Congressman Steve Kagen, M.D. is working hard to ensure that our disabled veterans get the care they deserve. Today, he highlights important changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims process to break backlog and get our heroes the benefits they've earned in a timelier manner.
Beginning immediately, the VA is reducing the paperwork and expediting the process for Veterans seeking compensation for disabilities related to their military service.
"The VA disability claims process has been problematic since I worked at a Veteran's hospital over 30 years ago," said Kagen. "With the increasing number of wounded warriors in the system, I welcome these important changes and will continue to work to make the VA more responsive to our Veterans and their families."
VA has shortened application forms to reduce paperwork for Veterans. The new forms, which are being made available on VA's Web site at www.va.gov/vaforms, include:
· A shortened VA Form 21-526 for Veterans applying for the first-time to VA for disability compensation or pension benefits. This form has been cut in half -- from 23 to 10 pages. It is immediately available to Veterans via Web download, and will be available through VA's online claim-filing process later this summer at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp
· VA Form 21-526b for Veterans seeking increased benefits for conditions already determined by VA to be service-connected. This new form more clearly describes the information needed to support claims for increased benefits.
In order to make the claims process faster, VA has also introduced two new forms for Veterans participating in the Department's new fully developed claim (FDC) program, which is one of the fastest means to receive a claims decision.
Gathering the information and evidence needed to support a Veteran's disability claim often takes the largest portion of the processing time. If VA receives all of the available evidence when the claim is submitted, the remaining steps in the claims-decision process can be expedited without compromising quality.
To participate in the FDC program, Veterans should complete and submit an FDC Certification and VA Form 21-526EZ, "Fully Developed Claim (Compensation)," for a compensation claim, or a VA Form 21-527EZ, "Fully Developed Claim (Pension)," for a pension claim.
The forms were designed specifically for the FDC program. These six-page application forms include notification to applicants of all information and evidence necessary to "fully develop" and substantiate their claims. With this notification, Veterans and their representatives can "fully develop" their claims before submission to VA for processing.
Along with the application and certification, Veterans must also submit all relevant and pertinent evidence to "fully develop" their claims. A claim submitted as "fully developed" may still require some additional evidence to be obtained by VA, to include certain federal records and a VA medical examination.
VA provides compensation, pension, education, loan guaranty, vocational rehabilitation, employment, and insurance benefits to Veterans and their families through 57 VA regional offices.
Disability compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to a Veteran for disabilities that are a result of -- or made worse by -- injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training. Pension is a benefit paid to wartime Veterans with limited income, and who are permanently and totally disabled or age 65 or older.
For additional information, go to www.va.gov or call VA's toll free benefits number at 1-800-827-1000.