You may have received an email from VA last week announcing its new “standardized forms” claims process. I know I did—I deleted it without reading.
A few days later, I wondered how many of my own battle buddies and former soldiers had done the same, and if so, where would that lead them—or their own former soldiers and battle buddies—come claim time?
These questions, and more, influence my approach to digital communications. As a social media administrator for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Web Communications team, it’s my job to scour the digital frontier and deliver VA benefits news and services to our Veterans and their dependents and survivors. One of the ways my team reaches Veterans—and media and influencers and advocates who reach those we’re not connected to—is through interactive events.
Early this week, we held a Twitter Town Hall to discuss standardized forms. Although you can read the highlights from that event in an easily digestible Storify right here, a longer version of that content appears below.
So, what are standardized forms?
My colleague, Cat Trombley, wrote about this recently in this very space. To be even more blunt, though, a standardized form is just a formal document that requires basic information.
When I turned 16, I applied for my driver’s license on DMV form DL 44. At 20, when I enlisted into the US Army, I applied on form DD 4. Later, when I got married, my wife and I applied for marriage in our state on form VS 117. Before it was available online, I paid my mortgage (obtained through a standardized form from my lender) with a check (standardized) obtained via my banking institution. When I bought a car, when I enrolled my children in school, when I applied for a credit card, and in 2010 before I worked for VA, when I enlisted the assistance of a Veterans Service Organization who helped me apply for service-connected disability compensation from VA, I did all these things via standardized forms.
Whoa, wait, what? You used a standardized form in 2010 to apply for VA compensation?
Yes, but at the time, it wasn’t required. There used to be multiple ways to file a claim. Now there’s just one form.
So, why is it required now?
VA has to be better. It’s what you expect and deserve. I often tell people, “I’m a Veteran, too. Your VA is also my VA, and I know what kind of VA I want.”
The kind of VA I want began its transformation in 2010. Standardized forms are the latest result of this transition, and they help Veterans provide the necessary info that VA needs to quickly and accurately decide their claims.
But why so sudden? Couldn’t VA have given us some more time?
Actually, VBA proposed the rule in 2013. The final rule was published in September 2014 with a six-month implementation, which puts us to now.
So, what’s new?
Technically, the process isn’t new, but there are some implementations that are now required. Functionally, the “Intent to file” replaces the old, inefficient “informal claim.” An informal claim was just any old piece of paper a Veteran sent to VA to establish that they intended to file a claim. This locked in their claim date, but it also led to frustration and delays. The new Intent to File process similarly preserves the Veteran’s claim date, only now it requires basic information.
What about my pending claim? Do I need to refile?
No. If you filed before March 24, 2015, it does not affect your pending claim.
However, if you receive a compensation decision on or after March 24, 2015, and if you disagree with that decision, you will have to file a Notice of Disagreement form (21-958) to appeal that decision if one was provided to you. These forms are not new, but they are now required if you choose to appeal. VA will mail this form with all claim decision letters.
So, how does this help me?
Standardized forms make your VA more efficient. A more efficient VA will get you a quicker and more accurate decision on your claim.
OK, but how do I do that?
What if I need help?
You can request (free) assistance from a Veterans Service Organization. You can request one in eBenefits, find contact information for one in your area here, or walk into your local VA Medical Center to talk with one (your VAMC is probably on Facebook). Or, you can ask me here, or in the comments below.
Anything else I need to know?
Spread the word. Inform your friends and family members and battle buddies. Utilize VBA’s helpful tools and tutorials. Oh, and don’t delete those emails without reading them! 🙂