WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 8, 2013) -- Veterans filing an original "fully developed claim" for service-connected disability compensation may now be entitled to up to one year of retroactive disability benefits.

The retroactive benefits, in effect Aug. 6, 2013 through Aug. 5, 2015, are the result of a comprehensive legislative package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year.

"[The] VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) strongly encourages veterans to work with veterans service organizations to file fully developed claims and participate in this initiative," said Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. "It means more money in eligible veterans' pockets, simply by providing VA the information it needs up front. At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process."

Filing a fully developed claim, or FDC, is typically the fastest way for veterans to receive a decision on their claims because fully developed claims require veterans to provide all supporting evidence in their possession when they submit their claims.

Often, this is evidence that VA legally must attempt to collect on the veteran's behalf, which is already in the veteran's possession, or is evidence the veteran could easily obtain, such as private treatment records.

When veterans submit such evidence with their claims, it significantly reduces the amount of time VA spends gathering evidence from them or other sources, often the longest part of the claims process.

While VA will still make efforts to obtain federal records on the veterans' behalf, the submission of non-federal records, and any additional federal records the veteran may have, with the claim allows VA to issue a decision to the veteran more quickly. Typically, VA processes FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim.

FDCs can be filed digitally through the joint, DOD-VA online portal, eBenefits. That web site is located at www.ebenfits.va.gov. The VA encourages veterans who cannot file online to work with an accredited veterans service organization who can file claims digitally on a veteran's behalf.

While submitting an FDC provides a faster decision for any compensation or pension claim, only veterans who are submitting their very first compensation claim as an FDC are potentially eligible for up to one-year of retroactive disability benefits under the newly implemented law.

FDCs help eliminate VA's claims backlog because they increase production of claims decisions and decrease waiting times. Also, VA assigns FDCs a higher priority than other claims which means veterans receive decisions to their claim faster than traditional claims.

The VA continues to prioritize other specific categories of claims, including those of seriously wounded, terminally ill, Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war, the homeless and those experiencing extreme financial hardship. As part of its drive to eliminate the claims backlog in 2015, the VA also gives a priority to claims more than a year old.

In May, the VA announced a new partnership with veterans service organizations and others known as the "community of practice." The effort seeks to reduce the compensation claims backlog for veterans by increasing the number of FDCs filed by veterans and their advocates.

The VA is continuing to implement several initiatives to meet the Department's goal of eliminate the claims backlog in 2015. In May, the VA announced that it was mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to increase production of compensation claims decisions through the end of fiscal year 2013.

In April, the VA launched an initiative to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for veterans who have a waited a year or longer

As a result of these initiatives, the VA's total claims inventory remains at lower levels not seen since August 2011. The number of claims in the VA backlog, claims pending over 125 days, has been reduced by 17 percent compared to the highest point in March 2013.

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint DOD-VA web portal, eBenefits, which is located at www.ebenefits.va.gov. They can learn more about the FDC program at www.benefits.va.gov/fdc.