Written by: Ashely Eick

On August 6, 2012, the President signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012,” which allows up to a one-year retroactive effective date of disability compensation for fully developed original claims received from August 6, 2013 through August 5, 2015. The motive behind this Act is to incentivize veterans to submit fully developed claims by granting an extra year of disability compensation for successful claims.  This fast-track procedure typically cuts down processing time from 254 days to 110 days and significantly lightens the VA workload.

With over 245,175 backlogged claims over two years later, it is clear that the VA still has a problem with processing benefit claims despite the Act. This leads one to ask – why should only original claims be incentivized?

The vast majority of VA disability claims are not initial entitlements but supplemental entitlements, also known as reopened claims, claims for increased compensation, and secondary claims. Therefore, to truly address the backlog of disability claims, the VA should incentivize fully developed claims of supplemental entitlements not just initial entitlements. Without the promise of an earlier retroactive effective date, veterans’ only inducement for filing a fully developed claim is a quicker processing time. Although getting a rating decision a few months earlier may be enough of an incentive for some veterans, for many others, it is not.

In order to submit a fully developed claim, a veteran must identify where all federal military and medical records are located and the dates of treatment for claimed conditions as well submit any medical evidence of current disability, evidence of the in-service event that caused the disability, and evidence of a link between the current disability and the in-service event. For a veteran suffering from a disability, especially a mental one,  this process may be nigh impossible and require so much work that it is not worth the effort to get the expedited treatment. However, the promise of a year of retroactive payment may be enough to encourage veterans to submit fully developed supplemental claims, despite the difficulty in doing so, just as the promise is doing with original claimants.

Finally, in terms of public policy, there is something fundamentally wrong with granting a financial benefit only to those who submit initial claims. By financially incentivizing original claimants, the VA is discriminatorily favoring new veterans. Older veterans most likely have already applied for disability compensation before this policy came into effect and are reopening old claims or are petitioning for increased compensation. This means that they are precluded from the fully developed claims incentive. Consequently, the law is discriminating against veterans based on their service date.

One Response to “Why not everyone? The Problem with the Fully Developed Claims Incentive”

  1. Douglas Nelson B.A. '73, M.A., '78 said:

    Thank you for pointing this out. I am a Vietnam vet and have worked with other vets. Some us filed claims for wounds or chronic illnesses, but sat on our PTSD symptoms for forty or more years. Such a claim for PTSD might be considered an original claim, but, as you point out, claims that are denied for often capricious reasons are not considered under this new provision. I worked for seven years with just such claims (VA tells an artillery vet no evidence exists he was in combat, vet who did classified intelligence missions has no “evidence” he did so). I welcome the changes you suggest.
    Expect a copy of my book, Making Peace With Military Post-Traumatic Stress in the near future.