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Program to help disabled vets

First-time claimants offered retroactive benefits to participate.

The federal government is offering a new carrot designed to knock a dent in the tens of thousands of delayed decisions on Veterans Administration disability claims.

Starting today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration will offer military veterans seeking disability benefits the chance for one year of retroactive benefits. The catch is they have to fill out the very comprehensive Fully Developed Claim disability benefit form, and not have done so previously.

The retroactive program, approved last year by Congress, is an aggressive effort by the Obama administration to dramatically shorten the wait for disability benefits that tens of thousands of veterans have been forced to endure.

Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits, said the agency “strongly encourages’’ veterans to “participate in this initiative’’ because it “means more money’’ for eligible veterans by providing the agency with “the information it needs up front.’’

“At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process,’’ Hickey said in a statement released by VA.

The VA maintains that filing the Fully Developed Claim form — known as an FDC — provides veterans the swiftest path to gaining a decision from government officials.

The VA claims it can process the FDCs in half the time it takes for a more traditionally filed form. The agency also points out the FDC can be filed digitally.

To deal with the FDC’s complexities, the VA is urging veterans to work with Veterans Service Organizations when filling out the form.

Delayed decisions on disability claims have affected tens of thousands of veterans. The VA reports that 480,000 cases have been pending on average for 235 days.

According to the VA office in Cleveland, 23,919 veterans in Ohio have waited an average of 265 days to have their disability claims processed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that “it is unacceptable that veterans who served their country have to wait sometimes years to receive the compensation they are due.’’

“Today’s announcement … is a step in the right direction to helping veterans who have waited far too long to receive the disability claims that they’ve earned and deserve,’’ Brown said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said that while he was “encouraged by this measure to better ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the quality and timely care they deserve,” he warned that while the system might “expedite the process for veterans who have easy access to online services or veterans’ service officers, the claims of older veterans who may not be as technologically savvy may fall to the wayside.’’

Only veterans filing FDCs for the first time can take advantage of the retroactive benefit program. The program ends in August of 2015.

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