From the Field Staff
By Hallie Smith
Decision Ready Claims
The VA has made a new option available to some veterans who want to file claims for increased disability ratings. Veterans who take advantage of this option, known as Decision Ready Claims (DRC), are guaranteed decisions within thirty days of filing. These claims go through quickly once submitted, but they require a little extra work upfront.
Not all claims can be filed as DRC. While the VA may expand the program in the future, it can currently only be used for rating increases. Veterans must go through a recognized Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to submit a claim in this program. The main difference between DRC and regular claims is that the DRC process allows veterans to have medical exams before submitting their claim, and those exams can be conducted by a private doctor or a doctor at a VA medical center.
The first step in filing a claim under DRC is to make sure that your VSO has an active power of attorney (POA). The VSO will file a form called intent to file, which both establishes the effective date of the increase and makes it possible for the VSO to request a medical exam for you with the VA.
Depending on what condition you are increasing and who you see for medical care, your VSO may send you a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) to give to your doctor. Most DBQs are available to the public and can be filled out by a private doctor, but a few, including hearing loss and TBI, are only done by VA doctors or VA contractors.
If you want an increase for a condition which doesn’t have a public DBQ, or if you get all of your medical care through the VA, your VSO will request an exam for you. This exam will be done at a VA Medical Center or by a VA contractor. If you take a DBQ to a private doctor, you need to send a copy to your VSO, but if it is done at the VA or a VA contractor, the doctor’s office will upload it directly into the system.
The next step is the actual form to apply for an increase in compensation, VA 21-526EZ. Your VSO representative may be able to partially fill this out for you, but you will have to sign it yourself and get it back to them. Once the VSO receives your signed form back, he or she will upload it into the system along with any supporting medical documentation, and the process of filing your claim is complete. You will get a decision from the VA within a month.
There are a few exclusions to the DRC program. For instance, pregnant veterans, incarcerated veterans, and veterans who are already waiting for a decision on a pending claim cannot use the DRC Program. For a full list of exclusions and answers to other frequently asked questions, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/drc.asp.