The venerable Department of Veterans Affairs informal claim has gone away in favor of VA Form 21-0966.
According to the VA, the informal claim, formerly governed by § 3.155, is an inefficient relic of a non-computerized age. The new Department of Veterans Affairs, built on a foundation of efficiency and pro-claimant policies, prefers your claims on a standardized, easy to classify form.
Replacing the informal claim is VA Form 21-0966. VA Form 21-0966 is an Intent To File A Claim For Compensation And/ Or Pension, Survivors Pension, or Other Benefits. As the instructions state, the Intent to File form is used to notify the VA of your intent to file for benefits.
But how different is VA Form 21-0966 from the old informal claim? Let’s review some characteristics of the old informal claim.
Informal claims were used to capture an earlier effective date for a claim for benefits. Once the informal claim was received by the VA, the claimant was given one year to submit the formal claim. An earlier effective date often meant a greater amount of retroactive monies for the claimant.
Informal claims could be submitted almost any way imaginable. A submitted hospital or doctor record was considered an informal claim. A message submitted on VA Form 21-4138 was considered an informal claim. Any communication or action that indicated an intent to apply for benefits was considered an informal claim.
Importantly, however, the old informal claim required the claimant to identify the specific medical issues, symptoms, or conditions on which the claim would be based. For compensation claims, it was insufficient for the claimant to simply state that he or she was filing an informal claim for compensation benefits. More specificity was needed to capture the earlier effective date.
INTENT TO FILE — VA FORM 21-0966
A new Intent to File request, which replaces the old informal claim, can be submitted to the VA in one of three ways: on VA Form 21-0966; electronically; or orally to a VA employee. If a claimant attempts to submit an Intent to File in some other fashion, the VA will view the correspondence as a request for an application for benefits and an earlier effective date will not be captured.
That is the downside to the new Intent to File rule. The major upside to the new Intent to File Rule is faster processing time by VA adjudicators. In theory, VA Form 21-0966 should allow Department of Veterans Affairs scanners to recognize, process, and sort the request for an earlier effective date. This advance should result in faster awards and less frustration for everyone involved.
I believe the new Intent to File rule is a step forward for the VA and claimants. The new rules for capturing an earlier effective date are designed to speed up decision times. The old informal claims were difficult to organize and decipher. VA employees were forced to spend entirely too much time and energy sorting and characterizing the various informal claims that were received.
The new Intent to File rule and VA Form 21-0966 should result in faster turnaround times for claimants. The new process makes spotting and organizing a request for an earlier effective date easier and less time consuming. New systematic approaches by the VA are welcome. Processes that increase organizational efficiency and standardize the claims process are necessary if the VA is to fulfill its mission.
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