Fall 2013 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:

Veteran Journal Editor
PO Box 340
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Fully Developed Claims offers faster decisions for VA disability
By Kryn P. Westhoven, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

The federal Veterans Administration (VA) will use the 'carrot and stick' approach to nudge disability applicants to file complete claims electronically. The carrot is faster processing and up to a year of retroactive benefits, while the stick is 180 degrees in the other direction.

Veterans filing a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) for service-connected disability compensation could get up to one-year of retroactive benefits. The push for electronic filing of FDC's is part of the VA's goal to digital conversion of records by the end of 2015.

"If you can send in a claim with all the documentation so they (VA) doesn't have to get anything, it will speed up the process by probably more than a couple of months," said Chris Wambach, Supervisor of North Jersey Veteran Service Officers, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NJDMAVA).

The move is making veteran service officers like Wambach rethink the claims process. "The idea before was to establish the month of eligibility so we could get the payment as early as possible and to get the veteran as much money as possible."

"By us delaying a month or two and sending the claim in it's entirely right off the bat, we are doing the veteran a service because we are getting them extra money," said Wambach.

The extra upfront effort pays dividends in speed according to the VA. The agency states that because Fully Developed Claims require all supporting evidence in a veterans possession, the adjudicator can begin the review without running down paperwork, which was often the longest part of the claims process.

Often, this is documentation that VA legally must attempt to collect, which is already in the veteran's possession, or is evidence the veteran could easily obtain, like private treatment records, tests and diagnosis from doctors and specialists.

The VA will still make efforts to obtain federal records on the veteran's behalf. The submittal of non-federal records and any federal records the veteran may have, allows the VA to get to a decision typically in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim.

Riders send off for troops

American Legion Riders from South Jersey wave to the bus carrying more than 100 Citizen-Soldiers into Joint Base McGuire- Dix-Lakehurst to start an Operation Enduring Freedom deployment to Afghanistan. The veteran riders escorted the New Jersey Army National Guard unit from their home armory in Hammonton August 11. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kryn P. Westhoven/Released)

"Now I would say hold on a second, what can you get from your doctor and how soon could you get. Make sure there is a diagnosis along with a month and year of diagnosis so we establish it prior to coming into the office," noted Wambach.

While a veteran can submit a paper or electronic FDC on their own, applicants can benefit from the expertise of a veterans service officer (VSO).

"The VA always wants a VSO involved because inevitably the veteran will make a mistake or two causing it to fall back into the regular claims processing," Wambach said. "VSO's make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed."

All 16 NJDMAVA veteran service offices will receive equipment to scan paperwork for veterans for the FDC electronic submission process.

Whether it is a NJDMAVA VSO or a volunteer from a veteran service organization, the assistance in filing a fully developed claim is part of a large consortium called the Community of Practice, which was established in May. Recently the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs joined the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, who are charter members of the Community of Practice.