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VA works to improve claim backlog

As part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to break the back of the backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reducing the paperwork and expediting the process for veterans seeking compensation for disabilities related to their military service.

“These reductions in paperwork, along with other improvements to simplify and speed the claims process, symbolize changes underway to make VA more responsive to Veterans and their families,” said Shinseki.

VA has shortened application forms to reduce paperwork for veterans. The new forms, which are at this office, 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.

• 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.

DAV vans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call Mike Dunaway, 247-2198, and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays, call Harriet Mulnix, (505) 793-1782.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 1970 E. 3rd Ave. Durango, CO 81301 (the old Mercy Medical Center). Phone number is 247-2214.

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Blvd. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-6648, and e-mail is afautheree@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs, and for filing in the VSO office.