out at eighteen regional VA offices, and it is expected that by the end of 2013, all VA regional offices will be participating in the program. The program has become commonly known as the “Fast Track” system.
How Does the FDC Program Expedite Claims?
The Fast Track program is a special, expedited claim processing system for certain types of claims for disability compensation. It typically requires a veteran to do a lot more leg work to prepare a disability claim than is required by standard claims processing.
Submitting a "fully developed claim" for service-connected disability compensation makes a veteran eligible for retroactive benefits if it's the veteran’s first disability claim and the veteran was disabled for a year before applying for disability benefits.
Is My Local VA Office Using the Fast Track System?
The VA continues to roll out this program to new offices. To find out if the regional VA office closest to you is participating, find the office on the VA directory and give them a call.
What Types of Disability Claims Can I Submit Using Fast Track?
You can use Fast Track to submit veterans disability compensation claims for:
- direct service connection, for:
- disability caused by service, or
- pre-existing illness or injury aggravated by service
- secondary service connection
- requests for an increased rating
- temporary total disability rating
- rating of individual unemployability
- disability compensation for an injury caused by VA (Section 1151 claims), and
- special monthly compensation.
Am I Eligible for Fast Track?
You are eligible for Fast Track if your regional office is currently participating in Fast Track and:
- you are only claiming one or two disabilities, or
- you are claiming more than two disabilities and you are able to collect and submit the documentation needed for your claim (medical records, service records, and other documents).
How to Apply
There are new application forms to be used with the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program. All of these forms can be found the VA Forms website.
For disability compensation claims, use VA Form 21-526EZ, Fully Developed Claim (Compensation). This is a shortened and simplified application form.
If you are claiming only one or two disabilities, you don’t even have to submit all the evidence yourself (medical and service records) to be eligible for fast track processing. But it will make your claim get through the system faster if you do provide the evidence up front.
If you are claiming benefits for two or more disabilities, you must collect and submit all medical and military service records yourself to qualify to for Fast Track processing.
Additional Fast Track Application Forms
If you have a claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you are also required to complete and submit VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
If you have a claim for PTSD based on personal assault (meaning, military sexual trauma), also complete and submit VA Form 21-0781a, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Secondary to Personal Assault.
If you are claiming Individual Unemployability, also use VA Form 21-8940, Veteran's Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability, and VA Form 21-4192, Request for Employment Information in Connection with Claim for Disability Benefits.
Complete Section V, Claim Certification and Signature, of the Form 21-526EZ only if you are submitting all evidence with your application. Do not certify and sign your application in this manner if you aren’t submitting any evidence with your claim or you have some evidence you will be submitting after you apply.
If you don’t submit all needed evidence with your application, make sure you send a letter to your regional office every month to let them know you are still gathering evidence to submit. Otherwise, after 30 days the VA may make a decision on your claim without having all the evidence.
It is to your benefit to submit all evidence as soon as possible, although you do have a year from the date of application to do so.
Evidence to Submit
To understand the evidence that is needed to support your claim, read the application instructions from the Form 21-526EZ carefully. The form describes what types of evidence are required for different types of claims.
Th required evidence will include military service records available from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), VA Medical Center (VAMC) records available from your local VA hospital or clinic, and medical records from your private physician, if you have one.
Submit medical records from any private treatment facilities directly to the VA. Identify clearly your records at VAMC and the NPRC to make it easy for the VA to collect these records for you. Or, collect these records yourself and then submit them with your application.
If you are going to wait to submit your application until you have collected all of your VAMC, NPRC, and private medical records, make sure to write the VA a letter stating your intent to apply for benefits. This will secure an early effective date for your disability benefits and increase the amount of your lump sum payment.
You have up to a year from your date of application to submit all of your evidence, but it is to your benefit to submit it as soon as possible.
Disability Benefit Questionnaires (DBQs)
The VA has developed Disability Benefit Questionnaires to help collect the medical evidence needed to decide claims in a more efficient manner.
If you have a private physician, provide your doctor with the appropriate Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for your disabilities and ask him or her to complete it on your behalf. The VA developed DBQs to increase the efficiency of claims processing. VA doctors will also be using DBQs.
How to Submit Your Application
Mail or take your application and any evidence in support of your claim to the closest VA regional office. VA regional office addresses are available on the Internet at www.va.gov/directory.