You can help move a claim through the VA process quickly by providing all the evidence, medical and lay, up front in a well-organized manner. Read up on the benefits for which the veteran for whom you care might qualify, and make an appointment to take him or her meet with a VSO, claims agent or attorney. You can see a listing of all accredited service officers, agents and attorneys published by VA’s Office of General Counsel (central law office for the VA). VSOs will never charge a fee for services; agents and attorneys may charge a fee and usually handle appeals rather than initial claims. If there is not a VSO near you, the VA employs public contact representatives or veteran service representatives who can help you file the paperwork.
The VA encourages veterans and representatives to present Fully Developed Claims(FDC) to expedite the claims process. If the VA does not need to obtain private medical records to decide your claim and you do not send in any evidence after your FDC package, the period the VA takes to request records and wait for you to provide more evidence is not needed. The claim can go to the next phase of the development process.
FDCs are filed on EZ forms, which provide a notice on the form of the types of evidence that should be submitted to decide the claim. VA Form 526-EZ is the form to file an FDC for service-connected disability compensation. However, exactly what evidence the VA is looking for is not necessarily noted on the notice form. For example, the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) is not listed on the notice form, so you might not know which test results or symptoms are relevant unless you read the VASRD. The VASRD is Part 4 of Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, found at www.ecfr.gov.
One issue with filing an FDC is that benefits cannot be paid before a claim is filed, and it can take some time to gather the paperwork to file an FDC. The date benefits start is called the effective date and is usually the first day of the month after a claim is filed (or if a claim is filed during military service, the day after military separation or retirement). So taking more time to find documentation can result in a lower overall amount of benefits paid. For initial claims (the first claim a veteran files), the effective date of the claim can go back to up to a year prior to the date of filing. See 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(2). This eliminates the incentive to file a piece of paper to lock in a claim date without having all the evidence ready and preserves the veteran’s entitlement to benefits.