How Do I Appeal a VA Benefits Decision ?
A denied VA benefits claim can be especially frustrating when a person’s future rides on the outcome. Thankfully, though, a denial is not the end of the road for veterans seeking disability benefits. Appeals are filed virtually every day, and many veterans are successful in their mission to overturn the VA’s decision.
After receiving the initial decision on your claim, a Rating Decision, you may be unhappy with the results. If you want to appeal that decision it’s important to file a Notice of Disagreement, or NOD within one year from the date on the Rating Decision cover letter. This form tells the VA that you are not in agreement with their decision. After receiving your NOD, the VA will send you a letter acknowledging your Notice of Disagreement and telling you what to expect next.
There are two paths for appealing a claim denial. You can appeal to a Decision Review Officer, or DRO, at your regional office. A DRO will conduct a de novo review (no deference given to previous decision) and may overturn or uphold the previous decision. You can request a personal hearing before a DRO but it is not required. If the DRO overturns the previous decision, you will received a new Rating Decision. If the DRO upholds the previous decision you will receive a Statement of the Case (SOC). You still have options, you can escalate the appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or BVA in Washington.
For those who wish to forgo the DRO process, you can appeal directly to the BVA. If you choose this option, the VA will prepare a Statement of Case, or SOC. After receiving this SOC, if you want to continue your appeal, you’ll need to file a Form 9 formal appeal. The VA will then transfer your file to the BVA. This process can take anywhere from several months to a few years. You will hear from the Board when they receive the appeal. Their letter will inform you of next steps. You have the option to have a hearing with the BVA Judge if you choose. A hearing is not required but can be very helpful in allowing you to discuss your case directly with the Judge.
DROs are often reviewed much quicker than claims that are presented to the BVA. The disadvantage of the DRO appeal, though, is that if the DRO does not reverse the denial, the veteran will have increased the wait time for a BVA review. DRO review is not a complete waste of time, however, as it gives you an extra chance to have the decision overturned.
Appeals Will Take Time
The appeals process can be a lengthy one. Notoriously, the VA is a bureaucratic quagmire. There are many factors that help determine how long a claim might take, many of which you’ll have little to no control over. In choosing the DRO option, our experience is that it takes 2-3 years to get a decision from a DRO. For BVA’s the 2015-2016 annual report found that the average appeals process took just over three years to complete from the time the cases is at the Board. Remember, it can take some time for your case to be certified and sent to the Board.
You can help speed the process along by filing documentation promptly. Just because you have a year to file your NOD does not mean you should wait until the last minute. Also be swift in submitting all of the evidence pertaining to your claim. If you have additional evidence to submit it can be helpful to file it along with your NOD as you begin the appeals process. However, you can submit additional evidence all the way up to the time a decision is made. Ultimately, though, just know it will take time. However, your initial effective date will hold while you are appealing, which means more back pay.
Upping the Odds
Many veterans wonder how they can improve their chances of successfully appealing a VA decision. Being thorough and prompt when completing paperwork is important and another available tool is hiring an attorney to make sure the veteran has experienced representation. In fact, the 2015 Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals’ annual report shows that 90 percent of appeals brought by lawyers were successful. Veterans without legal representation, on the other hand, lose their appeals three times as frequently, with 30 percent denied on average.
Hiring an attorney can not only guide veterans seeking an appeal through the difficult veterans benefits claim process, but a lawyer can also help ensure their client receives the maximum compensation possible for their disability. Additionally, an attorney can obtain independent medical exams and vocational expert opinions when necessary. There’s no out of pocket expense to the veteran.
Escalating an Appeal
Appeals are not always successful. When the BVA upholds a previous decision about a claim, there are still options for escalating the appeal. If there are unmistakable errors on the BVA’s part, the veteran should write to them and ask them to reconsider their decision. They may also choose to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. To do so, a veteran must file a Notice of Appeal to the Court within 120 days of the BVA’s decision. Should the decision continue to be upheld there, a veteran may opt to bring their appeal before a federal circuit court.
Legal Help for Wounded Warriors
If you feel you are facing an uphill battle with your appeal, contact the Veterans Law Group. We are re committed to getting wounded warriors the maximum compensation possible. Complete our ‘consultation request’ form to see if Veteran’s Law Group can assist you with your veterans benefits claim filing.
We help people who have not only been denied, but also who receive a decision they are unhappy with. well