The Fully Developed Claim, Demystified

The FDC and the story behind those ‘EZ’ forms

The fully developed claim (FDC) is an option presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a way to have your claim processed more quickly. The idea is if you submit all evidence up front, the VA does not have to “develop” the claim by requesting additional records or information.

Fully Developed ClaimThe FDC program is an optional new initiative that offers veterans and survivors faster decisions from VA on compensation, pension, and survivor benefit claims.

To accomplish this, the VA uses its series of “EZ” forms and are most notably used in compensation (Form 21-526EZ), pension (Form 21-527EZ), and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (Form 21-534EZ). Using the EZ forms, the FDC process works this way: Veterans and survivors submit all relevant records using the EZ claim form, including private (non-VA) medical records. On the form, you certify that you have no further evidence to submit.

There are a number of reasons the VA excludes a claim from the FDC process:

  • The VA received evidence after the claim was received
  • The claim form was not signed
  • An additional claim was submitted after the VA received the FDC claim form
  • Another claim was pending when the VA received the FDC claim form
  • Another claim was in appeal when the VA received the FDC claim form
  • The claim was not submitted on the required form (e.g., VA Form 21-526EZ)
  • All items required to process your claim was not simultaneously submitted (missing documents, information or forms)
  • Veteran failed to report for a VA examination and requested the examination be rescheduled

In some cases, the VA may send a development letter to the Veteran asking for specific information.If ONLY the requested information is returned, the VA will not automatically exclude the claim.  Any additional information or documents not specifically requested will cause the claim to be relegated to the standard process.

If the VA exludes a claim from the FDC process, a letter is sent to the Veteran or claimant “We cannot process your claim under the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program because…” — and the specific reason will be provided. “Because your claim is not eligible for processing under the FDC Program, we are processing it under our standard claims-processing procedures.”

Failure to participate in any development effort can lead to a denial of your claim, so don’t ignore any VA request for information and pay close attention to the time limit you are given to respond.

A Veteran Service Officer (VSO) can be your advocate throughout the VA claims process. VSOs can be a sounding board and a second set of eyes. A VSO can review information and ask relevant questions. Choose a VSO that is knowledgeable about eligibility rules, forms completion, required and recommended  “proof documents”; telling your story in the most complete and efficient way in the strongest claim packet that can be submitted.

Representation is not for everyone.VetsHQ offers information and resources to assist the Veteran in filing the strongest disability compensation claim possible.Visit often for the latest updates and relevant information.

Helpful hints (Really, these do make a difference!)

A. Know what kind of claim you are submitting to the VA

  • Original – you are filing a claim for the very first time
  • Reopened – the VA denied a claim, and now you have new and relevant material evidence you want the VA to review or you are claiming the same disability under a different theory of entitlement (See Five Pathways to a Service Connection)
  • New – you are filing a claim for service connection for a disability that has not been filed before
  • Secondary – you are filing a claim for a disability that is a result of or was worsened by a disability which VA has already decided is service-connected
  • Special – this is the alphabet soup of claims – it includes claims for
    • Increased disability – you already have a rating for a service-connected disability, and you want the VA to increase the rating because the disability has gotten worse
    • Individual Unemployability – you are unable to work because of your disability and you want the VA to increase your compensation
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

B.  If available, use a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) that matches the condition or disability you are filing a claim for.  It can be completed by a private or VA medical provider.  There are only about 70 DBQs developed so far, so don’t worry if there isn’t a DBQ to match your condition or disability.  You can look at any DBQ form to see what types of information the VA is expecting – then make sure your medical records contain the same kind of information about your specific condition(s).

C. Answer all the questions on the form. Don’t leave any boxes blank of your claim form.  Instead, consider using N/A (not applicable) or ‘None’ unless the form instructions specifically state to use other words.  That will let the VA know you didn’t forget something.

D. Write a letter to tell your story to the VA.   Your medical records and the claim form document give specific information like name or diagnosis code – a personal letter can share how your condition or disability has affected your life – it’s what we call ‘the rest of the story’.  If they have first-hand knowledge through observation, your friends and family can also contribute a statement with details about the injury, event, or disease and how it has affected your activities, relationships, etc.

E.  Submit all private (non-VA) medical records relevant to your disability claim.

F. If your condition or disability is related to service in the National Guard or Reserves – submit a copy of all medical and personnel records maintained at your unit. (Note: your unit records may be in a separate location such as a medical flight office or a personnel section). In the FDC process, the VA will not ask for them.

G.  Don’t submit duplicate evidence — the VA will put your claim back into the initial development phase because additional documents have arrived.  They don’t know the records are a duplicate until after a thorough review of your claims file. Ask your Veteran Service Officer for assistance if you get a letter from the VA that you don’t understand. The VA might be required by regulation or law to send out letters.

There has been some discussion, but no proof of time saved by filing online instead of submitting a paper claim packet to the VA. Here is what you should know if you choose to file your claim online using the VA’s eBenefits tool: There is a fundamental difference between saving and submitting your documents on the platform. Once you upload documents and click “save,” you will have one year to complete the FDC process. Once all of your documents are uploaded and you believe your claim is as strong as it can be, click “submit”. Once you “submit”, you are telling the VA that you have verified that you have no more evidence.  If you submit additional evidence or proof documents after that point, or a release of information form for the VA, your claim will be taken out of the FDC process and will be processed in the regular claims channels — lengthening the time it will take for you to receive a reply to your claim submission.